Research & Innovation

Biodiversity Pathways for Sustainability in Canada

Our project, Biodiversity Pathways for Sustainability in Canada (BPSC), reflects on a decade of conservation knowledge in Canada to inform the development of potential pathways towards achieving Canada’s post-2020 global biodiversity commitments. This project forms part of the global Future Earth Initiative, Science-Based Pathways for Sustainability.

The past decade has seen significant progress in biodiversity conservation in Canada, in particular through the expansion of protected areas to meet the Aichi Biodiversity Target of conserving 10% of coastal and marine areas by 2020. However, biodiversity loss continues to accelerate across the country, resulting from complex and interrelated drivers including widespread extractive human activities, regional climate change and more. 

As the world transitions towards a post-2020 global biodiversity framework to succeed the Aichi Targets, it is critical to explore how Canada can combat biodiversity loss nationally and where the greatest opportunities lie to leverage the value of our rich natural assets for a sustainable global future.

This Integrated Biodiversity Pathways for Sustainability in Canada report was discussed at the 13th Canadian Science Policy Conference on 25 November 2021. You can watch the full webinar here:

Key Insights

  1. Canada must assume its global responsibility of managing our ecosystem and biodiversity conservation for the benefit of global society. Our contribution to global ecosystem values is among the highest, particularly considering the massive but declining extent of intact ecosystems in the north. Policies implemented in Canada can profoundly influence conservation outcomes inside and outside our borders.
  2. Canada’s international trade policies should be considered when managing national ecosystems. In addition to the main pressures on biodiversity like climate change and habitat modification, Canada’s exports to, and consumption of imports, from other countries can lead to biodiversity loss beyond our boundaries.
  3. Biodiversity degradation has occurred in lockstep with colonization in Canada and the disruption of Indigenous governance systems that stewarded “Canada’s” ecosystems for millennia. The self-determination rights for Indigenous and local communities should be unequivocally respected and protected.
  4. Provincial and territorial acts and strategic plans often embed biodiversity conservation into other policies, without explicit monitoring mechanisms, measures of conservation success, or clear regulations. Close collaboration across different governmental levels is required to ensure that political support and related resources are aligned.
  5. Indigenous Knowledge and practices play an essential role in value change and conservation in Canada. The relationship between Indigenous activities and biodiversity lacks sufficient study and public awareness. Conservation in Canada requires a full understanding and recognition of Indigenous governance and wise practices.
  6. Most data on the status and trends of Canada’s biodiversity remain fragmented and scattered across institutions and libraries. The wealth of information hidden in unstructured biodiversity datasets has not been effectively translated into decision-making. Digital technologies have the potential to fill some of these gaps.
  7. Biodiversity research at species level remains prevalent in Canada compared with studies at other levels (e.g., genetic, ecosystem, functional, and biocultural diversity), which are equally important. This imbalanced structure of knowledge on the different levels of biodiversity may mislead conservation policies and requires caution.
  8. The matching of pressures on biodiversity at various scales to the corresponding countermeasures for different stakeholders are intricate and obscure, leaving a challenge for identifying systemic solutions. Social science and citizen science can help tease out the social barriers and inform system transformation.
  9. Cultural and philosophical barriers for developing integrated biodiversity conservation pathways persist. Embodied learning and other innovative disruptions led by Indigenous Knowledge Holders can foster value transformation and social norms formation which are necessary for green transformation.

Policy Implications

  1. Enhance research and increase political attention to address consumptive impacts on biodiversity loss. Reframe a virtuous pattern of consumption with environmental accounting, and social marketing.
  2. Decolonize conservation frameworks by recognizing Indigenous rights and leadership in biodiversity and conservation. Provide space and resources for weaving together different knowledge systems, including enhancing awareness and respect on wise practices and Indigenous languages.
  3. Encourage interdisciplinary research and capacity building to identify, clarify, and communicate socio-economic, cultural, and spiritual values of biodiversity. Transform prevailing development models through value-led conservation and biocultural approaches. Embrace innovative tools and mechanisms for behavior changes at community and individual levels.
  4. Improve regulation and legal frameworks to enhance transparency in the monitoring capacity and accountability of extractive industries. Develop high-quality inventory databases for biodiversity at multiple scales. Apply standardized indicators to support evidence based policy-making.
  5. Employ effective economic levers to retrofit extractive/polluting industries. Redirect and scale up public and private investments for ecosystem and biodiversity. Uncover financial incentives for long-term well-being of nature and society.
  6. Facilitate cross-scale collaboration on biodiversity conservation and sustainable development. Maintain a multi-partner network for environmental awareness-raising and coordinated actions with the support of media workers, social activists, digital experts and others.

Expert Advisory Committee

Dr. Andrew Gonzalez
Professor, McGill University | Co-Chair, GEO BON

Dr. Ciara Raudsepp-Hearne
Director, Canada Key Biodiversity Areas, WCS Canada

Dr. Sylvia Wood
Director, Research and Development, Habitat

Dr. François Soulard
Research Manager, Census of Environment, Statistics Canada

Prof. Danika Billie Littlechild L.L.B., L.L.M
Co-chair, Indigenous Circle of Experts | Assistant Professor, Carleton University

With support from

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SSHRC logo
This Knowledge Synthesis Report draws on research supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC).


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