Thank you very much.
I'd like to thank the chair, the vice-chair and all members for being here today, and for your continued work on conservation issues and sustainable development. I am really grateful to every one of you for the fact that you actually care enough to be doing this work. Thank you.
I will begin my comments today by using a guiding quote from Aldo Leopold's A Sand County Almanac, and that is very simply, “To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.”
I think we are at the point now where the data demonstrate very clearly to us that we have not been very intelligent tinkers. We are losing species at a ferocious pace, and more than that, we are losing populations of species at an even greater pace.
In new data that emerged in 2018, we saw that, based on analyses of 4,005 vertebrate populations that have been monitored more or less continuously since 1970, those populations have declined by between 50% and 67%, over that time period. This dreadful conclusion comes from the Living Planet Index, and it tells us that our living planet is considerably less alive than it was when I was a child, when these measurements first began.
Trends of this kind figure prominently in the extraordinary global summary that IPBES has provided. That report rounds up trends from thousands of different primary research studies.
I'd like to comment on a few of those primary research studies, as we have an author of the report here, and I don't think I need to summarize it for you. He has already done that very ably.
The first point I'd like to make is that some have laboured under the mistaken belief that rates of biodiversity decline in other places, such as the tropics, are higher than they are here. This view is incorrect and indefensible, based on quantitative analysis. There are far more species in the tropics than here, but if we measure rates of species decline in Canada relative to numbers of species that actually live here, we find that those rates are pretty similar, and sometimes even higher than global averages of the pace at which things are disappearing in other parts of the world.
For example, 32% of amphibian species globally are at risk of extinction, but 44% of amphibian species in Canada are at risk; 19% of reptile species globally are at risk of extinction, but that number is 65% among Canadian reptile species. Numbers vary from group to group, but the general message is rather simple: We have nothing we can be sanguine about, in terms of the proximity and importance of these threats to the biodiversity we have inherited from our ancestors.
A major reason that such a large proportion of species here is at risk is that they, like most people, are pressed up against our southern border. It is in these southern areas of Canada that land-use changes are most intensive and extensive, largely for agriculture, but also for urban areas and resource extraction.
We have hollowed out habitat in many of Canada's biodiversity hot spots and introduced land-use practices that are incompatible with life for many of those species. The policy whiplash created by governments, immediately upon election, undoing their predecessors' work, is not helping either.
Yet there is cause for hope. Bright spots for habitat in Canada's growing protected areas network, and in traditional territories of indigenous peoples, provide vital habitat for many species, even when there are neighbouring intensive and competing land uses, as in southern Ontario.
I did my Ph.D. in some of those places, such as Pinery Provincial Park on the shores of Lake Huron. It is an area surrounded by extremely intensive agriculture, yet this very small park, which may be only seven or eight square kilometres in size, provides a home for many species at risk. It's a biodiversity hot spot here, at a national scale. It gives us an undeniable example that restoring habitat in even small areas can exert disproportionate benefits in landscapes where habitat loss and pesticide use are pervasive.
To be clear, bigger parks are better, but small parks can be beautiful and vital, too. Yet conservation strategies cannot be based on anecdotes, no matter how charming I find them.
If we examine the economic return from agricultural land uses, for instance, the Statistics Canada census of agriculture data has demonstrated that producers receive little return for their hard work in some areas.
If we then line up those areas with places where there is the most potential for recovering populations of Canadian species at risk, we can work out solutions for prioritizing areas where conservation might proceed relatively effectively and relatively inexpensively. We published a map showing an example of this in 2017 in Conservation Biology, an instance of systematic conservation planning that figures very prominently in the target 1 work that so many people are contributing to.
Another major conclusion of that paper is that, in terms of the economic costs of conservation action, it is better to proceed immediately than to refine the plan somewhat but delay it by several years while refining it. Waiting makes the costs much higher than doing it now, even if the immediate plan needs to be refined while it is in motion. Fast action is cheaper, as well as more effective.
In Canada, it's not just biodiversity that's being lost. We're also losing species that do things for us and that provide us with ecosystem services we cannot live without. Pollinators are one such group. We showed that pollinator assemblages, as exemplified by butterflies, are undergoing a process of biotic homogenization. Rare species are disappearing from many areas, and replacing them are common weedy species. The consequence is that, from place to place, groups of species look more and more like each other. The distinctiveness of biological regions is declining.
I have not yet discussed climate change. As you all know, and as the evidence unequivocally demonstrates, human-caused emissions of greenhouse gases from all sources today are the major cause of present-day climate change. We have the power to intervene to reduce those emissions and keep our climate from warming beyond dangerous thresholds—and I mean dangerous for the continued stability of human civilization—as well as the essential and allied problems we face around biodiversity conservation.
I must emphasize that we now have strong evidence that climate change is contributing to extinction risks among groups of species we are not able to do without. In particular, I'll talk about pollinators where we've shown—along with many other researchers around the world—that climate change is contributing to a loss of pollinator biodiversity that is now detectable at continental scales across Europe and North America. Indeed, many of these species are effectively trapped in a climate vise, and their ranges are being crushed by climate change—they're disappearing. That means their capacity to provide these ecosystem with services that determine whether we get to have things like crops—in 75% of cases—is disappearing as well. This is a most unhelpful development and something we should be very concerned about.
We do not have the luxury of time to vacillate about whether we act on climate change. We could have done that a little bit in the 1980s, given that scientific uncertainty could questionably have justified prolonged study rather than immediate action. At this point, however, failing to address climate change and its many impacts, including ecological impacts, is a game of roulette with a loaded pistol.
Achieving connectivity in landscapes to enable species to disperse elsewhere or find refuge from extreme weather is part of what we must address in Canada. This thinking was also clearly front of mind in testimony that you heard in this committee recently on a protected area strategy. Policies for addressing climate change exist and have been tried—they work. They can be refined as we learn new things. They don't impose impractical economic costs; there is no conflict between conservation and the economy.
Finally, I'm going to close on a few simple notes, paraphrasing an indigenous saying: We do not inherit the world from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children. As scientists, we know there are real impacts from failures to take effective conservation action. But, as parents and as citizens, we feel this need more acutely because we see what is coming; we measure it as part of our day jobs.
The basic information I've discussed here today, as published in the IPBES report, isn't new, but has many refinements and improvements. That science was available to all of us 30 years ago.
Ever since, the basic messages that have been conveyed from the scientific community to policy-makers have remained largely consistent—again, with important revisions and refinements. However, the time has now come for us to proceed with effective policy action to conserve biological diversity. The reasons to do so are easily found when we go home to our families at night and remember that we have borrowed the world from our children. We did not inherit it from our parents.