P1

Biodiversity Laws, Policies & Plans

This evaluation identifies the number and diversity of laws, policies, and plans across Canada that include biodiversity as a direct consideration. This does not include Indigenous legal orders that benefit biodiversity.

There are

laws across Canada that are intended to protect biodiversity, but none provide comprehensive protection for species and ecosystems.

Yukon has the fewest biodiversity-related laws, with only 

Ontario has the most, with

biodiversity-related laws.

Nova Scotia is the only province or territory that has a law dedicated to biodiversity.

Why do biodiversity laws, policies & plans matter?

  • Canadian jurisdictions (i.e., federal, provincial, territorial) have many laws, policies, and plans that are purported to safeguard biodiversity; however, nature continues to decline (Figure 1).
  • Nature conservation remains a piecemeal approach in Canada. None of the 100+ laws on species at risk, protected areas, and game and fish (see Attachment 1) provides comprehensive protection for species and ecosystems in their jurisdiction.
  • While most jurisdictions claim dedicated attention to biodiversity (e.g., through websites), there is little evidence of an integrated approach within provinces and territories and across the federation. One potential emerging exception to this, is the release in November 2023 of BC’s draft Biodiversity and Ecosystem Health Framework.
  • Nova Scotia is the only province or territory that has a law dedicated to biodiversity. The Act to Provide for the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Biodiversity in Nova Scotia was passed in 2021. It enables the development of a compensation framework for biodiversity conservation activities to incentivize conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. A report on the state of biodiversity in the province is due in 2024 (i.e., within 3 years of the Act coming into force).
  • In May 2023, Ministers responsible for conservation, wildlife, and biodiversity across federal and provincial/territorial jurisdictions agreed to collaborate in the coming years to develop Canada’s 2030 Biodiversity Strategy, a tool to achieve the goals and targets set in the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework.
  • Ontario is the only province or territory in Canada that has a current biodiversity strategy (see Attachment 2). Nova Scotia had a biodiversity strategy but has since expired in 2020. Quebec is in the beginning consultation stage of a Nature 2030 Plan which focuses on Quebec’s contribution to achieve the biodiversity targets established in the Global Biodiversity Framework.
  • In 2021, the federal government allocated $210 million over the next five years to directly support the development of Nature Agreements between the federal government and provincial/territorial governments. Nature Agreements are intended to establish clear goals for the conservation and protection of nature between the two governing bodies. Currently Nova Scotia, British Columbia (BC), and Yukon are the only governments to have a formalized Nature Agreement while BC is the only province/territory to explicitly include Indigenous signatories in a Tripartite Framework Agreement (Figure 2). Discussions with a few other provinces are apparently underway.

Calls to action

Addressing the biodiversity crisis in Canada will require transformative change. See our backgrounder on this for more information. More specific actions include:

Federal, provincial, territorial & Indigenous governments:  

  • Complete an ambitious and transformational 2030 National Biodiversity Strategy by 2024. Support implementation through Nature Agreements with all provinces and territories.
  • Mainstream biodiversity conservation through innovative governance (particularly Indigenous-led conservation), and federal leadership with strong levels of financial investment.
  • Create genuine space for Indigenous law and Indigenous-led conservation to address biodiversity loss and degradation in Canada, including within Nature Agreements.
  • Address the biodiversity crisis through a One Health approach that incorporates solutions to other interlinked crises such as human health and climate change to embrace transformative change.
  • Invest in long-term monitoring, tracking, and reporting on implementation of the National Biodiversity Strategy at the national and regional level to provide decision-makers with the most accurate and up-to-date information.

 

Local governments & communities:

  • Develop local policies and plans to protect nature. Many local governments have already developed their own biodiversity plans and strategies, including cities like Edmonton and Vancouver.

 

Civil societies, community organizations, universities, colleges & museums:

  • Support and encourage governments in developing laws and policies that truly protect nature and biodiversity, rather than accommodate species and ecosystems within status quo development.
  • Continue research efforts to determine and communicate biodiversity trends at the national and local level.

 

Businesses & corporations:

  • Incorporate and implement biodiversity targets into corporate sustainable development goals and measure progress.
  • Strive for nature-positive business results.
  • Provide resources and donate to local communities and organizations performing conservation initiatives.
  • Divest from industries that directly harm biodiversity and their habitats.

 

Everyone

  • Participate in government consultations and voting processes to place the biodiversity and climate emergencies at the top of the agenda.
  • If your province or territory does not have a Nature Agreement, encourage this partnership.

