Where is Canada’s Plan to Conserve 30 percent by 2030?

As co-hosts of the 15th Conference of the Parties (COP15), Canada and China should be justifiably pleased with the outcome.


It reached an historic agreement on a global framework among participating countries to safeguard nature, and to halt and reverse biodiversity loss by putting nature on a path to recovery by 2050. Canada went further by advocating international collaboration to achieve these goals, including conserving 30 percent of lands and oceans by 2030. But where is Canada’s plan to achieve these ambitious goals in 7 years?

The Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) took place in Montreal between December 7-19, 2022. For it to reach an agreement, especially an historic one, before its conclusion was a huge achievement. However,....

Since the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) was first signed by 150 government leaders thirty years ago at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, its main objectives have been: the conservation of biological diversity; the sustainable use of the components of biological diversity; and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits from the utilization of genetic resources. It promotes sustainable development, and recognizes that biological diversity is about more than plants, animals, and micro organisms and their ecosystems. And, it is in humanity’s own self-interest to do this for food security, medicines, fresh air and water, shelter, and a clean and healthy environment in which to live.The CBD Secretariat is located in Montréal, Quebec.

At COP15, Canada’s Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, Steven Guilbeault, also committed to collaborate and partner with Indigenous Peoples, who are the original guardians of the land, as well as making real transformative change in innovation, and proper accounting for the true value of nature in decision-making across all sectors (Canada needs a cap-and-trade program). 

What is clear is that the continued destruction of biodiversity is too costly as a cost for doing business, especially for the federal government. These additional commitments will start healing the land, water, and air if implemented.  However, for Canada to reach its stated goals by 2030, it will need serious support from all levels of governments, all types of businesses, and all individual consumers.

So where is Canada now, and what is needed to reach its 2030 goal? Looking at the Canadian government’s website, Canada had conserved the following as at the end of 2021:

- 13.5% of its terrestrial area (land and freshwater), including 12.6% in protected areas; and

- 13.9% of its marine territory, including 9.1% in protected areas

That means in the next 7 years, Canada has to increase its terrestrial and marine conservation areas by 17%. This looks achievable, but why should the Canadian government be monitored to keep its commitment?  There are two reasons.

The numbers need scrutiny

By being transparent and accountable, the Canadian government has flagged an anomaly in its numbers that begs further scrutiny.  It has identified that the official number for the terrestrial area is 13.5%, of which 12.6% is protected areas.  At this time, this is an insignificant difference of 0.9%.  For the marine area it is 13.9% of which 9.1%  is protected, or a more significant difference of 4.8%.  The mere fact that the marine area has a larger area of nearly 5% that is not protected but is still counted raises alarm for potential misrepresentation. There should be just one number: protected.

Protected areas would be federal parks, or areas controlled by Indigenous Peoples.  The other component  that bolster the final numbers are conserved areas.  Conserved areas includes areas used by unlikely custodians such as the military, and logging, aqua-farm companies, etc.  It defies logic to include such areas in the first place as they do not welcome wildlife, or are wildlife-friendly.  

It is important to ensure that the government provides its 30% commitment in the protected areas, especially since since Canada was co-host of COP15, and must lead by example.

Past targets have been repeatedly postponed

Canada has been negligent in meeting its own 2015 goals that were set when the current government was first elected. At the time, Canada established its 2020 Biodiversity Goals and Targets for Canada when 10.5% of Canada's terrestrial area, and less than 1% of its marine area were recognized as protected. The government’s 2015 targets were that "by 2020, at least 17% of terrestrial areas and inland water, and 10% of coastal and marine areas, are conserved through networks of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures." By 2020, these goals had not been met.

Undeterred, Canada then extended the target date from 2020 to 2025, and increased the protected areas goals from 17% to 25% of our lands, and from 10% to 25% of our oceans.  

Protected should mean protected

Canada’s national parks allows outdated uses such as mining and logging.  To access those activities, roads that cut through the protected areas are widened and multiplied. Heavy-duty trucks can be seen in world famous Banff and Jasper parks causing increased roadkills, and population segregation.  Towns within the parks are allowed to expand, further reducing the space that was supposed to be for the wildlife.  If Canada is serious about preserving biodiversity, then the protected areas need to ensure the wildlife is protected from all human activities that detrimentally affect the wildlife.

What Canada still needs to do

Canada still needs to do four more things:  

- include provincial and municipal parks in its calculations;

- create wildlife corridors between parks to meet the 2015 goal of having networks of protected areas for biodiversity;

- education; and

- enforcement.

The Canadian government needs to work with provincial and municipal governments to recognize existing parks, and to create new ones, especially in urban areas.  After all, wildlife is apolitical.  This inter-governmental cooperation will create the networks of protected areas that were first identified as necessary in 2015, but it also creates a credible data base that will also offer greater legal protection of these areas. This data base will help Minister Steven Guilbeault’s stated goal of having proper accounting for the true value of nature.  A federal cap-and-trade program would achieve these goals.

Wildlife also needs safe passage in protected corridors between protected areas that follow their migratory or travel routes.  Pirates are known to wait outside of protected areas to hunt wildlife as they are entering or leaving the protected areas.

Education of the public, businesses, and other level of governments is critical for quick implementation and continued support for these important goals.

Lastly, the protected areas need to be protected with human enforcement.

Minister Steven Guilbeault is a long-time environmental activist who understands the importance of Canada keeping its commitment of 30% by 2030.  There is a good chance he will achieve it.

Sharolyn Mathieu Vettese


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