The climate crisis has posed a serious threat to Earth’s biodiversity. Maintaining a variety of plant and animal life in any habitat is known as biodiversity, and it is absolutely essential for the stability of our ecosystems and food chains (1,2,3). With warming temperatures, changing rainfall patterns, rising sea levels, and the mass urbanization of our lands, many species are being driven to extinction (2). In order to ensure survival, species adapt over time to their surroundings; however with the rapidly changing climate, this is becoming an increasingly daunting task. The ability to adapt is also dependent upon a species’ previous exposure to climate change effects, their vulnerability level, and ability to migrate or relocate (4,5). The current rate of global warming is forcing ecosystems to change quicker than species can adapt (2,5). Studies illustrate a bleak future for all species, predicting that, if the climate continues to rapidly change as a result of global warming, between 15% and 37% of all species on Earth will be severely endangered or extinct by 2050 (7). The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) has stated that 25% of the animal and plant groups that they have assessed are threatened; meaning 1 million species globally are already facing extinction within the upcoming decades (2).
In Canada, roughly half of the populations of monitored fish, birds, mammals, amphibians, and reptiles have declined by at least 80% since 1970, with fish species declining by 20%, amphibian and reptile populations by 34%, and birds in the Canadian prairies by 55%, primarily as a result of habitat loss (4,8). Human activity not only poses a threat to a range of species, but it sparks instability within the natural food chain (3). The Earth’s natural systems not only contain an invaluable wealth of natural beauty, but also play a key role in providing fresh water, oxygen production, and fertile soil. Rapid extinctions have the potential to collapse these systems and pose an immense threat to our diets (3). Beyond food sources, we rely on a vast range of plant and animal species for ingredients of everyday objects, medicines, and even financial stability for some, in the form of employment in environment and climate dependent fields of work (2). Declining biodiversity not only threatens the species around us – but threatens our environment, our health, and life as we know it.
Human activity has irreversibly altered the planet in many ways, and we must learn to take responsibility for preserving the natural systems around us. Activities such as mining, deforestation, and pollution, are driving forces behind our ecological breakdown (4,10). Secondary consequences from our ‘business as usual’ activities include biome destabilization, ocean acidity, and natural disasters, which all significantly contribute to ecological breakdown as well (4,10). A recent IPBES report concluded that global biodiversity is declining faster than at any point in recorded history (2). As mentioned before, the most effective way to combat the loss of these habitats is through governmental policy, at all levels, that focuses on enhancing ‘protected areas’ to achieve long-term conservation of our ecosystems (10). Scientists are discussing a “Global Deal for Nature” as a solution to the amount of protected lands needed to ensure the world’s ecosystems are preserved (4). This proposal, outlined in detail by a new study in Science Advances, calls for half of all lands on Earth to be designated as “protected lands” with a minimum of 30% needed to maintain a stable environment (11). These conservation efforts will not only preserve nature, but will contribute to our overall well being as well. For example, maintaining and increasing the amount of trees within such protected lands will help combat emissions through the absorption of carbon dioxide in the air while providing lush forested areas throughout our nation (4).
How Can We Improve?
As of August 2019, the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans has stated that Canada is currently protecting 13.81% of its marine and coastal areas (See Fig. 3) (12). Parks Canada is working with its partners to create a network of protected areas that will conserve at least 17% of lands and inland waters by 2020 (4). Though this growth is promising, studies have made it clear that this is still too low of a target to ensure that our conservation goals are met (13). The 2019 Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) report has also provided an outline for the designation of protected lands in Canada, in hopes of meeting the minimum percentage of our land needed to be protected by 2030, as outlined by those studies in Science Advances (4,11). This report also outlines the need for Indigenous-led proactive planning, specifically in northern regions, where traditional knowledge of the ecosystems is abundant and fundamental to ensuring the effectiveness of the protected lands (4). An example of Canadian land that undoubtedly needs to be protected is the Bow River Basin. The Bow River Basin, within Banff National Park, is a clean water resource for over a million people that is put at risk during extreme weather events, such as droughts and floods, which are occurring at a higher frequency as a result of the climate crisis. (14). In order to ensure systems like these are not put at risk, implementing and maintaining the integrity of land protection policies is absolutely crucial (4,11).