10 environmental success stories and indicators in 2017

Here are 10 stories from 2017 from Canada and around the world that show progress

Nature conservation and current issues, from climate change to protecting North Atlantic right whales, can seem overwhelming. However, there were some positive areas over the past year.

Here are 10 stories from 2017 from Canada and around the world that show progress:

1. Protected areas continues to grow

Many countries are edging closer to international targets to protect 17 percent of lands and inland waters by 2020. Globally, the amount of protected area has just reached 15 percent, and in Canada, it has grown by eight percent in the last five years, to 10.6 percent. The Natural Areas Conservation Program, supported by Environment and Climate Change Canada and delivered by the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) has now protected more than one million acres. This includes some of Canada’s most threatened species and habitats.

2. Meeting commitments for marine protected areas

While Canada’s protection of marine and coastal areas had flat-lined for many years, there have been positive strides, resulting in Canada achieving its interim goal of protecting five percent of our oceans and coasts by 2017 (with a goal of 10 percent by 2020). In June, it was announced that the world is on track to meet the goal of protecting 10 percent of marine areas and coasts. Mexico is tripling it to include 23 percent of its national waters.

3. Recovering recover endangered wildlife in Canada

The peregrine falcon was a high profile endangered species in Canada. Today, thanks to a DDT phase-out, and captive breeding programs the peregrine falcon subspecies that lives throughout most of Canada was found to be no longer at risk . This assessment was by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada and joins a growing list of recovered species.

4. Overwhelming support for protected areas in Canada

Nature conservation ultimately fails if it’s not supported by people. So it was positive to see a 2017 poll find that 89 percent of those surveyed support protected areas. Seventy-nine percent said they would support increased federal funding for the creation of new parks and protected areas.

5. Evidence that nature is good for you

Medical science is providing more evidence that people greatly benefit from spending time in nature, and this evidence is receiving increasing attention. The link between nature and human health is not only being advanced by conservation organizations, but also by groups such as the World Economic Forum.

6. Banning commercial fishing in the high Arctic

Climate change is altering the Arctic faster than any other place on Earth. The loss of sea ice will create huge areas of open water, making Arctic fishes susceptible to unsustainable commercial harvest. In 2017, nine countries agreed to ban commercial fishing in three million square kilometres of offshore waters of the Arctic Ocean. The ban will last for at least 16 years while scientists study the potential impacts on the marine ecosystem.

7. Sharing conservation information

In 2017, iNaturalist, an app used to share information about species you see, surpassed five million observations and introduced new image recognition software that helps identify species. Technology can certainly distract us from nature, but it can also be a catalyst for discovery and collaboration. Through iNaturalist, your findings can be part of our global record on biodiversity and help inform conservation decision-making.

8. Integrating business leaders and biodiversity

There is increasing recognition that our economy and ecology go hand in hand. In 2017, TD Bank and Nature Conservancy of Canada issued a report on the natural capital values of conserved forests. It gives an annual dollar value on the services these forests provide Canadians, such as cleaning our air and storing carbon. CEOs and leaders from the business and conservation community also released a call to Stand up for Nature and increase our investment in conservation.

9. Shrinking the ozone hole

In the early 1990s, Time Magazine warned that “serious atmospheric ozone depletion has spread from the polar regions to temperate climes ― and is worse than anyone thought.” We’re not in the clear yet, but we have made significant progress. The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer was signed 30 years ago. As a result, the hole in the ozone layer is shrinking and scientists expect the Antarctic ozone hole to recover back to 1980 levels by around 2070. These efforts should provide us with hope that collectively we can reduce atmospheric pollution.

10. Continued progress on climate change

China, the world’s largest carbon emitter, announced a new carbon market, and Canada’s pricing on carbon pollution is moving ahead. New research in 2017 highlighted the importance of natural climate change solutions, such as reforestation, and protecting wetlands, grasslands and forests. Nature can help mitigate some of the impacts of climate change by providing services, such as holding floodwaters and protecting coastal communities from storm surges.

(Dan Kraus, is Senior Conservation Biologist with the Nature Conservancy of Canada)

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