Universities to save biodiversity

This text is part of the Higher Education special section

11 Quebec universities signed a Nature Positive pledge within the framework of the UN Conference on Biodiversity (COP15). With this gesture, they recognize their fundamental role in the fight against the loss of biodiversity and promise to restore and strengthen it at the heart of their campus.

Biodiversity refers to the variety of organisms, species and ecosystems that inhabit the planet, as defined by the Convention on Biological Diversity. Hubert Reeves wrote in his article: “This concerns us primarily because biodiversity is us, us and everything that lives on earth.” Manifesto for a new alliance.

It is also the spirit of the Nature Positive Universities Alliance, a movement created by the United Nations Environment Program and the University of Oxford. “We depend on nature to live, and nature depends on us,” says the initiative’s website.

In 2019, scientists at the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) estimated that more than one in eight species could become extinct in the coming decades. Two major causes of this decline may be overfishing and habitat loss associated with deforestation and land compaction. Climate change and pollution are also aggravating factors.

Although the distribution areas of the species will be significantly altered in the coming years, the development of universities in Quebec can play an important role in protecting natural habitats and restoring ecosystems damaged by their presence and activities. They also embody powerful forces for knowledge production through research, training engaged citizens, and knowledge dissemination.

Concrete actions

“Biodiversity is one of the critical issues of sustainability,” says Julien-Pierre Lacombe, sustainability advisor at École de technologie supérieure (ETS). We wanted to gather as many Quebec universities as possible to join us in signing this joint commitment. Thus, 11 Quebec enterprises, as well as hundreds of other organizations around the world, are committed to taking action whose impact will be measured, monitored and reported annually. ETS has already started the process in this direction for several years.

In the summer of 2021, five leading urban biodiversity zones have been designed on its campus. Areas of wild meadows and bee gardens are home to plants rich in nectar and pollen that attract pollinators. In one of the buildings, on the corner of rue Notre-Dame, 21 different species of insects live on a biological green roof of about 700 m2, which is maintained without an irrigation system. The green roof of another market garden under construction will produce fruits, vegetables and herbs that can be cooked and served in the student cafeteria.

The school is working with its partners and neighbors to confirm its intention to connect the Lachin Canal to Mount Royal. “We have a responsibility to restore nature’s place in the city by creating habitats that favor plant and animal species in the face of high urbanization,” he said.

Innovative projects at INRS

“We wanted to show our willingness to participate and our solidarity with other universities,” says Maxine Dandois-Fafard, sustainable development adviser at the National Institute of Scientific Research (INRS). By signing this pledge, we are leading by example and can put biodiversity at the top of our priority list alongside climate change. »

Last year, INRS decided to use the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as the reference framework for its Sustainable Development Action Plan, with biodiversity at the center. “We even want to create an action plan for biodiversity,” says Maxine Dandois-Fafard. In order to determine the actions to be taken in the summer season, an inventory of the ecological and wildlife environment will be conducted.

Within the institute, innovative research projects such as iTrackDNA, co-directed by professor and researcher Valerie Langlois, are born. It consists of developing analysis kits to identify species of particular interest to local populations. Environmental DNA (eDNA) samples are taken from natural environments and compared to databases to detect the presence of animals such as caribou. “This was done in partnership with, among others, the Abitibiwinni First Nation,” says Maxine Dandois-Fafard.

As part of the British-initiated No Mow May movement, mowing is already delayed and pesticides and other herbicides are banned on campus. Green roofs should also be installed soon. “We have destroyed the natural environment by putting our building there. With a green roof, we provide a habitat for birds and insects,” says the consultant.

Replace gray with green

Located on the campus of the University of Montreal, Polytechnique Montreal’s facilities cover many paved areas. However, the campus expansion and redevelopment project is ongoing and will enable the school to follow its Nature Positive commitment. “We want to achieve 25% greening and 1,300 square meters more cover surface,” says Joséanne Bélanger-Gravel, sustainability advisor at Polytechnique Montréal.

The forested area will also replace the open parking area and contribute to the strengthening of the green corridor, the ecological corridor. The school is built on Mount Royal heritage site which is home to many species of animals and plants. “In the long term, the idea is to reconnect the campus to Mount Royal Park for the student community and any other user,” said Joséanne Bélanger-Gravel.

Polytechnique Montréal also participates in the awareness campaign launched by Les amis de la montagne, which aims to promote environmentally responsible behavior and the protection of the park’s fragile ecosystems.

Other signatories in Quebec

This special content is produced by the Special Publications team Be forced, about marketing. Compilation of Be forced did not participate.

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