Linking the pandemic recovery to remedying the loss of global biodiversity

by Stan Hirst

Back in September 2020 most of us were most likely a little preoccupied with incessant hand-washing, face-mask adjustment, standing in line for dwindling supplies of beer and toilet paper, and general hand-wringing over news of the cancelled Grey Cup. All reasonable excuses for having missed the column in the national press which told of Canada’s signing of an international pledge to reverse biodiversity loss by 2030, joining more than 70 countries in committing to put nature at the centre of COVID-19 economic recovery plans.

On 21 September 2020 at a special session of the United Nations, dozens of heads of state, financial institutions and non-governmental organizations promised to develop pandemic responses that are “green and just.” Attached to this was a Leaders’ Pledge for Nature which stated a commitment to waste reduction, sustainable supply chains and transparent financial reporting. At the follow-up Leaders Event for Nature and People, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pointed out that Canada is the only one of the world’s 10 largest countries by geography to sign the pledge.

Aware that the COVID-19 pandemic has diverted global population attention away from environmental issues, the UN is justifiably attempting to now forge a link between two global crises – biodiversity loss and public concern over the COVID-19 pandemic. The strategic aim is to convince world governments and the populations under their care to buy into the idea of a transformative recovery process. The underlying plea is for a better post-COVID-19 world through tackling environmental “fragilities” and using emerging opportunities for transformative changes towards more just, equal and resilient societies and economies.

Although biodiversity is the prominent ecosystem value under the spotlight here, the underlying issues being addressed are much more diverse. They range from a world-wide climate crisis, on one hand, to a plethora of national social and economic inequalities, exclusions, gaps in social protection systems, and other social injustices. The UN insists that instead of going back to unsustainable systems and approaches we now need to transition to renewable energy, sustainable food systems, gender equality, stronger social safety nets, universal health coverage and the like. To judge from the number of messages pouring into my e-mailbox from local and national environmental NGOs, the general environmental public in Canada strongly agrees.

Canada’s immediate response to the UN pledge has been a ministerial commitment to protecting 25 per cent of the country’s land and 25 per cent of the country’s oceans by 2025, and raising the bar to the 30 per cent mark on both fronts by 2030. Here in Canada we, sadly, have a bit of a reputation for making big promises and then not following through. Let’s hope and strive for an appropriate follow-through on the promises this time.

For one thing, pledges are all very well and are well-intended, but to have the desired effect they must be accompanied by a systemic shift in government actions that actually integrates the protection, management and restoration of nature into government policy. That includes restoring the economy, addressing climate change, and making progress on Indigenous rights.

In 2019 the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity, the agency responsible for tracking the state of global biodiversity estimated that one million of the Earth’s species of plants and animals face extinction, many within decades, under our prevailing business-as-usual scenario. The report also found that ecosystems are losing genetic diversity, and the knock-on effects include reduced food security and the loss of pharmaceuticals developed from rare biological products.

In Canada, species at risk are facing continued population declines, according to a WWF Canada analysis of the latest version of the Living Planet Report, which tracks the state of threatened species around the world over time. Among those in decline are prime examples of iconic Canadian wildlife, such as barren-ground caribou and the Vancouver Island marmot.


  1. Thanks Stan – this outlines some of the work we Elders will be getting at in the New Year…or continuing…

  2. I didn’t know about this, Stan, but let us do what we can to keep the govt’s feet to the fire and see that they take the action to support the words.

  3. The idea of a “transformative recovery process” from COVID is a great idea, and I agree with it. But don’t think it will come easily. There are lots of people, especially well-off people, who were quite happy with the pre-pandemic status quo.

    Albertans still think their oil industry can and should recover; fossil fuel companies may be in some financial difficulty but they’re still around; large corporations who aren’t all that eager to change in any significant way (though they may spin a good story about how they’re sooo environmentally conscious) are at the heights of the economy.

    Note the Conservative reaction to the Liberal government proposing economic and reforms tied to recovery:

    The pandemic has taught Canadians hard lessons about how the most vulnerable are treated, Trudeau said earlier this week. But Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre said from his point of view, too many “hobby horses” are getting attached to the pandemic. The Liberals are becoming distracted by “dreamweaving about some utopia they’d like to create,” he said.

    Please don’t confuse what should happen with what is likely to happen and possible. The pre-pandemic status quo will not disappear without a fight. Wishing, even arguing rationally, won’t make it happen. Politics continue, and we have to elect (or re-elect) the right people

  4. Thank you very much Stan for this very clear picture of the eco-system health challenges we are facing. As I’ve said in several of my blogs, people everywhere, in all walks of life, must become more aware of the interrelationships of ecological and economic reality in our life-support systems. Increasing awareness of bio-physical and socio-economic reality is needed at local, regional and global scales. Elders are key in developing this awareness.

  5. Thanks for this very informative post, Stan. Let’s figure out a way to let the government know how important this is to us–to thank them for their work thus far and encourage follow-through so that it remains/becomes one of their priorities and not just lip-service. Our governments need to be reminded over and over how important such things are to the “voter on the street” whom I fear take for granted that the right thing will just happen (or maybe are so cynical, think that it never will so just shrug).

  6. I’m just finishing Naomi Klein’s new book On Fire – The Burning Case For A Green New Deal which addresses the need for comprehensive global reform socially, economically, as well as environmentally. She argues that we can’t address climate change and environmental sustainability without radically transforming our embedded systems as well. Change has to be holistic and global in order to bring about the better, more equitable world we desire. The vision is there; now the detailed planning and actions are required.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *