File photo by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS A couple walks through a forest with the Frankfurt skyline in background near Frankfurt, Germany. Development that’s led to loss of habitat, climate change, overfishing, pollution and invasive species is causing a biodiversity crisis, scientists say in a new United Nations science report released Monday.

Killer whales to caribou: UN environment report has strong message for Canada

A UN report that concludes a million species are threatened with extinction and that “fundamental, structural change” is required to halt a steep decline in the natural environment has lessons for Canada, says one of its authors.

“The current fight that we’re having between provinces and the feds around oilsands, pipelines, climate change and local environmental impacts … is not actually a fight that we should be having,” said Kai Chan, a University of British Columbia professor, who helped write the report from the International Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services.

That report was released Monday after a three-year effort by hundreds of scientists from 50 countries.

“The fact that we are faced with such a stark choice is actually the product of a broken 20th-century economy that’s not fit for purpose in the 21st century.”

The UN report is full of scary numbers compiled from more than 15,000 papers.

It says the current extinction rate is tens to hundreds of times higher than the 10-million-year average. Ocean plastic pollution has increased tenfold since 1990, affecting nearly half of all seabird and marine mammals.

Since 1970, human population has doubled and the global economy increased four times, which has driven up energy demand and consumption. Climate change is now the third-largest driver of environmental change around the globe.

There are plenty of Canadian examples, said Chan.

Southern resident killer whales off the British Columbia coast are vanishing, as are some caribou herds. Melting Arctic permafrost could release huge amounts of greenhouse gases.

Just as worrisome is the declining ability of the environment to clean water, mitigate floods, nourish crops and sustain fisheries.

The report concludes 14 out of 18 ways in which human communities depend on the environment are declining.

“We now understand the magnitude of the challenge,” said federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said from a G7 environment ministers meeting in France.

Canadians believe their country is much more environmentally conscious than it is, Chan said. University studies using international standards consistently rank Canada near the bottom of wealthy industrialized nations for environmental policy.

“Our institutions don’t generally do a good job of thinking about the long term — neither our political institutions, nor our businesses,” Chan said.

McKenna defended the government’s support for resource development infrastructure such as the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

“It will not go ahead unless it’s done in the right way,” she said.

Proposed legislation to overhaul environmental assessments would ensure good projects can proceed without harming nature or climate, she said.

The UN report offers policy solutions including an end to production subsidies, widening the circle of economic decision-making, preventative action and tougher legislation.

Those are all useful, said Scott McFatridge of the Smart Prosperity Institute. So is the report’s focus on moving past narrow economic measures such as gross domestic product.

“We recognize that GDP is important, but we want to move to new frameworks that take a more holistic picture,” he said. “We’re very much in agreement with the report on that.”

He also supports its call for working landscapes that include farming, mining and aquaculture but still leave space for nature.

Dan Kraus, biologist for the Nature Conservancy of Canada, said the report does a good job summing up recent science on how the benefits provided by nature are deteriorating. He echoed its call for new thinking.

“We need to understand that the environment is the foundation of our economy and our well-being. When we start pulling cards out, that affects everything else and we need to be increasingly cautious about which cards we’re pulling.”

Federal Conservative environment critic Ed Fast declined to comment.

Chan points to global environmental success stories — from the resurgent peregrine falcon to the end of widescale acid rain.

“Yes, nature is declining,” he said. “Yes, there is something we can do about it.”

What we really need, he said, is to think differently.

“We need to think seriously about the structure of our economy.”

— Follow Bob Weber on Twitter at @row1960

Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

Just Posted

Trudeau’s cabinet choices have domino effect on House of Commons work

OTTAWA — As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau settles on his choices for… Continue reading

Protesters say Alberta bill would make it harder to access some medical services

EDMONTON — Opponents of a private member’s bill that calls for more… Continue reading

Freeland’s imprint of foreign affairs remains even if she’s shuffled: analysts

OTTAWA — Whether or not Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shuffles her to… Continue reading

Saskatchewan government considers funding first supervised consumption site

SASKATOON — Saskatchewan’s health minister says the government will consider whether to… Continue reading

Thousands fill City Hall Park for Red Deer Lights the Night

With the flip of a switch, downtown Red Deer was filled with… Continue reading

Central Albertans help families during holidays with Christmas Wish Breakfast

It takes a community to help a community. And Sunday morning at… Continue reading

Your community calendar

Nov. 19 The Mountview Sunnybrook Community Association will hold its AGM at… Continue reading

‘Ford v Ferrari’ speeds to No. 1; ‘Charlie’s Angels’ fizzles

NEW YORK — “Ford v Ferrari” put its competition in the rearview,… Continue reading

Teen with cancer whose viral video urged Canadians to vote has died, uncle tweets

WINNIPEG — A terminally ill cancer patient who recorded a video from… Continue reading

Five things to watch for when Trudeau shuffles his cabinet this week

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is set to unveil his new… Continue reading

Closing arguments begin in B.C. case launched in 2009 over private health care

VANCOUVER — A framed iconic photo in Dr. Brian Day’s office shows… Continue reading

Rowing Canada, university investigate celebrated coach for harassment, abuse

VANCOUVER — Lily Copeland felt she had found her purpose in life… Continue reading

MacKinnon scores OT winner, Avs recover from blowing late lead to beat Canucks

VANCOUVER — Nathan MacKinnon scored his second goal of the game 27… Continue reading

White House urgently ramps up push for drug cost legislation

WASHINGTON — The White House is ramping up its push to get… Continue reading

Most Read