Federal promises to expand the protection of land and water are empty without budget commitments

Opinion

Funding initiatives to protect land, freshwater and oceans should be a priority in the upcoming federal budget, and at a level commensurate with Canada's historic nature and climate commitments, write Gauri Sreenivasan, Mandy Gull and Jacqueline Scott.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland will table the federal budget on April 19 in Ottawa.(Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

The federal government is hard at work finalizing a budget that will underwrite our path forward out of the pandemic as a country. That's why 50 women leaders from diverse regions and sectors, and across Indigenous, Black, racialized and LGBTQ2IS+ communities, are writing to Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland this week to remind her that nature's recovery is essential to our own.

For over a year the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on our health and wellbeing, our economy and our communities. Low-income and working women, particularly from Indigenous, Black and other racialized communities, have borne the brunt not only of job loss in this "she-cession," but of the physical and mental stress fuelled by lockdowns and school closures, rising family violence and heavy demands on frontline workers.

The pandemic has thrown into relief what we value — and the urgent need to build up and invest in essential support systems that will secure a healthy, and more equitable future for all.

And throughout the pandemic, as it has since time immemorial, our most foundational and essential support system has been nature.

As the buds burst forth and the birds return this spring, people are rejoicing at the prospect of more ways to get outside safely, and the chance to reconnect with each other and the land. While we marvel at nature's persistent capacity for renewal, natural support systems — from forests, to wetlands, to oceans, and the wildlife they hold — are being dangerously depleted. More than 600 wildlife species in Canada alone are at risk of disappearing.

Nature is in crisis across Canada — and therefore, so are we.

In the letter to Minister Freeland, women leaders from across the country have come together to ask the federal government to invest in nature for our shared future. The list of prominent signatories includes writer Margaret Atwood, Indigo Inc. CEO Heather Reisman, former ambassador of circumpolar affairs Mary Simon, president-elect of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment Melissa Lem, and more.

As with the pandemic, Indigenous, Black, and racialized women and their communities are disproportionately affected by environmental damage and climate disruption, and have highly inequitable access to safe and thriving natural areas. Nature also underwrites economic activity and employment for women and their communities from coast to coast to coast.

Indigenous knowledge systems and Western science tell us that the lack of attention to the interface between humans and the natural world is putting us at immense risk. The destruction of habitat and climbing carbon emissions combine to increase the likelihood of future viral outbreaks, climate chaos and the continued collapse of the natural systems that support all life by providing us with clean air, water, food, health and wellness, and cultural connection.

But there is hope.

It's buoyed by the federal government's public commitment to protect 25 per cent of Canada's land and ocean by 2025, and lead globally to ensure 30 per cent protection of the planet by 2030, while achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.

We strongly believe that respect for Indigenous rights and authentic support for Indigenous-led conservation must be central to these plans. Indeed, Indigenous women are leading efforts to defend, restore and protect ecosystems in their territories, which benefits us all.

Signatories to the open letter have asked Minister Freeland to ensure that investments to expand the protection of land, freshwater and oceans are a priority in the federal budget, and at a level commensurate with Canada's historic nature and climate commitments.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his government have made a public commitment to protect 25 per cent of Canada's land and oceans by 2025. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

They also support the call from the Green Budget Coalition for a minimum investment of $4.8 billion over five years, including backing for Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas and Guardian Programs.

Without this, the promise of global leadership on nature and climate will be empty, and we will have shortchanged future generations and all species the healthy future that is their right.

Credible federal investments in nature will allow us to hold our heads high at U.S. President Joe Biden's upcoming Leader's Climate Summit, and offers Canada an opportunity to demonstrate a serious commitment to global nature protection as a frontline climate defence.

As Indigenous peoples have understood for millennia, humans are an integral part of nature, not above it. Simply put, our economy and our communities cannot thrive if nature does not.

As nature renews her life-giving support to us all this spring, we urge the federal government to ensure we invest in protecting and restoring the lands and waters that hold us all.



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(CBC)

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