Massive northern park at risk of landing on ‘World Heritage in Danger’ list
Wood Buffalo, which straddles the Alberta-Northwest Territories boundary, is one of the world’s largest freshwater deltas. (Parks Canada)
The status of Canada’s largest park as a world heritage site remains wobbly after a United Nations body expressed grave doubts about a federal plan to rescue it.
“Considerably more effort will be needed to reverse the negative trends at a time when climate change combined with upstream industrial developments and resource extraction are intensifying,” says a draft decision on Wood Buffalo National Park from UNESCO, which manages the UN’s list of World Heritage Sites.
Further deterioration, it says, “could eventually lead to the inscription of the property on the list of World Heritage in Danger.”
Wood Buffalo, which straddles the Alberta-Northwest Territories boundary, is one of the world’s largest freshwater deltas and breeding grounds for millions of migratory birds from four continental flyways.
With almost 45,000 square kilometres of grasslands, wetlands and waterways, it is the world’s only breeding ground for endangered whooping cranes and home to the world’s largest herd of free-ranging wood buffalo. First Nations depend on the area.
But it has been deteriorating for decades. In 2014, the Mikisew Cree asked UNESCO to examine the park and see if it still merited designation as a World Heritage Site.
The UNESCO report prompted Ottawa to commission a 561-page study that concluded 15 out of 17 measures of ecological health were declining. The effects — everything from low water flows to curtailed Indigenous use — stem largely from changes to area rivers caused by climate change, dams in British Columbia and industry in Alberta.
Canada proposed solutions such as artificially induced spring floods and other water flows. Ottawa also promised more careful environmental reviews of nearby development and better consultation with local Indigenous people.
…But Canada failed to answer concerns about B.C. Hydro’s Site C dam, UNESCO says. It also points out that ongoing oilsands development upstream from the park is of “serious concern.” MORE
Reconciliation is the most important challenge facing Canadians. It’s important to understand the many challenges facing First Nations trying to reconcile development and environmental sustainability.
Haisla Nation Chief Councillor Crystal Smith, shown here in Kitamaat Village, B.C. on March 9, 2019, has endured threats over her support for Coastal GasLink’s natural gas project. Photo by Brandi Morin
Haisla Nation Chief Councillor Crystal Smith has been called a “traitor” and faced threats on social media, warned not to go anywhere alone at a recent First Nation sporting event.
Smith says she comes from “a long, long line of strong female leaders” in the matriarchal Haisla Nation and has the support of her community against threats, most from outside of Kitamaat Village, B.C. in the Pacific Northwest. The promise of a brighter future keeps her going. She’s never been prouder to be a Haisla Nation member.
The attacks stem from the Haisla Nation signing mutual benefit agreements in 2018 with LNG Canada and Coastal GasLink. Coastal GasLink is the name of the pipeline project that would feed natural gas to an LNG Canada facility, within Haisla territory, where it would be liquefied and shipped overseas. It’s a partnership that will provide extensive economic benefits to the tiny coastal tribe of 1,800 with 800 living on reserve.
The Haisla are working with the companies to build a processing plant of their own called Cedar LNG.
The Haisla aren’t worried about the potential threats to the water, marine life or other environmental effects like many opponents of the project. Smith said they’ve done their due diligence. Following years of negotiations and 86 meetings with Coastal Gas Link, the Haisla decided to get on board. Twenty First Nations have signed project agreements with Coastal GasLink. MORE
A global movement to give nature rights is growing in the face of a mass extinction eventdriven by climate change and human over-use of the natural world.
Recent assessments show one third of freshwater fish species under threat of extinction alongside at least one quarter of local livestock breeds, and large numbers of the bees, bats and birds which pollinate crops. Linked to the decline of species, in the last two decades alone around 20 percent of the land we use to grow food has become less productive. Responding to these and other threats to nature, as well as high-profile campaigns like Extinction Rebellion, initiatives are increasingly taking root from the United States to India, and Ecuador to Bolivia, Turkey and Nepal, that give rights to nature.
