Reflections on the U.N. Global Biodiversity Conference
A CNPS COP15 Update
Today, roughly 190 nations agreed to protect 30% of the world’s lands and oceans by 2030 at the United Nations’ 15th Convention on Biological Diversity (COP15) in Montreal. The scale of the agreement represents an unprecedented global commitment to conservation and is reported to include important new language concerning Indigenous rights.
We are in a critical moment for native plants, for California, and for global society. Last week, CNPS had the privilege of participating in California’s extended delegation to the United Nations’ COP15.
Why was CNPS in Montreal? California is one of 36 global biodiversity hotspots, and plants make up the greatest share of the species only found here. California is also ahead of much of the world in implementing ambitious and durable protections for nature and biodiversity, and CNPS actively supports these efforts through science, education, and advocacy. In 2021, CNPS joined a coalition of state officials, legislators, and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) called the California Global Biodiversity Working Group to help advocate for a stronger global framework for protecting nature and biodiversity.
Read on to find out what we’ve been learning and why California’s role in Montreal was especially important. We also included some suggestions at the end of this update with specific actions that each of us can take to protect California’s native plant biodiversity and habitats as part of our global community.
What is COP15?
The 15th Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP15) is a treaty negotiation concerning the international community’s commitments to conserve global biodiversity. Representatives from 196 governments weighed multiple targets including conservation, stopping extinction, pesticide use, restoration, invasive species, global subsidies, and plastics pollution.
The international goal to protect 30% of Earth’s lands and waters by 2030 (“30×30”) was a major focus of participants like California, who pushed for the framework to include specific and measurable actions toward that protection at both the global and national level. It’s important to note that the 30% goal is a critical step toward more ambitious protection. Last year, delegates to World Conservation Conference of the International Union for Conservation of Nature passed a motion recognizing that a minimum of 30% and as much as 70% of the Earth’s lands and waters must be protected to safeguard biodiversity and stabilize the planet’s climate. Inspired by the work of ecologist E.O. Wilson’s Half-Earth theory, conservationists hope that with 50% protection, we can save 80% of biodiversity.
This year’s meeting marked a pivotal moment for the natural world. Today, 1 million species are at risk of extinction, and wild vertebrate populations have dropped 69% since 1970, due in large part to habitat loss. Here in California, we have the highest concentration of imperiled species in the U.S. Urgent action is needed – both globally and locally.
The scientists underlined to us that this is our last chance to act. Unfortunately, we have no planet B.
-Elizabeth Maruma Mrema
In parallel with COP15, Montreal hosted the 7th Summit for Subnational Governments and Cities, which amplified existing local strategies for protecting nature and biodiversity. As with COP15, California’s leadership and voice were visible and resonant at the Summit.
The California delegation
California—the first and only U.S. state to be an official observer at COP15—showed leadership at a time when the federal government’s presence is limited. Last week, the White House issued a strong statement reflecting the Biden administration’s commitment to action. However, the U.S. cannot participate as a voting member in negotiations because it did not ratify the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in 1993. The United States is the only major nation to not be a party to the CBD.
California’s presence could help, which is why the California Global Biodiversity Working Group organized a 50-person extended delegation to Montreal. The working group—led by Assemblymember Laura Friedman, consultant Rosalind Helfand, staff from the California Natural Resources Agency (CNRA), California Environmental Voters, Turtle Island Restoration Network, and CNPS—worked for two years with members of the larger group to ensure a powerful showing. In addition to the delegation’s organizers, the delegation included seven California legislators, California Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot, and Deputy Secretaries Dr. Jennifer Norris and Jenn Eckerle. Representatives from California’s Indigenous communities also joined Indigenous ambassadors from around the world.
Together, more than 50 California leaders and advocates traveled to Montreal with the following messages:
- Subnational governments have a vital role to play. States, provinces, and cities can help their nations be more ambitious. California is eager to partner with other subnational governments to address barriers and advance measures not always possible at the national level.
- Indigenous engagement is key. Indigenous Peoples manage 20% of the earth and 80% of its biodiversity globally, and their frontline engagement will be crucial to the success of the global effort to protect and restore biodiversity. Secretary Crowfoot’s remarks at the 7th Summit for Subnational Governments and Cities captured this priority well when he said, “Conservation moving forward cannot advance a colonial mindset. We need to ensure 30×30 is a tool that can empower Indigenous communities.”
