A heart like a whale and the beginning of COP27

Image: North Atlantic right whale “Snow Cone” (Catalog #3560) spotted south of Nantucket on Sept. 21, 2022, dragging heavy fishing gear and in poor health. CREDIT: New England Aquarium, taken under NOAA permit #25739

By Gretchen Fitzgerald, National Programs Director, Sierra Club Canada

Today marks the beginning of COP27 in Egypt and Sierra Club Canada representatives are already there right now fighting for our environment. But this conference comes not long after we received tragic news a bit closer to home – Snow Cone is dying.

After being entangled in fishing gear five times, Snow Cone, the right whale mother who survived the trauma of being caught in fishing gear and yet gave birth to and nursed a calf, is entangled yet again.Scientists and whale guardians who are watching her suffer have let the public know she is so weak that there is little hope for her survival.

Her death means the end of her lineage. Snow Cone’s first calf was hit by a boat and killed. Her second calf is missing and presumed to have died. With only one hundred North Atlantic right whale mothers left on earth, this loss could spell the extinction of her species.North Atlantic right whales live off the coast of two of the world’s richest nations – the United States and Canada. Both nations in recent years have called for greater protection – even what they refer to as emergency measures – to save the species.

Snow Cone’s valiant but tragic story shows what we are doing is not enough. Her ocean home is now an obstacle course of fishing gear and shipping vessels, with climate change shifting the goalposts.

To me, the story is emblematic of so many of our struggles together, whether it’s Equinor’s Bay du Nord oil drilling project, getting off coal in Atlantic Canada, or confronting wasteful plastic pollution.All of these battles feel like we are far from where we need to be to truly turn the corner and bring us back to a healthy relationship with nature and each other.

In the next two weeks, the world will be gathering to talk about climate change and how we can avert disaster and the Conference of the Parties to the UN Climate in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt.In December, Canada is about to host one of the most important meetings in biodiversity to happen in our lifetimes.At each of these meetings we have to confront and call out massive failures to act to avert terrible damage to people and the living world.It may be too late to save Snow Cone. But her legacy and ours can be to change things for the better.

These global meetings could either be a chance to show leadership in Canada and across borders to stop extinctions and take responsibility to restore our relationships with the natural world. Or it can be a missed opportunity that will lead to more deaths like Snow Cone’s, more destruction of natural systems that are home to irreplaceable beauty and biodiversity, and more climate wrecking pollution.I know you won’t let that happen.

Members of Sierra Club have created key ambitious goals for the upcoming meetings on climate change in Egypt and biodiversity in Montreal. Our members will be attending both meetings in person to bear witness and call for action.

Here’s what we will be looking for:

  • Acknowledging the Rights of Mother Earth in the new Global Biodiversity Framework being negotiated at CBD COP15 and in negotiations to address climate change and create environmental justice at UNFCCC COP27.
  • A halt to all new fossil fuel infrastructure and projects as part of global efforts to protect biodiversity and halt climate change. Companies like Equinor are still planning to destroy our climate with their offshore oil and gas development plans.
  • A strong Global Biodiversity Framework and climate commitments backed with the cash needed to make them real here in Canada and those countries most impacted by climate change and biodiversity loss;
  • A Pan-Canadian Strategy that includes Indigenous Peoples, Provinces, Territories and Municipalities in biodiversity targets and actions;
  • An invigorated commitment to the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration committing to cross-border collaboration to protect key regions which will lock in carbon and protect biodiversity such as the Adirondacks to Algonquin, Prairie pothole, Gulf of St. Lawrence, and the Great Lakes bioregions;
  • Supporting citizen science in protecting biodiversity by re-establishing a national ecological monitoring network (formerly known as EMAN) and taking advantage of the modern citizen science platform, iNaturalist; and
  • A commitment for rapid action to save critically endangered species such as the North Atlantic right whale by supporting fisheries in rapid transition to ropeless gear and obligatory shipping slow down zones.

No question, that’s a lot.But it can start with steps we take together to make this vision a reality. And recognizing that while we mourn losses – be they loss of human lives or losses of wondrous creatures like Snow Cone –  these losses can motivate us to push for big change for the better.

We are very fortunate that volunteers from Sierra Club will be attending both of these meetings and getting your voice heard.

Please stay tuned for ways you can help support them!