Big­ger Pic­ture

How a com­plex process of de­ter­min­ing re­spon­si­ble land use in Nu­navut might show the world how to do it well

Canadian Wildlife - - CONTENTS - By Alanna Mitchell

A com­plex process of de­ter­min­ing a re­spon­si­ble land use plan in Nu­navut can show the world how to do it well

IT WAS THE HEAD­LINE ON THE AN­NOUNCE­MENT OF the re­port that hit me hard. “Hu­man well-be­ing at risk,” it read. The logic, when I read fur­ther, con­tained two points. The first: bio­di­ver­sity — the dizzy­ing va­ri­ety of life forms on the planet — con­tin­ues to drop in every sin­gle re­gion of the world. The sec­ond: these de­clines are im­pair­ing na­ture’s abil­ity to keep peo­ple go­ing.

The re­port, by the In­ter­gov­ern­men­tal Sci­ence-pol­icy Plat­form on Bio­di­ver­sity and Ecosys­tem Ser­vices (IPBES), which came out in March, is the blue-rib­bon sci­en­tific ex­am­i­na­tion of the state of na­ture, if you ex­clude what’s hap­pen­ing in the open ocean and right at the poles. More than 500 sci­en­tists con­tributed from more than 100 coun­tries.

The or­ga­ni­za­tion’s chair, Robert Wat­son, an em­i­nent en­vi­ron­men­tal sci­en­tist at the Tyn­dall Cen­tre for Cli­mate Change Re­search at the Univer­sity of East Anglia in the U.K., takes pains in the an­nounce­ment to con­vince us that bio­di­ver­sity mat­ters to hu­mans in a lit­eral, if not po­etic, sense. Homo sapi­ens needs the dance of other crea­tures on the planet to give us food, clean wa­ter and en­ergy. Na­ture “con­trib­utes” to peo­ple. When na­ture suf­fers, there­fore, so do peo­ple.

It’s a bid to make us care about the loss of bio­di­ver­sity, one of the tough­est en­vi­ron­men­tal con­cepts to sell to the pub­lic. I guess, for some, it’s eas­ier to imag­ine that na­ture “con­trib­utes” to us than to think that other crea­tures have their own in­trin­sic worth and the right to be here. I re­mem­ber in­ter­view­ing peo­ple a few years ago about the grow­ing num­ber of species on the brink of ex­tinc­tion, only to have one of them de­clare, with­out irony, that when an­other species goes ex­tinct, it means hu­mans are win­ning.

But if you do care about bio­di­ver­sity, a re­port like this one can be in­struc­tive. For ex­am­ple, in the Amer­i­cas alone — ac­cord­ing to a re­gional anal­y­sis co-chaired by Jake Rice, who was chief sci­en­tist for Canada’s Depart­ment of Fish­eries and Oceans un­til he re­tired a cou­ple of years ago — pop­u­la­tions of the av­er­age species are 31 per cent smaller than they were when Europeans ar­rived cen­turies ago.

That’s the re­sult of such stresses as land­scape degra­da­tion; pol­lu­tion of air, wa­ter and land; in­va­sive species tak­ing hold. By 2050, as the ef­fects of cli­mate change kick in even more, that will rise to 40 per cent, a dra­matic deep­en­ing of the bio­di­ver­sity cri­sis.

Un­less some­thing changes. And here is where the re­port of­fers a few glim­mers of hope. It is pos­si­ble to slow the trend of loss. In some cases, it’s pos­si­ble to re­store bio­di­ver­sity. Ex­am­ples from every cor­ner of the world show that when smart and thought­ful poli­cies are es­tab­lished and en­forced, things can get bet­ter. That’s es­pe­cially true when In­dige­nous and lo­cal knowl­edge are brought into play.

In Canada, the po­ten­tial pol­icy su­per­star is the Nu­navut land use plan. This is the blue­print for which parts of Nu­navut will be opened to in­dus­trial de­vel­op­ment and which parts — and their crea­tures — will be pro­tected.

Plan­ning has been go­ing for about a decade, and the lat­est word is that noth­ing will be fi­nal un­til 2022. When that hap­pens, it will be bind­ing on all lev­els of govern­ment, an un­usual fea­ture of any pol­icy. This will be en­vi­ron­men­tal and bio­di­ver­sity pol­icy writ large and firm. It means the key is to get it right be­fore it’s passed.

The process to do that has been me­thod­i­cal, if nec­es­sar­ily messy. It in­volves ex­ten­sive con­sul­ta­tions with all 25 Inuit com­mu­ni­ties in Nu­navut, as well as with the Dene in north­ern Man­i­toba and Saskatchewan, with the Inuit of north­ern Que­bec and with other gov­ern­ments and their sci­en­tists, plus in­dus­try. It’s all hap­pen­ing even as the car­bon-diox­ide-heated Arc­tic con­tin­ues to thaw and as pres­sure for in­dus­trial de­vel­op­ment grows.

More than most peo­ple on our planet, the Inuit of Nu­navut know pre­cisely how na­ture “con­trib­utes” to their lives. Many live off the land. They cher­ish their abil­ity to feed their fam­i­lies through hunt­ing and fish­ing. Will the new plan suc­ceed in pro­tect­ing tra­di­tional ice travel routes, im­por­tant cari­bou calv­ing grounds and crit­i­cal bird habitat?

Conservationists and sci­en­tists the world over are hold­ing their breath. This one part of Canada — the ter­ri­tory of Nu­navut born along with the new mil­len­nium — has a fair shot at get­ting things wholly right for the species that mat­ter, based on the best sci­ence we can muster.

If that hap­pens, there will be cel­e­bra­tions across Canada’s three coasts and be­yond. And not just for bio­di­ver­sity, but for the heroic com­mu­ni­ties that showed the rest of the world how to keep it safe.1


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