Now that the world has come together for a new deal to protect what’s left of the planet’s biodiversity, observers say Canada’s various layers of government will have to do the same.
Ottawa can make international promises, but it’s the provinces and territories that control activities that have the most impact on ecosystems such as agriculture, forestry and resource development, said Melanie Snow of Ecojustice.
“The provinces and territories do have the most jurisdiction over biodiversity protection,” she said. “National and provincial governments do need to work together.
“I’m sure the federal government will be consulting with the provinces and territories.”
Over the weekend, 196 countries came together on a deal to protect Earth’s biodiversity at the COP15 meeting in Montreal. That deal includes a pledge to protect 30 per cent of the globe’s lands and oceans by 2030 — a promise Ottawa will find difficult to implement if other levels of government, including First Nations, aren’t on board.
“It is achievable if all levels of government get together,” said Sandra Schwartz of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.
The new biodiversity pact calls on the world to phase out at least $700 billion in subsidies that work to degrade biodiversity, often those that go to industries like forestry, farming and fishing. That will force Canadian governments to reconsider policies in all departments, not just environment ministries, said Schwartz.
“A whole-of-government approach is needed.”
Schwartz said governments already consider the potential effects of new projects and policies on greenhouse gas targets. Now, the same has to be done for biodiversity.
“(Officials) don’t currently look at biodiversity or nature outcomes as part of the analysis that’s done to see if the federal government should be investing,” Schwartz said.
That same “biodiversity lens” will have to be turned on current subsidies and tax programs, she added.
“If there are tax incentives that are given that are harmful to areas that may have key biodiversity, we want to make sure those subsidies don’t continue.”
New legislation will have to be developed to bring COP15 into Canadian law, said Snow. Similar legislation already exists for climate targets.
Snow said drafting the new bills will force levels of government to sit down together and work out how the COP15 agreement will be implemented. She said that will be an opportunity for leaders to decide what kinds of development will be permitted where — and if some areas should be off-limits — in advance of proposals coming forward.
That’s better than the current piecemeal approach, where Ottawa decides project by project if it will assess environmental impact.
“What we often see is that there is a tension when the federal government comes in at the last moment,” Snow said.
Federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault said such legislation will be a priority for his department in the new year.
“I have team members who have started looking into that and that have started having conversations with NGOs and the department about how would that look and what would be the timeline to develop legislation,” he said.
Guilbeault also said next year Canada will vet its various subsidies to see which harm nature.
Canada made similar promises to phase out subsidies to fossil fuel producers, and has been heavily criticized for taking too long to do it.
It just recently moved to eliminate Canada’s support for international fossil fuel projects and Guilbeault said the domestic subsidies will end by June.
Guilbeault said phasing out fossil fuel subsidies took too long, but that experience should make removal quicker for subsidies that damage biodiversity.
“It will happen more rapidly on for nature subsidies,” he promised.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 19, 2022.
— with files from Mia Rabson in Montreal. Follow bob Weber on Twitter at @row1960.
Inflation in Canada: Finance ministers meet
TORONTO – The two big spending pressures on the federal government right now are health care and the global transition to a clean economy, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said Friday.
After hosting an in-person meeting with the provincial and territorial finance ministers, Freeland said U.S. President Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, which includes electric-vehicle incentives that favour manufacturers in Canada and Mexico as well as the U.S., has changed the playing field when it comes to the global competition for capital.
“I cannot emphasize too strongly how much I believe that we need to seize the moment and build the clean economy of the 21st century,” Freeland said during a news conference held at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy.
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Canada needs to invest in the transition in order to potentially have an outsized share in the economy of the future, she said, or it risks being left behind.
This year in particular will be an important year for attracting capital to Canada, she said, calling for the provinces and territories to chip in.
“This is a truly historic, once-in-a-generation economic moment and it will take a team Canada effort to seize it.”
At the same time, Freeland spoke of the need for fiscal restraint amid economic uncertainty.
“We know that one of the most important things the federal government can do to help Canadians today is to be mindful of our responsibility not to pour fuel on the fire of inflation,” she said.
Freeland said these two major spending pressures, which were among the topics prioritized at Friday’s meeting, come at a time of a global economic slowdown which poses restraint on government spending.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is set to meet with the premiers Feb. 7 to discuss a long-awaited deal on health-care spending. The provinces have been asking for increases to the health transfer to the tune of billions of dollars.
Freeland said it’s clear that the federal government needs to invest in health care and reiterated the government’s commitment to doing so but would not say whether she thinks the amount the provinces are asking for in increased health transfers is feasible.
“It’s time to see the numbers,” Quebec Finance Minister Eric Girard said Friday afternoon, in anticipation of the Feb. 7 meeting.
The meeting of the finance ministers comes at a tense time for many Canadian consumers, with inflation still running hot and interest rates much higher than they were a year ago.
The ministers also spoke with Bank of Canada governor Tiff Macklem Friday and discussed the economic outlook for Canada and the world, said Freeland.
“We’re very aware of the uncertainty in the global economy right now,” said Freeland. “Inflation is high and interest rates are high.”
“Things are tough for a lot of Canadians and a lot of Canadian families today and at the federal level, this is a time of real fiscal constraint.”
The Bank of Canada raised its key interest rate again last week, bringing it to 4.5 per cent, but signalled it’s taking a pause to let the impact of its aggressive hiking cycle sink in.
The economy is showing signs of slowing, but inflation was still high at 6.3 per cent in December, with food prices in particular remaining elevated year over year.
Interest rates have put a damper on the housing market, sending prices and sales downward for months on end even as the cost of renting went up in 2022.
Meanwhile, the labour market has remained strong, with the unemployment rate nearing record lows in December at five per cent.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 3, 2023.
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