Today, PM Trudeau and the ministers of Fisheries and Oceans, Guard Jonathan, and Parks Canada, Catherine McKenna, are expected to announce new marine conservation commitments in Canada’s Arctic region.

Healthy marine ecosystems are vital for many coastal Indigenous peoples along the Atlantic, Arctic and Pacific oceans. Sustenance, traditional economics, cultural practices and traditional knowledge are all impacted by adverse human impacts on our oceans and seaways. The protection and sustainability of the natural resources on which Indigenous peoples depend physically, emotionally and spiritually is a right recognized in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples[1] and the dramatic degradation marine ecosystems in Canada and around the world demands significant commitments and immediate action.

NWAC strongly supports the Government of Canada’s commitment to create new, and expand existing, marine protected areas in ways that respect the Convention on Biological Diversity – particularly the Convention’s principles respecting Indigenous practices and knowledge[2] – and which meet and exceed the government’s commitment to protect at least 10 percent of Canadian coastal and marine areas by 2020[3].

The increasingly menacing effects of climate change in the Arctic are becoming regular ominous reminders that coherent climate change policies must accompany measures to protect marine ecosystems. In the Arctic, area-based conservation and climate change are indivisible issues. The heatwave that scorched Europe last week has shifted over Greenland and may result in a record-setting melt year.[4] Arctic regions from the Beaufort Sea to Baffin Bay are projected to experience extensive periods of sea-ice-free conditions by 2050.[5]

The Government of Canada’s announcement today is expected to be an important win for conservation, but much work remains to be done. The protection marine ecosystems in the Arctic is particularly important to Indigenous peoples; however, without synergistic policies and programs to meaningfully transition to a low-carbon, sustainable economy, the tides of change will not be effectively curbed. And that is bad news for every coastal community on Earth, Indigenous or not.


[1] UN General Assembly, United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: resolution / adopted by the General Assembly, 2 October 2007, A/RES/61/295, Art 29.1.

[2] Convention on Biological Diversity, 1760 UNTS 79; 31 ILM 818 (1992), (CIF 29 December 1993), see for example Art.s 8(j) and 18.4.

[3] CBD, “Canada – National Targets” Target 1 (Related to Aichi Target 11) < https://www.cbd.int/countries/targets/?country=ca >.

[4] McKenzie, Sheena, “Greenland is melting in a heatwave. That’s everyone’s problem” CNN (31 July 2019) < https://www.cnn.com/2019/07/31/europe/greenland-heatwave-climate-crisis-intl/index.html >.

[5] ECCC, “Canada’s Changing Climate Report” (2019), < https://www.nrcan.gc.ca/sites/www.nrcan.gc.ca/files/energy/Climate-change/pdf/CCCR_FULLREPORT-EN-FINAL.pdf > at p 212 and 435.