Biodiversity loss is a loss for all of us

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I’M sure many of you have read or watched the news report s on COP27, the international climate change conference being held in Egypt. But I’ll bet most of you have never heard of COP15, an upcoming conference that will be held in Montreal this December.

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Opinion

I’M sure many of you have read or watched the news report s on COP27, the international climate change conference being held in Egypt. But I’ll bet most of you have never heard of COP15, an upcoming conference that will be held in Montreal this December.

The aim of COP15 is to address biodiversity loss worldwide, and this is why:

Based on the most comprehensive index tracking the health of the natural world, experts have observed an unprecedented 69 per cent decline in wildlife populations worldwide.

The reasons behind this staggering loss in biodiversity are linked to several factors — among them, climate change, pollution, over-exploitation and habitat loss.

And those losses aren’t just happening out there in the wilds of nature. They’re happening right here, in urban centres such as Winnipeg.

Which is why, in addition to the conference of national governments, COP15 will also include the 7th Summit for Subnational Governments and Cities, to discuss how local governments such as ours can take action to combat urban biodiversity loss.

In fact, one of the conference’s targets pertains specifically to the development and protection of green spaces, including natural wetlands, rivers, parks and treed areas in urban centres. And many of the issues COP15 will tackle, such as pollution and loss of habitat due to development, actually originate in cities.

Leading the charge to protect urban biodiversity is Montreal, host city for COP15 and an urban centre that has already committed $300 million to expand its protected land from eight per cent to 10 per cent of its total area by 2030 and create at least five wildlife corridors to link the city’s natural areas.

And it doesn’t stop there. Montreal is also initiating actions to protect pollinators and enhance food security by reducing mowing on city land and revising bylaws that limit where citizens can grow vegetables, as well as flowering and native plants such as milkweed.

So my question is this: is anyone from the City of Winnipeg even attending the 7th Summit? If not, it doesn’t bode well for the commitments council has already made to protect and expand the city’s greenspaces and urban forest.

Those commitments came about largely as a result of the lobbying efforts of ordinary citizens, led by such organizations as OURS-Winnipeg (Outdoor Urban Recreational Spaces-Winnipeg), Save Our Seine and Trees Please Winnipeg.

It’s thanks to the lobbying efforts of OURS that public golf courses such as John Blumberg were taken off the city’s auction block, to be preserved as greenspace habitat, and amendments were made to key Winnipeg planning documents to create a Master Greenspace and Natural Corridor Plan that will include a biodiversity policy.

And — happy days! — the amendment also includes a commitment to acquire an additional 1,000 acres of land to expand the city’s public greenspace.

While 1,000 acres represent less than half of what the City of Montreal plans to acquire by 2030, it’s a start. And even though Winnipeg is, sadly, late to the game — seven other major Canadian cities already have master greenspace plans in place — we can play catch-up.

One of the ways the city can do that is by ensuring key elected officials and city employees attend the 7th Summit at COP15, where they can share information and learn about the innovative strategies other national and international cities have already initiated to protect and preserve urban biodiversity.

Because it’s one thing to say you’ll develop a greenspace plan; it’s quite another to actually implement one.

In order to do that, a paradigm shift needs to happen — a shift away from equating growth exclusively with urban development, whether in the form of housing construction or road building, and toward one that views our natural assets as precious resources that should be preserved and protected.

Our natural assets should be protected not only because they are inherently valuable, but also because they contribute, in significant, measurable ways, to the health, safety and well-being of our city and its citizens.

As other cities have already discovered, COP27 and COP15 are inextricably linked, when measured in terms of emission reductions or climate resiliency. In fact, the protection and expansion of our natural infrastructure — whether in the form urban forests, wetlands or native grassland parks — won’t just help to protect other endangered animal species.

It will also protect us, by helping us to achieve our emission reduction goals and improving our city’s resiliency in the face of extreme weather events.

So, if the City of Winnipeg is really serious about its Greenspace Master Plan, that’s what needs to happen. And attending the 7th Summit at COP15 would be a very good place to start.

Erna Buffie is a Winnipeg-based writer, filmmaker and activist.

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