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Quebec opens northern region to mixed reviews

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>Posted on behalf of Hannah Hoag

The government of Quebec (Canada) has launched its multibillion-dollar Plan Nord, which will open the vast northern reaches of the province to mining and energy development—and protect 50% of the territory from economic development.

The 1.2-million-square-kilometre region—twice the size of France—is known for its wild rivers, biodiversity, diverse ecosystems and a large swath (about 20%) of Canada’s boreal forest. Boreal forest covers more than 25% of Quebec. More than 120,000 people, including 33,000 aboriginals also live in the region.

Quebec Premier Jean Charest said yesterday the government will invest CDN$80 billion into mining, forestry, transportation, energy development and tourism over the next 25 years


The environmental aspects of the plan include the promise to set aside 600,000 square kilometres of the region to protect the environment and preserve biodiversity. By 2016, the government will have established several provincial parks, completed a survey of northern Quebec’s biodiversity, protected over 31,000 square kilometres of land, and adopted mitigation or restoration plans for each development project.

By protecting half of the forest, the Quebec government will keep more than 13.8 billion tons of CO2 sequestered—equivalent to about 70 years of industrial carbon dioxide emissions in Canada (Canadian Boreal Initiative, 2009 release).

The Plan Nord is getting mixed reviews from environmental groups. The Canadian Boreal Initiative, affiliated with the Pew Environment Group’s International Boreal Conservation Campaign applauded the sustainable development measures included within the plan (release). But others, including Greenpeace and Nature Quebec, said they could not endorse the plan as presented. The coalition of groups told the Globe and Mail the plan was “an attempt to regulate a mining boom rather than the expression of an authentic vision for the north.” They called for, among other things, an evaluation of the global environmental impacts of northern development.

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