May 22, 2021
Exploring biodiversity through a legal lens
Each year on May 22, the United Nations' Convention on Biological Diversity celebrates International Day for Biological Diversity. The theme for 2021 is “We’re part of the solution.” The slogan was chosen to be a continuation of the momentum generated last year under the over-arching theme, “Our solutions are in nature,” which served as a reminder that biodiversity remains the answer to several sustainable development challenges. From nature-based solutions to climate, health issues, food and water security, and sustainable livelihoods, biodiversity is the foundation upon which we can build back better.
Researcher in the Faculty of Law and the Canadian Institute of Resources Law are involved in important research in protecting biodiversity in Alberta and around the globe.
Protecting riparian lands in Alberta
In Alberta, intact riparian lands are critical for sustaining water quality and quantity in wetlands, streams, rivers, lakes and alluvial aquifers. Constantly changing and adapting to surface and groundwater systems that sustain them, intact riparian lands provide numerous ecosystem services for humanity.
Riparian lands are aquatic environments or ‘aquatic ecosystems’ that reflect the presence of water. They are difficult to define and even more difficult to delineate and map. As diverse landscape features adjacent to surface water bodies, shallow alluvial aquifers and groundwater springs and seeps, they vary in extent and width both above and below ground with the fluctuation of water quantity and flow rates. They are complex, dynamic systems with distinctive combinations of soils, and flora and fauna that require the presence of water to survive.
Legal pluralism regarding riparian lands - the plethora of societal rules, norms and best practices for controlling and managing human activities and interactions on or near riparian land - is alive and well in Alberta. Overlapping, and sometimes conflicting, federal, provincial, regional and municipal regulatory and management systems have been firmly entrenched for decades with little change. Depending on where riparian lands are located, for example on federal land, provincial public land, or privately owned property, there are often inconsistent regulatory and management systems governing how people interact with these landscape features. The governance system, that includes the diverse stakeholders involved in governing, is as complex and dynamic as the riparian landscape the system is intended to govern.
As population and economic growth continue in Alberta in the face of climate change, riparian lands will continue to be negatively impacted by urban land development, rural agricultural operations, and industrial encroachments unless the governance system becomes more effective at sustaining critical riparian land functions.
The purpose of this paper is to examine Alberta’s current cross-scalar riparian land governance system: this includes the people who govern, and the policies, laws, regulations, institutional arrangements. and management strategies they implement. Taking a look at the riparian land governance system as a whole, and examining the many structural couplings of subsystems within, may help politicians, lawyers, land use planners, industry stakeholders, and landowners to identify emergent riparian land governance issues that require systemic improvements. Some recommendations for necessary systemic changes are included.
Using genomics to support Arctic biodiversity
Professors Anna-Maria Hubert (Lead Investigator of Work Package on Law and Ethics), Sharon Mascher, Nigel Bankes and Martin Olszynski are part of a larger interdisciplinary team exploring the role of genomics in fostering and supporting Arctic biodiversity.
The project draws together partners with expertise across disciplines, cultures and organizations, building upon team strengths in Arctic observation and monitoring, biology, conservation, cyber-cartography, data management, genomics, geography, Indigenous Knowledge, the legal and policy sciences, and resource management. Together the team will co-develop a suite of genomics knowledge-mobilization tools that will support environmental decision making. The focus is on supporting end-users with responsibilities for or interests in the areas of biodiversity monitoring, conservation, and the co-management of wildlife that are key to the social, cultural, physical and economic well-being of northern Indigenous Peoples.
The team will develop decision support tools building on an assessment of genomics data availability (can it be located, is it obtainable?) and accessibility (is it useable by non-experts and for decision making and policy development?), and we will consider the potential and the practical, economic, legal and ethical issues of mobilizing genomics for decision making – including those pertaining to Indigenous perspectives and rights, and national and international frameworks and commitments that may influence policy at different levels of government. Project activities and outcomes will support conservation, natural resource management, and the sustainability of Arctic wildlife. Outcomes will also support Canada’s efforts to protect Arctic species and ensure food security for Arctic People. The project can serve as a model for mobilizing genomics in different regions of Canada and in other nations.