Two big moments, years in the making, at COP15

In this week’s newsletter, we bring you the details on a pair of announcements on Indigenous-led conservation, plus share news of a sunny Narwhal partnership

“It’s virtually untouched. It’s pretty special” — and now the last major undammed river in Manitoba is one step closer to protection.

For Stephanie Thorassie, the executive director of the Seal River Watershed Alliance, “the three years of late nights, long hours and heavy pushing that we’ve been doing is starting to show.”

While there’s more work to come, the announcement of a joint agreement between the alliance of First Nations and the Manitoba and federal governments marks a key step towards formally recognizing the watershed as an Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area, or IPCA. Should it come to fruition, the 50,000-square-kilometre area would protect eight per cent of Manitoba, including habitat crucial for beluga whales, polar bears and, yes, seals.

The Seal River news is one of the big national announcements to come out of COP15, the United Nations biodiversity conference taking place right now in Montreal.

Our B.C. biodiversity reporter Ainslie Cruickshank has been on the ground speaking with people like Valérie Courtois, the director of the Indigenous Leadership Initiative, who revealed the creation of a national Indigenous Guardians network — the first of its kind anywhere in the world.

Whether it’s Guardians programs or IPCAs, Indigenous-led conservation will play an increasingly important role if Canada has any hope of meeting its promises to protect 30 per cent of land and water by 2030.

But for all the good news — Courtois called the Guardians network, 40 years in the making, a moment “worth celebrating” — there are still outstanding questions about whether colonial governments will make the kind of structural changes needed to fully empower First Nations.
Valérie Courtois at COP15 in the Indigenous Village, bundled up in a red scarf and tuque on a sunny winter day.
Take protected areas: despite vocal federal support for IPCAs, the three created in 2019 remain the only ones recognized by the Canadian government. For Courtois, part of the holdup lies in a short-term funding model where the federal government effectively hands out money like an “allowance” — the continuation of a “paternalistic” approach with Indigenous governments.

Long-term financing would go a long way, Courtois said. “We know that you can’t set up youth with all kinds of hope and then have [IPCAs] fail. We have to be very, very careful when it comes to people’s lives.”

As we enter the final week of COP15, there are still plenty of outstanding questions about how far countries around the world will go in acting urgently to save nature.

“One thing that’s clear,” Ainslie told me, “is even if countries are successful at negotiating a strong global agreement, there’s still a lot of work to be done to make sure those targets and goals are implemented on the ground.” Just today, Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault signalled Canada would enact a federal biodiversity law to enshrine protections for species and nature.

So, as Ainslie said, “stay tuned for a lot more biodiversity reporting from The Narwhal.”

Take care and stick with it for the long haul,

Arik Ligeti
Director of audience
Reporter Matt Simmons with youth on his shoulder on Nisg̱a’a territory

‘A growing light in the darkness’

“You and your team are doing good, great and wonderful things with your dream. We are all encouraged by your steadfastness in a time when quitting could be so easy to do.”

That was the start of a note from Narwhal members Brian and Brenda, who reached out over the weekend to apparently bring smiles (and maybe a few happy tears) to our newsroom. 

“Your example of faith in a new world of truth-telling certainly is a growing light in the darkness that we have all been experiencing for years. To you and yours, I offer my encouragement. Keep up the good work, you are making a difference.”

Our ad-free journalism is only possible, and free for all to read, because of the support from readers like Brian and Brenda. If you have the means, and you haven’t yet made a donation, please consider giving what you can before the end of the year.

From now until Dec. 31, every donation to The Narwhal will be matched.

Let’s make double the difference!
Aerieal shot of Bistcho Lake region

The Narwhal Network

Sometimes great things take time. 

Two years ago, we heard from folks at The Weather Network: they were in the early stages of building out a climate change section, and were wondering if there might be any opportunities to tap into The Narwhal’s expertise.

Well, this week, that partnership has come to fruition: we’re thrilled to share that a Narwhal story has been published on The Weather Network for the very first time — which means we’re now extending our journalism’s reach through an organization that millions upon millions of folks interact with daily across Canada.

Go check out the first story, a republication of Prairies bureau chief Sharon J. Riley’s feature on the Dene Tha’ plan to protect a carbon-rich lake in Alberta. The piece is also accompanied by a behind-the-story video with Sharon that The Weather Network will be airing on TV during its weekly Climate Reframed segment on Friday night, from 7 p.m. onwards.

Keep an eye out for more of The Narwhal’s stories in The Weather Network app and on the telly next week and in the new year!


This week in The Narwhal

Trucks drive by a pool of water next to a highway in the Holland Marsh
Ontario is poised to double the size of the Bradford Bypass, documents suggest
By Emma McIntosh and Noor Javed 
A Toronto Star collaboration: As recently as Nov. 9, the Ontario government has said the highway through the Holland Marsh section of the Greenbelt would be four lanes. But for more than a year, it’s been looking at expanding it to eight by 2041.

Salmon smolt swim in the foreground, with a B.C. fish farm visible in the background on the green-ish blue water's surface
Documents raise concerns feds backing off commitment to phase out fish farms in B.C. by 2025
By Stephanie Wood
B.C. will soon decide the fate of four projects with big climate and biodiversity impacts
By Matt Simmons

What we’re reading

The 7 climate tipping points that could change the world forever. By Grist
Mumbai Embraces Its Booming Flamingo Population. By Hakai Magazine
gif of two seals
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The Narwhal’s Prairies bureau is here to bring you stories on energy and the environment you won’t find anywhere else. Stay tapped in by signing up for a weekly dose of our ad‑free, independent journalism.