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Biodiversity

We are living in a global biodiversity crisis. Around the world, other-than-human species are declining at alarming rates, and many are facing serious threat of extinction due to human activities. 

Article 2 of the international Convention on Biological Diversity defines “biological diversity” as meaning:

“the variability among living organisms from all sources including, inter alia, terrestrial,marine and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part; this includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems”. [The term “inter alia” means “among other things”.]

As this definition suggests, “biological diversity”—or “biodiversity”, as it’s often called—is all about the variability (variety, difference, adaptivity) of the Earth’s species and ecosystems. Variability helps to make species and ecosystems resilient to sudden disasters like the spread of a new pathogen. Variability also helps to make species and ecosystems resilient to slow-burn crises like climate change.

In its Living Planet Report 2020: Bending the Curve of Biodiversity Loss, the World Wildlife Fund (“WWF”) calculates that the population sizes of mammals, birds, fish, amphibians, and reptiles around the world have dropped by a staggering average of 68% between 1970 and 2016.1

In its corresponding Living Planet Report Canada 2020: Wildlife at Risk, the WWF concludes that the populations of Canadian species which the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (“COSEWIC”) has assessed as being at risk have dropped by an average of 59% between 1970 and 2016.2 That same report says that the populations of species of global conservation concern have declined in Canada by an average of 42% in the same period.3

When compared against the tallies in previous years’ Living Planet reports, these numbers demonstrate patterns of steady decline.

Biodiversity sustains life on this planet. As it diminishes throughout the world, the intricate ecological webs that support our existence fray and tear apart.

Peoples around the globe recognize that the Earth’s biodiversity crisis threatens human life and human wellbeing, and that’s a big part of the reason why international, national, and subnational laws have been created to protect Earth’s ecosystems and attempt to repair the damage we’ve done. 

Some law that attempts to address biodiversity loss, like Nova Scotia's Biodiversity Act, deals with biodiversity at a high level, taking into account wide diversities of species and ecosystems. Other laws focus more narrowly on identifying and protecting specific species that are clearly declining fast and are at risk of becoming extinct if nothing is done. Not all biodiversity issues are species at risk issues, but all species at risk issues fall under the broad umbrella of biodiversity concerns.

Within Canada, there are several examples of laws that focus on identifying and protecting species that are declining fast and are at risk of becoming extinct if we ignore the problem. The federal Species at Risk Act (“SARA”) is designed to protect species that are under federal jurisdiction and are extirpated, endangered, threatened, or of special concern. Under SARA, species that are under federal jurisdiction include aquatic species, migratory birds that are listed under the Migratory Birds Convention Act, and many species of flora and fauna that live on land. For land-based species, SARA’s protections extend mainly to species inhabiting federal lands, but the Act does create processes which the Government of Canada can use to protect species at risk that live on provincial and privately-owned lands.

Complementing and working in tandem with federal species at risk legislation, most of Canada’s provinces and territories have corresponding laws to protect species at risk within the political boundaries of the provinces. This coordinated approach reflects an agreement between the Government of Canada and the respective governments of the provinces and territories to work together to protect species at risk. That agreement has been formalized through a national Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk, and you can read more about it here.

The provincial statutes that address species at risk issues in Atlantic Canada are:

East Coast Environmental Law regularly engages in advocacy, law reform, and public legal education activities on matters related to biodiversity and species at risk. This project page puts our work on these issues into context and provides a record of our key contributions to date.


1 WWF, Living Planet Report 2020: Bending the Curve of Biodiversity Loss (2020) at page 7.

2 WWF-Canada, Living Planet Report Canada 2020: Wildlife at Risk (2020) at page 6.

3 Ibid.