Post-COP15: Will the Magpie River flow freely?

L&rsquo ;After-COP15: Will the Magpie River flow freely? 

As COP15 ended with an agreement between all countries, what steps remain to preserve, defend and restore Quebec's biodiversity? One of the jewels would be the Magpie River, one of the largest on the North Shore with its winding 200km, from the Labrador border to Minganie, 60km west of Havre-Saint-Pierre . 

Also known by the Innu names of Mutehekau Hipu, the “river where the water passes between the square rock cliffs” or even Pmotewsekaw Sipo, for “river along which one walks among the shrubs”, it has just received the status of “personality legal”, in a joint action led by the Innu communities and organizations for the preservation of the Quebec territory. 

The Magpie could symbolize the battles that still have to be fought for the natural habitats to be preserved. “If the Quebec government decides to go ahead and not preserve this natural jewel, we could turn to the courts to have its rights heard,” notes the manager of the Magpie River protection project for the Société. for nature and parks (SNAP Quebec), Pier-Olivier Boudreault. 

The status of legal personality means that the river now has its own rights, just like a human or a corporation. And it will therefore be possible to go to court to defend them thanks to an alliance — the Alliance Muteshekau-shipu — which brings together the community of Ekuanitshit, the Regional County Municipality of Minganie, SNAP Quebec and the Association Eaux- VivesMinganie. 

This “tape” protection project received the Prix Droits et Libertés 2022 from the Commission on Human Rights and Youth Rights, during the recent COP15.  

If these groups wanted to put pressure, it is because this natural jewel, very popular among sports enthusiasts in river descent, could not find favor in the eyes of the Quebec government. The protected area project, defended for many years, did not manage to see the light of day. In fact, we recently learned that Hydro-Québec would consider it as the target of a new hydroelectric dam. 

Taking advantage of the international media attention of COP15, Quebec recalled that the Nature 2030 Plan will support, with $23 million in the key, the initiatives of indigenous communities in terms of biodiversity conservation. 

Which could be promising for this river, knowing that it is a project that has consensus in the region. There is an important socio-cultural link between the Magpie and the inhabitants of Minganie, particularly the First Nations. 

Obstacles like stones 

< p>It is certain that our various appetites – including that of hydroelectricity – sometimes stand against our will to safeguard the natural heritage. 

Since the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, and its framework declaration on the environment and sustainable development, more than a hundred States, in addition to NGOs and researchers, meet every two years to promote the protection, restoration, development and enhancement of biological diversity. It was during the 10th of these summits (COP10), in Aïchi (Japan) in 2010, that targets for 2020 were adopted. None have been achieved. 

The agreement reached overnight from Sunday to Monday in Montreal, at the end of COP15, contains 23 new targets that the various countries undertake to achieve by 2030, in particular the protection of 30% of land and oceans ( almost double today), the reduction of $500 billion in “harmful” subsidies to nature, and the restoration of 30% of “degraded” lands. 

Agreeing on quantifiable targets was one of the challenges of COP15, while several of the participants noted that the proposed objectives had hitherto been too modest or too vague. “It is time to embrace ecological civilization and act on the long list of the degradation of our biodiversity (pollution, pesticides, climate, etc.). What we see is the tip of the iceberg of this major crisis ”, argued last week the co-holder of the Canada Research Chair in Northern Biodiversity, Dominique Berteaux. 

Remember that nearly a million animal and plant species, out of the eight million known, could disappear, according to recent figures from IPBES (the international group of experts on biodiversity). And three-quarters of terrestrial territories, like two-thirds of marine environments, are degraded due to human activities. 

The agreement also foresees that international aid for conservation will increase from 10 billion per year to 20 billion by 2025 and to 30 billion in 2030. Non-governmental organizations interviewed on Monday were generally satisfied with the agreement. If rich countries keep these promises, it could persuade developing countries to follow international conservation guidelines. 

“We are used to thinking in the short term when it is urgent to review our mode of growth. And more particularly for us, it will also be necessary to pay the past bill, while persuading the countries of the South to join the fight ”, notes Mr. Berteaux. 

Local construction sites  

In Canada and Quebec, the low population density plays in favor of safeguarding the north of the territory, while it will be necessary to preserve and restore the south, where there is much more biodiversity. The major concern remains the change of vocation of the land, which becomes fields or suburbs: “ the first threat is the destruction of habitats. It's time to act where it's most difficult”, adds the researcher. 

The example of the chorus frog and the negligence of the city of Longueuil opposing real estate developers still sounds like a step back. 

Québec is also rich in rivers and watersheds forming ecosystems linking terrestrial and aquatic environments. We must pay more attention to the ecology of freshwaters, reminded the full professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Quebec in Montreal, Beatrix Beisner. “Our living organisms are less charismatic, but human activity has direct impacts on them, with urbanization, and indirect impacts with soil leaching, fertilizers, etc. . 

Another important project: modifying the Act respecting threatened and vulnerable species, the list of which has not been reviewed for more than 10 years. The Quebec government has just begun a review process affecting more specifically 27 new species, including the Western Chorus Frog, which could go from vulnerable to threatened. 

Not to mention the increase in protected areas, which currently represent 17% of the territory, mainly in the North, and 10% of the marine environment. And the importance of linking them together. “It's good to protect, but species must be able to circulate within corridors. We must also be concerned about the remaining 70%, which should be just as sustainable ”, notes Mr. Berteaux. 

The Government of Quebec has launched a Biodiversity Monitoring Network project on this subject, with 75 indicators measuring the biodiversity of different environments — wetlands, land, water — and even at the territorial level — protected areas or threats related to human activities. 

Better understanding the extent of the degradation with quantifiable indicators remains essential. We can only protect what we know well, and this is an important project where Quebec citizens could help, with programs to promote and collect information, such as the program on butterflies monarchs. 

For the researcher, the Covid-19 crisis has shown us that it is possible to start a decline, and to show solidarity with developing countries. “Biodiversity is a barometer, like the climate. This forces us to think more deeply about problems of ecological imbalance. We must become aware of our actions, restore, preserve and hammer home the same message. » 

The role of research 

Research on the biodiversity have not finished revealing new secrets. This could influence conservation policies. 

For example, the scientific journalsNature Ecology & EvolutionandNature Communicationspublished, in 2022, two global maps of the biodiversity of trees and plants (icietici), which provide a slightly different look at global biodiversity. The first points out that the richness of tropical forests cannot simply be explained by climatic factors, while the second concludes that the steppes of Eastern Europe are home to as many plant species as the Amazon rainforest. 

But still it is necessary to listen to this research. In the case of woodland caribou, the data has been known for years and despite everything there is still a lot of misinformation, according to the full professor of animal ecology at the University of Quebec in Rimouski, Martin Hugues St-Laurent. 

“We have questioned the many data saying that it is a species in decline and some have even argued that the fault was only on the side of the climate. It's frustrating and we sometimes wonder about the goodwill of governments,” notes the researcher. 

The woodland or “woodland” caribou has disappeared from the Maritime provinces and is on the way to disappearance in Quebec. It is currently considered a threatened species within the meaning of Canada's Species at Risk Act, and therefore benefits from protection, while it is a “vulnerable species” in Quebec. 

Recent changes within the Quebec government — wildlife and parks now come under the Ministry of the Environment while forests come under the Ministry of Natural Resources — have restored Martin Hugues St-Laurent's confidence a little: there has been a different, just as the presence of COP15 in Montreal put “ pressure on the Quebec government, not to wait any longer to take strong protection actions ”. 

Safeguarding biodiversity is above all a policies and actions, as we have seen during these two weeks of COP15 in Montreal. 

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