A Canadian philanthropic organization that specializes in conservation abroad has made a US$100-million pledge to increase its global impact – a fourfold expansion over its previous efforts, which the organization says is needed to help counter a growing biodiversity crisis.
The commitment by the International Conservation Fund of Canada (ICFC) marks the latest addition to the “Protecting Our Planet Challenge.” The U.S.-based initiative aims to direct US$5-billion in private donations toward preserving some of the world’s most threatened ecosystems. Partners in the coalition have stressed the urgent need for more resources to protect at least 30 per cent of the world’s land and oceans by 2030.
That target – also known as 30x30 – has been gaining momentum among conservation advocates and is likely to be at the centre of talks at the next United Nations conference on biodiversity, set to take place in the spring in Kunming, China.
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Molly Bartlett, executive director of the Nova Scotia-based ICFC, said that she hoped her organization’s pledge, announced this past week, would prompt individuals and policy-makers alike in Canada to think more about conservation beyond the country’s borders.
“We really want it to be a catalyst,” Ms. Bartlett said of the new pledge, which would fund the organization’s projects over the next 10 years. “We have a core group of very committed donors who can donate at this level but we’re hoping to do better than that.”
The pledge was welcomed by Cristian Samper, president and CEO of the Wildlife Conservation Society, a New York-based conservation group that was involved in the development and launch of the Protecting Our Planet Challenge. He said that the original coalition, made up of nine U.S.-based philanthropic groups, was expanding to include donors in other countries, including Canada.
“We need to mobilize additional finance to support the implementation of 30x30 globally and to promote collaboration and coherence between donors and implementers to have great impact on the ground,” he said.
Founded in 2007, the ICFC has supported projects in 35 countries in the Americas, Africa and Asia. This past year, the organization issued a report that found Canada spends nearly 150 times more on domestic conservation programs than it does internationally, in contrast to several European countries that have a more balanced record. Between 2016 and 2018, Norway on its own spent 30 times more than Canada on international conservation. The Scandinavian country is often cited as having had a measurable impact on protecting tropical forests, which benefits species while helping to slow global warming.
As a conduit for private conservation dollars, the ICFC has similarly focused on tropical biodiversity. Its flagship project supports the Kayapo, an Indigenous group living in a large territory in the southeastern Amazon in Brazil that is equivalent in size to the island of Newfoundland. The goal of the project is to help the Kayapo protect their territory from loggers and others seeking to exploit the region, which includes millions of hectares of intact rain forest hemmed in on three sides by land that has been cleared of forest and is now cattle pasture.
“The conservation community recognized that if it were not for the Kayapo people, that forest would be long gone,” said Canadian ecologist Barbara Zimmerman, who has directed the project since she founded it in the early 1990s.
Despite success at helping maintain the region’s ecological bounty, Dr. Zimmerman said that the project is now facing a loosening of restrictions and lax enforcement of environmental protections under Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. She added that prior to Mr. Bolsonaro’s coming to power in January, 2019, there was more help from officials in dealing with illegal logging and mining activities.
“It wasn’t adequate, but the government was trying to enforce protected areas.” she said. “Now it’s much harder.”
Brazil and Canada are among the countries that pledged to end deforestation by 2030 in a statement signed this past week during UN climate talks in Glasgow, Scotland. But biodiversity experts say that many of the world’s most ecologically sensitive regions don’t have that much time. Norway, which also signed the deforestation pledge, has separately indicated that it wants to see a more concrete commitment from Brazil before restoring funding that it suspended in 2019.
Catherine Potvin, a tropical forest ecologist at McGill University, said that while private donations such as those directed by the ICFC can play a positive role, it is imperative that national governments pursue a collective and concerted approach to protecting biodiversity at next year’s UN meeting.
“As citizens of the planet we are very interconnected,” she said. “Any environmental disaster that happens anywhere in the world has ripple effects for everyone.”
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