Arctic Circle Forum
Quebec conservation delays under scrutiny by national and international observers.
Quebec, December 12, 2016 - As Quebec hosts representatives of Arctic Circle member countries for a major international forum on sustainable development in northern regions (December 11-13, 2016), the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, Quebec Chapter (CPAWS Quebec) and Nature Québec announce the establishment of a vast network of national and international observers of Plan Nord. Accordingly, the two organizations, participants in the forum, would like to urge the government of Quebec to respect its commitments in regard to protection of Northern Quebec by taking concrete actions.
Despite urgent needs, progress too slow
Despite the ambitious commitments to northern conservation undertaken by the government of Quebec when it launched its Plan Nord, concrete results have been slow to materialize on the ground. In fact, in 2011, Quebec made a commitment to create protected areas over 20% of the territory covered by Plan Nord by 2020. Five years later, protected areas north of the 49th parallel have only been expanded by 1.2%, and remain stagnant at a total of 11%.
At the same time, the threats to the natural and cultural heritage of Northern Quebec are growing and intensifying. For example, Quebec’s caribou populations are increasingly in decline, particularly in the Labrador Trough, a region highly coveted for its mining potential. The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) has just designated the Torngat Mountains caribou as endangered; evaluation of the eastern migratory population will be completed in the spring, and their numbers include the well-known George River herd, whose population has experienced a 99% decline in the last 25 years. The woodland caribou, emblem of the boreal forest, is on the endangered species list and is considered threatened.
"Northern Quebec is one of the last remaining environments on the planet with a low ecological footprint. It’s home to numerous fragile species, and is a nesting habitat for 300 to 500 million birds," says Sophie Gallais, project manager at Nature Québec. "As climate change in northern regions accelerates, there is an urgent need to establish safeguards on industrial activities in certain critical zones."
A proposal for the government of Quebec
To date, the government has paid little attention to warnings about the serious threats facing Northern Quebec’s natural and cultural heritage. Nature Québec and CPAWS Quebec hope to take advantage of the focus on Quebec during the Arctic Circle Forum to make their voices heard. "We invite Quebec to move quickly to adopt interim conservation measures such as administrative protection of territories already identified as having ecological and cultural value," states Alice de Swarte, coordinator of conservation and political analysis at CPAWS Quebec. "By taking concrete action to protect these territories, Quebec would be on a path toward meeting its international commitments with respect to biodiversity and establishing favourable conditions for harmonious implementation of the economic component of Plan Nord."
In the medium term, Nature Québec and CPAWS Quebec recommend that the government adopt a regional approach to planning, which would facilitate working partnerships with all the First Nations concerned, the Inuit and local communities, and take 100% of the issues relevant for a given territory into account. Such an integration of ecological variables and social and cultural concerns seems of great urgency for the Labrador Trough region.
A vast network of Observers of Plan Nord
For CPAWS Quebec and Nature Québec, the Arctic Circle Forum also represents an opportunity to inaugurate a network of "Observers of Plan Nord". The model for northern development proposed in Plan Nord, whose cornerstone is the protection of 50% of the territory, rapidly received public and international acclaim. Present-day reality obliges us to conclude that the environmental and social dimensions of sustainable development have been neglected. We invite individuals who live or spend time in the territory covered by Plan Nord to become the eyes of our network of observers. We also invite international actors to become the voice of the network, to question the actions of the government of Quebec. Finally, we invite citizens to be attentive to the concerns raised by these local and international observers, and to pass on this information. This mission can be carried out with full transparency on social media, using the keyword and hashtag #ObserverOfPlanNord.
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About us :
Nature Québec and CPAWS Quebec are two major organizations dedicated to nature conservation in Quebec. Specifically, we act as environmental representatives within various government bodies connected with Plan Nord (working group on the 30%, Société du Plan Nord) whose aim is to protect 50% of the territory north of the 49th parallel from industrial activities.