Secretariat advances the Protection of Polar Bears (Canada) and Tourism Development in Gulf of California (Mexico) submissions

Montreal, 18 November 2013—The Secretariat of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) has, after a thorough review of the relevant documentation, concluded that a factual record respecting the timely listing of the polar bear species pursuant to Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA) is warranted.

On 7 November 2013, the CEC Secretariat issued a notification recommending to the CEC Council the development of a factual record on submission SEM-11-003 (Protection of Polar Bears) and now, five working days later, it is authorized to make the notification public.

Submission SEM-11-003 (PDF) was submitted 5 December 2011, by the Center for Biological Diversity (the Submitter), a US-based nongovernmental organization, asserting that Canada is failing to effectively enforce its environmental law with respect to the protection of the polar bear species. In particular, the Submitter alleges that the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) failed to consider the best available information about the status of the polar bear in Canada and that, based on COSEWIC’s recommendation, Canada listed the polar bear as a species of special concern rather than as a threatened or endangered species. The Submitter alleges that the proper listing would have afforded greater protection to polar bears and their critical habitat. Among other alleged failures to effectively enforce SARA, the Submitter asserts that Canada failed to meet mandatory deadlines in making its listing decision.

In its response, Canada states its position that COSEWIC is not subject to the Article 14 process because COSEWIC is not a Party to the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation (NAAEC), and because subsection 15(2) of SARA does not meet the NAAEC’s definition of environmental law. Canada also states that, contrary to the Submission, the mandatory timelines in the SARA were not breached.

Having considered the Submission in light of the Response, the Secretariat finds that there remain central open questions about Canada’s enforcement of SARA, in respect of the polar bear species. The Secretariat considers that a factual record would provide the public with a better understanding of the role of the “best available information” considered by COSEWIC in the SARA listing decision-making process, as well as how the timing of key steps in that process may be affected by other factors. Such factors include the role of land claims agreements and of consultations with Wildlife Management Boards and other bodies.

The Secretariat will develop a factual record if two or more members of the Council—the CEC’s governing body, composed of the highest ranking environmental officials of Canada, the United States and Mexico—so decide. The Council has until 21 February 2014 to vote.

Also this month, on 12 November 2013, the Secretariat requested a response from Mexico in relation to submission SEM-13-001 (Tourism Development in the Gulf of California), filed by the Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA), Centro Mexicano para la Defensa del Medio Ambiente, Natural Resources Defense Council, Red Ecologista por el Desarrollo de Escuinapa, Amigos para la Conservación de Cabo Pulmo, COSTASALVAJE,Sociedad de Historia Natural Niparajá, Greenpeace México, Los Cabos Coastkeeper, Alianza para la Sustentabilidad del Noroeste Costero, and SUMAR (together, the “Submitters”).

In their submission, the Submitters assert that the construction and operation of four tourism infrastructure projects on the Gulf of California would have a significant impact on the Bay of La Paz, the El Mogote nesting area, the Cabo Pulmo coral reef, and the Marismas Nacionales wetland. They further contend that Mexico is failing to effectively enforce the Ramsar Convention and the provisions of Mexican environmental law applicable to environmental impact assessment, the protection of wetlands, and the conservation of endangered species.

The Secretariat, in its determination, requests a response from Mexico in regard to the alleged failures to enforce the environmental law in connection with these projects and, specifically, in regard to: consideration of the best and most complete information available for the production of the relevant environmental statements; the piecemeal consideration given to the projects and the assessment of their cumulative impacts; the failure to implement precautionary, mitigation, and preventive measures; the procedure followed in approving the projects, and the consideration given to technical opinions issued by various bodies. In addition, the Secretariat requests information concerning the alleged failure to exercise the powers to suspend project works or activities and to take measures for the protection of the coral reef located in Cabo Pulmo.

Mexico now has a period of 60 days in which to file its response.