Last week’s world conference was an opportunity to refocus global attention on the long-term challenges we face if the planet fails to curb coastal erosion and land degradation. The risk of death faced by climate change is far greater than anything this pandemic delivered.
By Sheila Copps
First published in The Hill Times on January 18, 2021.
Just as the post-Trump America is a very different place, the post-COVID world will change us all forever.
Virtual meetings have gone from being a techie tool used by geeks to the go-to place for people to meet globally.
A year ago, no one could have envisioned an international meeting of leaders on global warming taking place virtually.
But that is just what happened last week when French President Emmanuel Macron chaired a virtual One Planet Summit of first ministers and environment ministers from around the world.
The summit was organized by the French government in concert with the United Nations and the World Bank.
Its aim was to refocus world attention on the climate crisis and the role played by biodiversity in achieving carbon capture targets.
Macron compared the global fight for biodiversity to a human rights battle. “I do not believe that the right of any other living creature is higher than a human right. But I do not believe in the effectiveness of preserving human rights without preserving the ecosystems. For me, this is the philosophical and ethical basis for this battle for biodiversity.
At the gathering, Canada joined 49 other countries in reiterating its commitment to set aside 30 per cent of our land and water by 2030.
Because of COVID, the world’s insatiable appetite for energy has abated somewhat. But the urgency that accompanied youth marches headed by Greta Thunberg seems to have been sidelined by Covidmania.
People are focused much more on their own short-term survival than on the status of the planet.
That did not stop Prime Minister Justin Trudeau from announcing a $55-million contribution to the United Nations Land Degradation Neutrality fund designed to prevent biosphere degradation and erosion in low and middle-income countries.
The conference was attended by several key international players, including UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
The United States and Brazil, two key players in the climate discussion, were notably absent. In one week, the new American president will likely join a world biodiversity solution.
The summit managed to assemble like-minded countries that have all committed to protecting 30 per cent of their land and water mass over the next decade.
In terms of world environmental improvement, it was the most significant gathering since the launch of the Kyoto Protocol on climate change.
But the current obsession with everything COVID meant that, while a virtual meeting enlisted more participants, global coverage of these critical environmental issues has been dwarfed by the spectre of COVID-19.
Hopefully, the pandemic will be overcome soon when countries vaccinate all their citizens.
So that means, for Canada, by this fall, we should finally see an end to the ongoing lockdowns, emergency measures and life-altering changes that have forced most citizens to live like hermits since last March.
But how will we reinvigorate the debate on the global climate crisis if a gathering like the one hosted by Macron last week can barely make a ripple in the national news cycle?
Canada has taken the lead as one of the early signatories to an international treaty designed to secure natural spaces in all countries as part of a solution to environmental degradation.
According to Environment and Climate Change Minister Jonathan Wilkinson, the government has already made the single largest contribution to nature conservancy in Canadian history by boosting conserved coastal areas from one per cent to 14 per cent.
Last week, the minister announced an even more aggressive target. He pledged that Canada would commit to conserve 25 per cent of our land and water by 2025. That will be the first step in our commitment to protect 30 percent of our land and water by 3030.
Wilkinson launched a clear plan, with specific targets for southern, middle and northern Canada.
He understands that simply setting aside major swathes of natural landscape in remote areas cannot be a replacement for real change in how we sustain and protect biodiversity in southern Canada.
Wilkinson is focussing on strategies for large cities, middle Canada corridors and large areas of northern wilderness. He has put in place different initiatives to support biodiversity and sustainability of these decidedly different ecosystems.
Last week’s world conference was an opportunity to refocus global attention on the long-term challenges we face if the planet fails to curb coastal erosion and land degradation.
The risk of death faced by climate change is far greater than anything this pandemic delivered.
Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.