Putting Ecosystem Health on the Front Burner


Hummingbird / Pete Nuij via Unsplash | West Coast Environmental Law

Tens of thousands of dead wild salmon, drought conditions in fall, heat domes in summer, close to 2,000 species and ecosystems at risk or of special concern—there is little doubt that British Columbia is facing both a biodiversity and climate crisis. Unfortunately, these are crises our current laws are not well equipped to handle. In fact, according to environmental lawyers at West Coast Environmental Law, outdated provincial laws centred on resource extraction are a root cause of the problem.

An independent review panel appointed by B.C.’s provincial government recently reached a similar conclusion. Nothing less than a “paradigm shift” is required, states the 2020 Old Growth Strategic Review Panel report, which recommended that the provincial government enact legislation that establishes conservation of biodiversity and ecosystem health as an overarching priority for all sectors.

As one of Canada’s oldest environmental law organizations, West Coast Environmental Law has worked with communities, non-governmental organizations, the private sector, and all levels of government to shape B.C. and Canada’s most significant environmental laws for close to 50 years.

Environmental lawyers say that a new B.C. law for biodiversity and ecosystem health could give species and ecosystems a fighting chance to adapt to the detrimental impacts of climate change and turn the tide on decades of harmful cumulative impacts. Caring for ecosystems benefits humans, too, by preserving critical ecosystem “life-support” services such as carbon storage, clean air and water, food security, and mitigation of floods and landslide risks.

A biodiversity and ecosystem health law, co-developed with First Nations, could contribute to restoring healthy relationships between humans and the natural world, grounded in recognition of Indigenous title, rights and understandings of human relationships with the environment.

Forestry, agriculture, energy, community development and other activities would be pursued in a manner that aligns with the healthy functioning of natural systems and conservation of biodiversity, rather than working at cross-purposes with these systems. Activities where the ecological consequences are too high would be avoided, while investment and human effort would be concentrated in activities that are consistent with maintaining healthy ecosystems and living within nature’s limits.

Embracing integrated rather than fragmented decision-making, and prioritizing biodiversity and ecosystem health, holds the promise of empowered communities, greater local control of decisions, reduced infrastructure and emergency-management costs, and more resilient
local economies.

The B.C. government committed to implement all of the recommendations of the Strategic Review Panel report, but two years later, no process has been announced for developing the new biodiversity law.

West Coast Environmental Law has a unique approach that uses hard-hitting and in-depth legal research and analysis to engage communities, catalyze coalitions, mobilize allies, and influence decision-makers to implement environmental law reform. As a non-profit working in the public interest, West Coast has a track record of working with Indigenous, federal, provincial and local governments to shape innovative and proactive legal solutions for environmental protection. West Coast depends on the generosity of donors in this critical work transform the legal landscape for sustainability, democracy and justice. Visit wcel.org to learn how you can be a part of it.

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West Coast Environmental Law is transforming environmental decision-making and strengthening legal protection for the environment through collaborative legal strategies that bridge Indigenous and Canadian law.


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