Protecting nature also fights climate change, says federal environment minister

Carbon taxes aren't the only way to fight climate change, says federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna.Speaking ahead of an international conservation conference, McKenna said protecting natural areas can go a long way toward slowing the progress and mitigating the impact of global warming."Nature isn't linked to climate as much as it should be," she said Tuesday, the day before the opening of the Nature Champions Summit in Montreal, which will bring together governments, businesses, Indigenous communities and non-governmental organizations."We're connecting it to climate."Intact ecosystems can help protect communities against some of the worst impacts of climate change. Scientists often point to the role of wetlands in absorbing heavy rains or snowmelts, reducing flooding for homes and farms."How do you use natural protections to protect areas?" she asked. "We need to link these agendas a lot better."As well, landscapes such as natural forests store huge amounts of carbon — much more, studies have suggested, than replanted or farmed trees. "We need to look at how we're going to store carbon," McKenna said. "Nature is a very effective way to store carbon, everywhere from grasslands to mangroves."Three protected areas currently under consideration hold the carbon equivalent to 15 years of Canada’s annual industrial GHG emissions at 2017 levels.It's certainly easier politics.The federal carbon tax has been relentlessly controversial. A recent Abacus poll found only 59 per cent of Canadians believed it to be the right direction. Several premiers are lined up against it in court.On the other hand, an Abacus poll released Tuesday found almost nine out of 10 Canadians support federal conservation commitments. The same poll suggests more than two-thirds of Canadians back Indigenous protected areas and Indigenous Guardians programs to help manage protected lands."Conservation unites Canadians," said Abacus CEO David Coletto. "It’s rare to see this kind of consensus on issues, but people overwhelmingly agree the country should do more to conserve nature."Not that McKenna's backing away from the tax."You've got to be doing things across the board. We need to put a price on pollution because if it's free to pollute, there'll be more pollution. But you have to do a whole range of other things." Nature, however, is nicer."Nature is an agenda that everyone can get around," McKenna said.Also on Tuesday, McKenna announced a four-year, $100-million commitment to preserve environmentally valuable areas on private land. That money is to be tripled through matching private donations and is anticipated to protect about 200,000 hectares.The Natural Heritage Conservation Program is expected to save habitat for 25 species at risk not found in any other public or privately protected areas. Most of those new areas will be in the settled landscapes of southern Canada.McKenna said Canada continues to make good progress on its commitments to preserve 17 per cent of its land mass and 10 per cent of its oceans and coastlines by 2020.The Liberal government has increased marine protection to about eight per cent from one. The terrestrial gap is wider, with less than 12 per cent protected — although that doesn't include three large protected areas in the Northwest Territories, Nunavut and British Columbia that are close to being finished."We're pretty confident we'll get to 17 per cent by 2020," McKenna said.— Follow Bob Weber on Twitter at @row1960Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

Carbon taxes aren't the only way to fight climate change, says federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna.

Speaking ahead of an international conservation conference, McKenna said protecting natural areas can go a long way toward slowing the progress and mitigating the impact of global warming.

"Nature isn't linked to climate as much as it should be," she said Tuesday, the day before the opening of the Nature Champions Summit in Montreal, which will bring together governments, businesses, Indigenous communities and non-governmental organizations.

"We're connecting it to climate."

Intact ecosystems can help protect communities against some of the worst impacts of climate change. Scientists often point to the role of wetlands in absorbing heavy rains or snowmelts, reducing flooding for homes and farms.

"How do you use natural protections to protect areas?" she asked. "We need to link these agendas a lot better."

As well, landscapes such as natural forests store huge amounts of carbon — much more, studies have suggested, than replanted or farmed trees.   

"We need to look at how we're going to store carbon," McKenna said. "Nature is a very effective way to store carbon, everywhere from grasslands to mangroves."

Three protected areas currently under consideration hold the carbon equivalent to 15 years of Canada’s annual industrial GHG emissions at 2017 levels.

It's certainly easier politics.

The federal carbon tax has been relentlessly controversial. A recent Abacus poll found only 59 per cent of Canadians believed it to be the right direction. Several premiers are lined up against it in court.

On the other hand, an Abacus poll released Tuesday found almost nine out of 10 Canadians support federal conservation commitments. The same poll suggests more than two-thirds of Canadians back Indigenous protected areas and Indigenous Guardians programs to help manage protected lands.

"Conservation unites Canadians," said Abacus CEO David Coletto. "It’s rare to see this kind of consensus on issues, but people overwhelmingly agree the country should do more to conserve nature."

Not that McKenna's backing away from the tax.

"You've got to be doing things across the board. We need to put a price on pollution because if it's free to pollute, there'll be more pollution. But you have to do a whole range of other things." 

Nature, however, is nicer.

"Nature is an agenda that everyone can get around," McKenna said.

Also on Tuesday, McKenna announced a four-year, $100-million commitment to preserve environmentally valuable areas on private land. That money is to be tripled through matching private donations and is anticipated to protect about 200,000 hectares.

The Natural Heritage Conservation Program is expected to save habitat for 25 species at risk not found in any other public or privately protected areas. Most of those new areas will be in the settled landscapes of southern Canada.

McKenna said Canada continues to make good progress on its commitments to preserve 17 per cent of its land mass and 10 per cent of its oceans and coastlines by 2020.

The Liberal government has increased marine protection to about eight per cent from one. The terrestrial gap is wider, with less than 12 per cent protected — although that doesn't include three large protected areas in the Northwest Territories, Nunavut and British Columbia that are close to being finished.

"We're pretty confident we'll get to 17 per cent by 2020," McKenna said.

— Follow Bob Weber on Twitter at @row1960

Bob Weber, The Canadian Press