Cover photo: Algonquin Provincial Park
By The Environmental Commissioner of Ontario
Protected areas, like provincial parks, are one of the best ways to conserve biodiversity. That’s the reason why almost every country in the world has agreed to conserve at least 17% of their land and water in protected areas by 2020. Canada is one of those countries, but with only two years left to hit that target, we still have a long way to go. Canada has only protected 10.6% of the country to date. One of the challenges is that provincial governments are largely responsible for meeting this goal.
Unfortunately, the story in Ontario isn’t much different. Although Ontario has a world class parks system, it currently only comprises 10.7% of the province. What’s worse, the Ontario government doesn’t even have a plan to expand protected areas. Because Ontario is so large, it’s unlikely that Canada will meet the 17% target without Ontario’s full participation.
Ontario is not only missing out on all the biodiversity benefits that protected areas offer, but we know that parks provide an array of other advantages. They support climate change adaptation and mitigation, provide recreational opportunities and benefit human health. Parks have places of immense cultural and spiritual value, including places of great importance to Indigenous communities. Protected areas are also an economic engine. Our provincial parks alone see about 9.4 million visitors every year. These visitors support more than 6,400 full-time jobs and contribute more than $466 million to the province’s gross domestic product.
In 2017, the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario took a comprehensive look at the need to expand Ontario’s protected areas system. We concluded that it is time for the Ontario government to undertake a frank assessment of the current status of the protected areas system, identify key opportunities for expansion, and make a clear public commitment to achieving, and eventually exceeding, the 17% conservation target.
Check out “The Missing 68,000 km2: Ontario’s Protected Areas Shortfall” in the ECO’s 2017 Environmental Protect Report, Good Choices, Bad Choices.
The Environmental Commissioner of Ontario is an independent officer of the Legislature who reports on environmental protection, greenhouse gas emissions and energy conservation. The ECO is the province’s environmental watchdog and guardian of Ontarians’ environmental rights.