PM commits up to $55 million to reduce land degradation at virtual biodiversity summit

·4 min read

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau today announced that Canada would commit up to $55 million to a United Nations initiative aimed at preventing further degradation of land and protecting vital ecosystems.

The investment in the UN Land Degradation Neutrality Fund (LDN) will go toward projects in low- and middle-income countries, Trudeau said. The LDN invests in private sector land sustainability projects to restore land degraded by environmental damage and human activity.

"When sea levels rise, when droughts become the norm and not the exception, this has catastrophic effects on national habitats," Trudeau told the virtual One Planet Summit.

"As an international community, we have a responsibility to act."

Hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron in cooperation with the UN and the World Bank, the one-day summit aimed to build momentum for action on climate change and biodiversity — progress that has slowed as governments focus on containing the coronavirus pandemic.

Several heads of government and leaders of international organizations attended, including UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, European Union head Ursula von der Leyen. Top U.S. officials were notably absent, as were representatives from Russia, Brazil and India.

Victor R. Caivano/The Associated Press
Victor R. Caivano/The Associated Press

Macron announced that 50 countries had joined the High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People, which was launched in 2019 by Costa Rica, France and Britain to set a target of protecting at least 30 per cent of the planet by 2030.

Johnson said the U.K. will commit at least £3 billion ($5.1 billion Cdn) over five years to climate change solutions that protect and restore nature and biodiversity. That's in addition to the U.K.'s existing commitment of £11.6bn ($20 billion Cdn) for international climate finance.

The One Planet Summit focused on four topics: protecting terrestrial and marine ecosystems; promoting more sustainable ways to grow food; increasing funding to protect biodiversity; and identifying links between deforestation and the health of humans and animals.

Trudeau spoke during the funding section of the summit, saying that any money Canada commits in the future to global finance projects related to climate change will include funds for biodiversity.

He also touted commitments the Liberal government has made already to stem biodiversity loss, including pledges to plant two billion trees and to protect 30 per cent Canadian land and seas by 2030.

"Our world is an interdependent one and destroying natural habitat leads to necessarily bad, unexpected consequences, not just for the health of our planet but also for the health of our communities," Trudeau said in French.

Threatened species, degraded land

Approximately one million animal and plant species around the globe are threatened with extinction, according to the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. The group estimates that one third of marine mammals and 40 per cent of amphibians are endangered, and that about 70 per cent of coral reefs have been destroyed or are endangered.

Much of that damage is due to the destruction of natural habitats, primarily caused by the clearing of land by humans for activities like farming, mining, drilling and urbanization. It also occurs because of extreme weather events like wildfires and droughts — events which scientists believe have become more severe in recent years because of climate change.

In fact, a 2019 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that human-caused climate change is dramatically degrading the planet's land, while the way people use the Earth is making global warming worse — a vicious cycle that is making food more expensive, scarcer and even less nutritious, while reducing the number of species on Earth.

One Planet Summit organizers say promoting biodiversity is "our life insurance" in a world where the trends of climate change and biodiversity loss are accelerating. They said they hoped the summit would lay the foundation for an agreement on ambitious new goals for biodiversity protection at a UN conference in China, COP15, scheduled for later this year.

That meeting and the UN's next major climate summit were both postponed last year because of the pandemic.

Canada's investment in the LDN is part of a $2.65 billion climate finance commitment Trudeau announced in 2015 to help developing countries tackle climate change.