Other information

  • Ontario has the most biodiversity-related laws (14), and Yukon has the fewest (2). Half of Ontario’s biodiversity laws focus on important areas, providing some protection measures to specific geographies (e.g., Greenbelt Act).
  • Many laws in Canada that govern development activities (e.g., land use planning, sector laws like energy and forestry, and mining development) sometimes provide provisions for biodiversity, which are not counted in this analysis (see Ray et al. 2021).
  • Originally delayed by two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, nations from around the world met in December 2022 in Montreal to negotiate and ratify new goals and targets for biodiversity under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The 15th Conference of the Parties (COP15) adopted the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework which updated goals and targets for biodiversity for 2030 and “to reach the global vision of a world living in harmony with nature by 2050”. The primary elements of the Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) include four long-term goals to achieve by 2050 and 23 targets for 2023.
  • One of the most publicized targets is to conserve and protect at least 30% of terrestrial and marine areas by 2030 (GBF target 3), but there are many others ranging from ecosystem restoration to Indigenous-led conservation. All nations that are part of the CBD are now obliged to develop National Strategies and Action Plans (NBSAP) to implement these new goals domestically prior to the next CBD conference (COP16) in 2024.
  • As of this update, Canada has yet to complete their final NBSAP, but the federal government announced in May 2023 of a plan to develop the 2030 National Biodiversity Strategy within the following year.
  • Unlike the 2020 Biodiversity Goals & Targets for Canada, Canada’s 2030 Biodiversity Strategy includes all goals and targets in the current Global Biodiversity Framework.
  • The predecessor to the current draft 2030 Biodiversity Strategy was prepared in 2015 when Canada’s federal, provincial, and territorial governments released the 2020 Biodiversity Goals and Targets for Canada. In response to the global Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020, including Aichi Biodiversity Targets Canada developed a modified set of four goals and nineteen targets that purportedly “reflect Canada’s particular context and priorities for biodiversity conservation and articulates the ways in which Canada will contribute to the achievement of the global Aichi Targets.” However, the ambition of several of the global targets was reduced in this national interpretation, including those associated with addressing threats and quality of protection (e.g., Canada Target 1). Several Aichi targets that relate to elimination of harmful subsidies (Aichi target 3) and mobilisation of financial resources (Aichi target 20) were simply not adopted by Canada.
  • The Final Report for the 2020 Biodiversity Goals and Targets for Canada reports mixed success in meeting the 2020 Biodiversity Goals & Targets. However, independent assessments of previous reports have found that progress was much lower than reported and that most of Canada’s responses to the Aichi targets were aspirational and not being implemented (Hagerman & Pelai 2016). This includes the 2018 progress report from Canada’s Environment from Canada’s Environment Commissioner on Canada’s progress toward meeting the Aichi targets, which found that “Environment and Climate Change Canada did not provide effective leadership and did not effectively coordinate the actions required to achieve Canada’s 2020 biodiversity targets”.

Confidence and limitations

High confidence – this information is based on information publicly available on government websites.

Almost all laws, police and strategies have some level of impact on biodiversity (e.g., Ontario’s Places to Grow Act), but this evaluation focussed on those that have a stated purpose to protect biodiversity. Laws that govern resource extraction and impact assessment are not included here but are reviewed by Ray et al. (2021).

P1_2020 Biodiversity Goals & Targets

The federal government has released a discussion paper to update the Canadian Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 that reflects the global targets established in the COP15 Global Biodiversity Framework.

P1_Big_Creek_National_Wildlife_Area ONtario_Ryan Hodnett

Despite laws, policies and plans to protect wetlands in southern Ontario, the rate of wetland loss between 2011–2015 was considerably higher than in the previous decade.

Photo: Big Creek National Wildlife, Ryan Hodnett.

Applications and next steps

This evaluation can be used to take stock of the existing laws, policies and plans that seek to provide protection to biodiversity, and to improve the development and coordination of future initiatives. The goals and targets that comprise the Global Biodiversity Framework offer an opportunity to review and reinvigorate these initiatives with more ambitious targets and to better mainstream their implementation.

Globally Threatened Ecosystems

Figure 1. Canada now has over 100 biodiversity-relevant laws, policies, and plans yet these are failing to halt and reverse the decline of nature.

Globally Threatened Ecosystems

Figure 2. Formalized Nature Agreements in Canada between the federal and provincial/territorial governments.

Related Evaluations

P2: Provincial and Territorial Species at Risk Laws

How to Cite

Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Canada. 2023. Biodiversity laws, policies, & plans (version 2.0), in SHAPE of Nature. https://shapeofnature.ca/

For more Information

Contact us at https://shapeofnature.ca/take-action/ or wcscanada@wcs.org

Data sources & methods

This evaluation is based on Ray et al. (2021) and updated. Updates were made based on a search of Canadian Legal Information Institute (CanLII) and associated provincial and territorial legislative databases, and news sites. The original review of laws is based on a search of government websites for provincial, territorial and federal pieces of legislation that specifically have biodiversity elements or central threat to biodiversity (e.g., pollution, overexploitation, etc.) central to their stated purpose (see methods in Ray et al. and supplementary info). These lists only contain legislation that is currently in force and not those that have been proposed or repealed. In some instances, we were unable to find a stated purpose, but were able to find a description of the legislation or a preamble that gave the context in which the legislation was created.

Updates

This evaluation is updated annually, or as key new laws, policies and strategies are developed. The next update will occur in late 2024.

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Backgrounders

Species

S1 Edge of Extinction

S2 Globally Threatened Species

S3 Species at Risk

S4 Endemic Species

S5 Knowledge of Species

S6 State of Canada's Trees

S7 State of Canada's Whales

Habitats

H1 Globally Threatened Ecosystems

H2 Peatlands

H3 Roads

Actions

A1 Protected & Conserved Areas

A2 Recovery Plans for Species at Risk

Policies

P1 Biodiversity Laws, Policies & Plans

P2 Provincial & Territorial Species at Risk Laws

P3 Delays in Protecting Species at Risk