Conserving the World's Last Great Forest is Possible: Here's How (2013)

Submitted by Climate Risk Institute | published 12th Sep 2022 | last updated 27th Sep 2022
Conserving the World's Last Great Forest is Possible: Here's How

Executive Summary

This resource was submitted by the Climate Risk Institute for use by the CanAdapt Climate Change Adaptation Community of Practice. 

This article is an abridged version of the original text, which can be downloaded from the right-hand column. Please access the original text for more detail, research purposes, full references, or to quote text.

From Yukon and the Northwest Territories in the west, stretching across the northern expanses of Canada to Newfoundland and Labrador in the east, the governments and communities of Canada’s boreal forest are facing and struggling with unprecedented decisions about the future of their lands and their peoples. It is vital that all those involved in shaping these decisions understand fully the context, including the globally significant conservation and natural capital values of Canada’s boreal forest.

Some of the features of Canada’s boreal forest that make it globally significant include its large primary forests, peatlands, taiga, lakes and rivers. These are among the world’s last remaining examples of northern ecosystems that support healthy populations of large mammals, birds and fish, many of which are extinct or endangered in other regions. Canada’s boreal forest is one of the world’s most significant land-based storehouses of carbon—carbon that must be kept out of the atmosphere to prevent further and potentially catastrophic global warming. The region contains more surface freshwater than any other nation on earth and some of the world’s most extensive wetlands, largest lakes and longest undammed rivers. Canada’s boreal forest is also home to hundreds of Aboriginal communities who retain connections to and use of the land and its animals and plants.

These are among many of the globally significant conservation values that highlight Canada’s global responsibility as steward of the boreal forest. At the same time, there is rapidly escalating interest in the region from industries based on resource extraction. Yet rules and regulations for managing industrial extraction of resources in Canada’s boreal forest have not kept pace with the rapidly expanding footprint of industrial activities and plans.

Whether it is the extinction of species, the increase in costs from polluted water and air or the societal tragedy from collapse of an overused resource, history has shown clearly the loss of conservation values when societies do not understand or react to the changes that they are imposing on natural systems. Ultimately, we depend upon intact ecosystems and the services they provide more than the short-term profits of unsustainable resource extraction.

Provincial, federal, territorial and Aboriginal governments are making decisions today that will decide the fate of the peoples and the ecology of Canada’s boreal forest. Science provides clear guidance about what needs to be done to ensure that these decisions balance the maintenance of the natural heritage of Canada’s boreal forest region with industrial development that extracts resources that other nations desire. At the forefront of this scientific guidance is that no less than 50 percent of a region should be forever protected from development. Industrial activities taking place in the remaining unprotected areas should be carried out with the highest global sustainability standards. A network of large protected areas should be established before industrial development proceeds. Furthermore, both protected areas and industrial activities should proceed only with free, prior and informed consent of affected Aboriginal communities.

 

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