Alberta’s cabinet ministers received their mandate letters – how does that bode for nature conservation?
The Corvus Centre has just released a new report: “The Mandate for Nature: A Review of the Government of Alberta 2023 Ministerial Mandate Letters and the Implications for Nature Conservation.”
As I note in the intro to this report, mandate letters are like Christmas gift-giving back in the day: the party platform is the Sears Christmas Catalogue (“ooh, I hope Santa brings that!”); the mandate letters are the actual gifts with that bittersweet mix of happiness and disappointment when you see what you got; and policy implementation is like a prolonged Christmas Day as you determine what looked better in the catalogue, what came with no batteries, what broke too easily, and which things endured and performed.
For the 2023 Mandate Letters issued to Alberta's cabinet ministers, there’s the good news and there’s the not-so-good news.
First the good news …
There is specific direction to create new / review existing land use plans. Done well, a reinvigorated process could help nature conservation tremendously. The existing plans (as templates) generate several opportunities, as could the required management frameworks.
There were several explicit or implicit references to nature-based solutions (NbS). While most were directed at addressing climate change, letters also included NbS references to disaster management, working land management, and infrastructure.
And now the not-so-good news …
There was little to no mention of mention of nature conservation – or even environment more generally. The Environment and Protected Areas Minister has been tasked more with promoting the oil and gas industry; agriculture, jobs, and tourism missed the important links entirely.
Awareness of water scarcity – especially in critical areas of the province – was concerningly poor. Multiple letters make reference to expanding the water distribution system for irrigation, municipalities, and industry, but all assume this to be an unlimited resource.
The Municipal Affairs letter included no references to the environment. Because land use is the front lines of conservation, and municipalities are the front lines of land use, nature conservation depends heavily on decisions in the municipal realm.
Significant potential exists for greenwashing nature-based solutions for climate change. While having numerous references to NbS for climate change is positive, the tone suggested that the value of this approach was to justify higher emissions in other areas.
And lastly, an interesting irony …
Despite ‘environment’ and ‘conservation’ being of no apparent interest within the mandate letters, the letter for the Minister of Environment and Protected Areas was downloaded more often than all but one of the 24 letters issued.