It’s tough to hear bad news, especially at this time of year when you want to start focusing on family and friends and all the seasonal events that the holidays bring. As the nights get longer and longer, there are always those few last gifts to buy or make and goodies to bake.
Enter into this holiday spirit the words of United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, speaking at the Fifteenth Conference of the Parties (COP15) to the Convention on Biological Diversity in Montreal, stating “we are waging war on nature” and that humans have become “a weapon of mass extinction.”
Happy Holidays to you too ;) !
But luckily we may have some solutions in our hands to make peace.
Prime Minister Trudeau’s speech at the opening of COP15 was marked by a civil demonstration from Indigenous land defenders who reminded the Canadian Prime Minister that in order “to protect biodiversity, stop invading our lands.” Standing as allies with those fighting against pipelines and offshore oil drilling is a powerful way to help end the war on nature. From my learnings from Mi’kmaw Elder Albert Marshall, we also need to understand and embrace rights and responsibilities toward the natural world.
This fall, led by our Prairie Chapter, we hosted a book club series on the book Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer. In the book, we are taken on a journey to re-centre nature in our lives and actions, and Kimmerer powerfully describes how living in gratitude for all that nature provides is an act of restoration for nature and ourselves.
“Even a wounded world is feeding us. Even a wounded world holds us, giving us moments of wonder and joy. I choose joy over despair. Not because I have my head in the sand, but because joy is what the Earth gives me daily, and I must return the gift.”
In this spirit of giving, volunteers from Sierra Club Canada are participating in the COP15. With their expertise and advocacy, they will push to rescue global efforts - efforts that have so far failed to halt the dwindling diversity and abundance of life - and in some ways to advance the perspective that reflects the powerful concepts conveyed in Kimmerer’s book.
The meetings in Montreal are focussed on an ambitious target of “halting and reversing” destruction of nature. The negotiations will center around the Global Biodiversity Framework, a new strategic plan for achieving the objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity for the next ten years, and contribute to achieving the Convention’’s 2050 Vision: “People Living in Harmony with Nature.” You can read more about this here.
At the COP15. we will be pushing back against Canada and Equinor’s efforts to expand oil drilling on our East Coast and Canada’s approval of the Bay du Nord deep sea drilling project. We will also be working with our friends at the US Sierra Club to highlight the need to protect the Great Lakes from Enbridge’s aging Line 5 pipeline - a pipeline Canada has joined with Enbridge in pushing to keep operating.
We are also supporting serious funding needed to ensure we “halt and reverse” the loss of nature - both here in Canada but also around the world. The $350 million announced for international biodiversity protection is a start but only about half of the $600 million needed, according to the Green Budget Coalition. We will be pushing for a pan-Canadian approach to biodiversity protection, since so much of what happens to biodiversity happens at a local scale. We will continue to call on Canada to protect endangered species such as the North Atlantic right whale from extinction.
Perhaps the most transformative change that could happen at COP15 is inclusion of the concept of rights of Mother Earth in the text of the Global Biodiversity Framework as a means of achieving harmony with nature. Adoption of a rights based approach for the natural world would make decisions like expanding oil and gas unthinkable. It would point us toward integrating the concept of the interconnectedness of all life, which is already recognized by many Indigenous cultures. It would obligate governments to act to protect the critically endangered right whale, and secure support for fisheries to adopt ropeless gear quickly and make binding rules for vessels to slow down. It would mean we would not continue to fail to meet our goals on biodiversity as we have in the past.
There is a lot of work happening on the ground at COP15 to make sure these negotiations re-energize commitments to nature. From the videos and pictures I am seeing, the 20,000 people in attendance, including our representatives, are hustling hard to make sure this is not just another global gabfest.
COP15 may or may not end with a great agreement for nature. From what we are hearing, the draft Global Biodiversity Framework is failing to commit to the phase out of fossil fuels, even though halting and reversing biodiversity loss is impossible without confronting climate change. Including this commitment here would make up for the missed opportunity to do so at the recent global climate talks in Egypt. The draft text of the Framework also is failing to commit to eliminating plastic waste that chokes waterways and kills wildlife. But it's early days yet, and we must hope the text and its commitments will be strengthened as the meetings go on.
Regardless of the outcome, we all know from the egregious assault on Southern Ontario’s Greenbelt or efforts to carve up protected areas to make golf courses on Nova Scotia - even the most basic stepping stone to protecting nature, protected areas - are always and forever in jeopardy and must be safeguarded by actions to reverse bad decisions.
Global commitments are only as good as the people on the ground every day - people like you - who are watching, acting, and connecting with each other to ensure we can both endure the changes to come and prevent them from getting much, much worse. And the community we create in doing so is our most powerful safeguard for the future.
The ultimate goal of the Global Biodiversity Framework being negotiated at COP15 is that we live in harmony with nature. An incredible and transformative commitment if truly achieved, and one that necessitates changing our relationship to the natural world.
Maybe most importantly, and especially at this time of year, such a change means we must slow down, to give thanks that the gifts of nature brings us: gifts of health, food, clean water and air. It may mean reciprocating those gifts that sustain us. By pushing back against threats to nature, and also showing gratitude and celebrating the community of life that sustains us.
As Kimmerer illustrates so beautifully in her book, in doing so we are not putting our heads in the sand - but rather choosing joy over despair.
Keep up with all we are doing at COP15
Please also check out this live projection event we are co-organizing in Montréal on December 8th (note the recent change in time to 5:30 PM – 6:30 PM).
There is also a panel which we are organizing on December 13th as part of our All Hands on Deck webinar series which will discuss the impact of Equinor’s global oil and gas projects and how we can fight back. You can tune into that here.