Communique on Biodiversity Loss

We, the participants at the 2012 Muskoka Summit on the Environment, recognize that the world is currently facing a number of serious environmental crises. These crises affect Canadians as well as people elsewhere despite our relative wealth and the strength of our economy. One of the most important of these crises is the global loss of biodiversity, which is now proceeding at a rate hundreds of times faster than the average rate over geological time.

We deplore the growing tendency of governments, at both the federal and provincial levels, to progressively reduce our capacity for scientific evaluation of environmental issues. We are entering a time of great changes, of which biodiversity loss is but one, and with reduced scientific capacity we will be blind to the likely outcomes. Canadian governments, national and provincial, must demonstrate:

  1. A long-term commitment to the rigorous collection and the interpretation of scientific information on biodiversity loss and other forms of environmental change;
  2. Transparent mechanisms for integrating science into policy decisions; and
  3. A strong commitment to recognizing the economic value of natural capital, and incorporating this value explicitly in policy decisions.

As a first step, the Harper government should report publicly on its progress in achieving the five Strategic Goals of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets which its representatives agreed to, on behalf of Canada, in Nagoya, Japan, in October 2010.

Biodiversity is the variability of life within species, among species and across ecosystems and its loss leads to loss of ecosystem resilience, thereby directly affecting ecosystem function, and the stocks and flows of ecosystem goods and services upon which we all depend. Biodiversity loss has as strong an impact on the way ecosystems function as other stressors and its effects are being exacerbated by climate change. Current science has now established beyond a reasonable doubt that existing rates of environmental change are reducing the adaptive capacity of life on Earth.

The loss of biodiversity is not simply a matter of the extinction of a few species. It represents a fundamental change in the structure and function of ecological systems with direct consequences for human health and economic prosperity. In addition, our willingness to condone biodiversity loss raises serious ethical and moral questions. As E.O. Wilson said, “surely the rest of life matters”.

The underlying reason for biodiversity loss is that humanity is using the available goods and services far too rapidly. This is stretching the Earth’s capacity to provide, and eating into the natural capital upon which we depend. Just as an individual cannot continuously overdraw a bank account, nations such as Canada must learn to use resources more intelligently and in ways that are sustainable.

The loss of biodiversity has been due to our failure to apply economic value to ecosystem services, and our consequent willingness to degrade natural habitat in order to advance industry, agriculture and urbanization. We have failed to consider the consequences of such degradation for the viability of biodiversity and natural ecosystems, and the consequences for us of their decline. At minimum, we need a program with clear benchmarks and timeline for habitat restoration and establishment of additional protected areas if the rate of loss of biodiversity is to be reduced. The growing effects of climate change are exacerbating biodiversity loss and making the need for action more urgent than before.

We, the undersigned participated in the Muskoka Summit on the Environment on June 6 and 7, 2012, and fully endorse the above communiqué.


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