Canada ignores science and exposes empty promises to protect biodiversity with Terminal 2 approval

Cabinet's green light to Roberts Bank megaproject will harm recovery of endangered species.

Drone photo of the port of Vancouver in the Fraser River estuary.
Photo by Alex Harris / Raincoast Conservation Foundation.

Today’s announcement from the Government of Canada ignores robust scientific assessment of the environmental damage of the Terminal 2 megaproject and is at odds with the commitments made by the Canadian federal government four months ago on the COP15 Biodiversity Conference world stage.

Despite their promises to protect biodiversity, the federal government continues to approve  projects that destroy critical habitat and undermine recovery potential for endangered species. The approval of Roberts Bank Terminal 2 (RBT2) will worsen the already dire outlook for many threatened and endangered species in the Fraser River Estuary, with far-reaching consequences.  

Not only has Canada’s own Review Panel to the Impact Assessment Agency stated that the Terminal 2 project will have significant adverse and cumulative effects on endangered Southern Resident killer whales and threatened Chinook because it increases their risk of extinction, the project also violates Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA) as it destroys the critical habitat of a protected species. The Impact Assessment Agency Review Panel concluded these effects are permanent in duration and irreversible.

“The scientific evidence is overwhelming that human-caused threats to the Southern Resident killer whale population must be lowered for the population to recover. Approving this project does the opposite. By reducing their ability to acquire sufficient prey and impairing their communication, the project will directly increase their likelihood of extinction” said Misty MacDuffee, Wild Salmon Program Director,  Raincoast Conservation Foundation.

After the RBT2 Review Panel made its conclusions, the Port continually changed their mitigation plan. While adjusting and improving mitigation plans is important, the inadequacy of the Port’s original plan remains: effective mitigation to address both salmon and Southern Resident killer whales has not been established.

The Fraser Estuary contains the most important salmon rearing grounds in Canada. Habitat loss in the estuary has already been extensive and there is broad consensus that protection for this globally-important ecosystem needs to be increased. 

“This decision is an enormous step backwards. It further reduces the estuary’s ability to support more than 100 at-risk species, including threatened Fraser River Chinook salmon. There is a growing body of scientific evidence that adverse effects from projects such as Terminal 2 can’t be simply ‘offset’ with habitat compensation projects. Considering this and the findings of the federal review panel, this project should’ve been rejected “ says Kristen Walters, Lower Fraser Salmon Conservation Program Director at Raincoast Conservation Foundation.

Minister of Environment and Climate Change Steven Guilbeault has stated that “We are facing an unprecedented biodiversity crisis with more than one million species facing extinction globally, including 640 at-risk species in Canada.” The Fraser River Estuary, future site of RBT2, contains 102 species that have been assessed as at-risk of extinction.

The decision to approve this terminal expansion also contradicts statements that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made just months ago at COP15 that Canada hosted in Montreal. Speaking to nearly 20,000 international delegates, he stated that: “…nature is under threat; in fact, it’s under attack […]until we agree that we should stop species from going extinct… we can not guarantee a future for our kids.” Ironically, it seems it is only his cabinet that disagrees with the opinions of academic researchers, government scientists, local government, a labour union, and ENGOs, who oppose RBT2.   

The approval of RBT2 reveals the empty rhetoric of these statements and a government that is not serious about tackling biodiversity loss or its own environmental goals.