They aim to respect and protect the living environment, and change how human society relates to its own supporting biosphere. In February 2019 voters in Toledo, Ohio, approved a ballot to give Lake Erie, suffering heavy pollution, rights normally associated with a person. But the story which brought this shift to international attention was the tale of a river in New Zealand.
On March 20th, 2017, the New Zealand government passed legislation recognizing the Whanganui River as holding rights and responsibilities equivalent to a person. The river – or those acting for it – will now be able to sue for its own protection under the law. This was no overnight innovation; it was the culmination of two centuries of physical and legal struggle by the Whanganui people against colonial control of the river and its water, including eight years of intensive negotiation.
The final settlement is considered one of the best examples of using existing legal structures and concepts to protect nature. It also prescribes an unusually advanced form of collaborative governance that may inspire others and prove useful for rapid transition in the face of climate change. Accepting a non human part of nature as a legal entity requires a conceptual shift away from placing humanity at the centre of everything. This understanding could generate other legal changes handing power to other parts of our natural world. MORE
While the provincial government continues to roll back progress made on environmental protection, Ontarians have made it clear that the vast majority want decisive climate action.
Before the government passed the legislation to eliminate the cap-and-trade system, a consultation process received 11,000 comments with more than 99 per cent in support of putting a price on harmful emissions and maintaining the cap-and-trade system that supports investment and clean energy job creation. Thank you to those who submitted comments. It’s unacceptable for the government to scrap a program that has such overwhelming public support.
You have another chance to tell the government that its new weakened environment and climate plan fails to protect Ontarians from climate risk and sets us on a dangerous path of missed economic, energy and job-creation opportunities. TAKE ACTION!
NB: This consultation closes at 11:59 p.m. on January 28, 2019
Worried teenagers are taking to the streets to protest against climate change. They are more interested in environmental politics than ever before. Will protest also turn into more climate action?
This has become a common scene in many large cities — students eschewing lessons at school to protest for climate protection. They were inspired by Swedish student Greta Thunberg who doesn’t go to school on Fridays, instead opting to protest against climate inaction in front of the parliament in Stockholm — with her textbooks of course. She’s even started a new movement called “Fridays For Future.”
The message these young people hope to send to the older generation is increasingly clear: By not doing enough to help the environment, you are gambling away our future.
In fact, teenagers in Germany are more interested in politics than they have ever been before. The topic of environmental protection interests them the most, says youth researcher Klaus Hurrelmann from the Hertie School of Governance, who has spent years studying the changing values, attitudes and habits of Germany’s youth.
The interests of the younger generation extend to all areas that have to do with the environment, explains Hurrelmann. Whether its plastic pollution in our oceans, the death of insects due to the rise of industrial agriculture or just global warming. “These people intuitively feel that these are our natural, existential foundations and we do not want to see them in danger,” Hurrelmann told DW. MORE
Governments of B.C. and Canada claim agreements with elected band councils constitute consent, even though Supreme Court cases — including 1997’s Delgamuukw versus the Queen, which involved the Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en — have recognized traditional governance forms, including the hereditary chief and clan system, on traditional territories. Elected band councils are more like municipal councils that have limited jurisdiction only over reserve lands.
The hereditary chief system was in place long before settlers and colonizers arrived. Chiefs, clans and house groups are responsible to the land and the people, and chiefs can be removed if they fail to fulfil their duties. The band council system is a product of the Indian Act, which also gave us residential schools.
As my good friend Miles Richardson, David Suzuki Foundation board member and former head of the B.C. Treaty Commission and Haida First Nation, told the Vancouver Sun, “When you look at the political world and the relationship between First Nations and the Crown, there’s a mighty struggle going on between two world views. There’s the Indigenous worldview manifested in the nation-to-nation commitment, and the colonial view, a 200-year-old, failed policy that was denounced by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and apologized for.” MORE