- Ambitious, measurable goals are a necessity. California’s Pathways to 30×30 plan is a model for how we can move 30×30 from a concept into action. California now has the strongest definition of durable conservation in the world while maintaining principles of inclusivity and equity.
- Biodiversity loss and climate change are two sides of the same coin. Cal Academy’s Dr. Rebecca Johnson said it well last week in the San Francisco Examiner: “Solving for climate change and protecting and preserving biodiversity are the same thing.”
- Economic prosperity and environmental leadership go together. As the world’s 4th largest economy, California’s leaders want the world to know that protecting nature doesn’t have to come at the expense of a thriving economy.
- Results require investment. Last year, California invested almost $5 billion in nature-based solutions, including more than $1.5 billion in the Wildlife Conservation Board, the Department of Parks and Recreation, State Coastal Conservancy, other regional conservancies, and the Department of Fish and Wildlife. Additionally, the state made a $100 million investment in a nature-based solution grant program for Tribes. Ongoing funding in California and across the globe is essential to support the work ahead.
- We need science. In 2022, California committed close to $100M million to advance science, including the completion of statewide fine-scale vegetation maps, surveys for biodiversity, and updates from other data sources to understand what areas are most important to protect in the face of a changing climate. Tools and conservation maps like Important Plant Areas and Key Biodiversity Areas will be critical for decision-makers going forward.
- People are part of nature, and part of the solution. Conservation that separates people from nature exacerbates longstanding environmental inequities. As California’s 30×30 plan indicates, we must commit to durable conservation alongside a focus on equity that gives marginalized communities equitable access to nature’s many benefits.
Today’s sweeping agreement is a major milestone for biodiversity, even as more specific implementation strategies and resources will be required to see it through. International consensus is elusive, and past efforts to reach biodiversity agreements have failed.
Secretary Crowfoot wrapped up his time in Montreal by emphasizing the need for subnational governments to stay the course on behalf of 30×30. “Our governments are on the ground w/ the authorities & resources to make a difference,” he tweeted.
Action surrounding the 7th Summit for Subnational Governments and Cities offered several encouraging moments.
- California joined the High Ambition Coalition for People & Nature, which will continue to drive 30×30 priorities beyond Montreal.
- California and Quebec signed a joint declaration on biodiversity at a packed press conference.
- The Catalan Gov.’s Department of Climate Action and California Natural Resources Agency agreed to partner on the management of biodiversity in Mediterranean climate regions and laid the groundwork for collaboration between Catalan and California State Parks.
- Assemblymember Ash Kalra moderated a powerful panel with leaders from California, Quebec, the Cree Nation, Brazil, Scotland, and the private sector at the California/Quebec workshop on 30×30 implementation.
- Secretary Crowfoot hosted an inspiring roundtable discussion with California’s extended delegation.
Bringing it home
CNPS has been proud to be the voice for California’s native plants on a global stage, which helps build support for what we care about most here at home. California’s native plants are part of our state’s remarkable beauty and heritage. We are home to the world’s oldest and tallest trees, superblooms that can be seen from space, and oak woodlands that support thousands of other species. We have so much to celebrate but also much to lose.
Today, California hangs in the balance. Many people feel they must make impossible choices between housing, renewable energy development, and irreplaceable habitats.
But these are false choices. The preservation of biodiversity and climate resilience goes hand in hand, and each of us can make a difference. Here are a few places to begin today:
- Thank our biodiversity champions in the California Legislature (especially if they’re your representative) and encourage them to keep up the great work to protect California’s biodiversity. Phone calls, letters, emails, and even shout-outs on social media tagging their accounts all make a difference. The following legislators were part of California’s delegation in Montreal:
- Join community-led 30×30 efforts by getting involved in the Power in Nature coalition. Sign up for a regional group here.
- Start your own Habitat revolution by planting natives where you live, work, and play.
- Learn about California Important Plant Areas and help advocate for their protection with your local county planning departments, Boards of Supervisors, and city government.
- Sign the petition to permanently protect Molok Luyuk and other California public lands conservation efforts.