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Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna in Sidney, B.C. on Nov. 13, 2018.

JONATHAN HAYWARD/The Canadian Press

Protection of the world’s endangered species will require the same level of international attention and commitment that has coalesced around combating climate change, the federal Environment Minister says as she musters co-operation inside Canada to meet this country’s conservation commitments.

Catherine McKenna was in Victoria on Tuesday to announce support for 28 new and existing Indigenous Guardians pilot projects across the country that will see First Nations, Métis and Inuit people assume responsibility for the environmental monitoring of land, water and ice in their traditional territories.

The programs, which will cost $5.7-million, will contribute to Canada’s promise to protect 17 per cent of lands and inland waters – an area about the size of Alberta – from development by 2020. Currently, just over 10 per cent of the country has been conserved.

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But reaching the goal will require the co-operation of provinces and territories, which will have to agree to forgo resource revenues for the sake of preserving land and species.

And the 17 per cent target is just the beginning. Canada and the rest of the world are starting negotiations leading up to a meeting, two years from now, of the parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity that will set new objectives for 2030 and beyond.

“There’s been a very good discussion among a group of [world] leaders, leading environmentalists and conservationists, and also business leaders about the need to make this very practical and tangible, in the way that climate is," Ms. McKenna said in a telephone interview after the Victoria announcement. Nearly 200 countries around the world have agreed to a long-term goal of keeping the increase in global average temperature to less than two degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.

Even though the international convention on biodiversity has been in effect since 1993, the news around species at risk has not been good. The World Wildlife Fund released a report in late October that said global wildlife populations have fallen by 60 per cent in the last four decades. Here in Canada, recent research found that all caribou herds, including those that seemed sustainable 15 years ago, are on the path to extinction.

And even when conservation measures are taken in sensitive regions, they do not guarantee that resource interests will stay away. Last week, the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board awarded new oil and gas leases within the Northeast Newfoundland Slope Conservation Area, an area that is supposed to be protected.

For her part, Ms. McKenna is optimistic that efforts to slow the loss of biodiversity can be achieved in this country through co-operation, and with the help of the federal commitment to invest $1.3-billion in conservation over the next five years.

James Snider, a vice-president of the World Wildlife Fund-Canada, says it is important to ensure not only that conservation targets are met, but that the right land is protected – that the territory that makes up the 17 per cent goal is important to biodiversity and could come under threat. And “we’ve got to see the provinces and the territories also say that they are part of the solution here” leading up to the next round of international talks,” he said.

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Ms. McKenna will be in British Columbia on Wednesday to announce that millions will be spent by Ottawa and the province to conserve the Next Creek watershed in the Darkwoods Conservation Area.

“The provinces understand that we need to protect more of our nature,” said Ms. McKenna. “Of course you need to look at the economics, and the provinces do that as well. But there’s also the opportunity to work together, and I’ve talked to a number of different companies who are interested in participating in this and protecting more of their nature."

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