Last month, ICLEI Cities Biodiversity Center hosted the first session of its webinar series “From Agreement to Action”. The series aligns with this year’s International Biodiversity Day theme of “From Agreement to Action: Build Back Biodiversity”, and in the spirit of this theme seeks to mobilize local and subnational governments to take action. The first webinar was titled “Raising Ambition: the importance of subnational and local governments to reach the 30×30 targets for restoration and conservation.”

Whole-of-government approaches to implementing the KMGBF

The aim of the webinar was to explore how subnational and local governments can contribute to the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework’s (KMGBF) 30×30 targets, and to showcase what actions they are already taking. The focus was on subnational action towards Target 2 – on the restoration of 30% of degraded ecosystems, and Target 3 – on effective conservation of 30% of areas – both by 2030.

The webinar had an impressive lineup of speakers. The Convention on Biological Diversity’s Acting Executive Secretary, David Cooper, referred to the KMGBF as “an important step to achieve the global vision of living in harmony with nature by 2050”. He highlighted that the framework will enable communities to “build back biodiversity, clean our air and water, and limit zoonotic diseases”. To ensure the successful implementation of the KMGBF, Cooper emphasized a ‘whole-of-government’ and ‘whole-of-society’ approach where governments, consumers, and business have their distinct roles to play: while governments need to urgently implement policies; business can adopt sustainable practices; and individuals can commit to sustainable consumption and reducing waste.

The recognition of a ‘whole-of-government’ and ‘whole-of-society’ approach to curb biodiversity loss was a major outcome of the negotiations at COP15 and the four years leading up to it. While the Aichi targets missed the opportunity to include subnational and local governments in the agreement, this has changed under the KMGBF. There is a stronger and more ambitious Decision and Plan of Action on engaging subnational and local governments to enhance the implementation of the Framework, and several of its 23 action-oriented global targets are relevant to both subnational and local governments. As a result, Jean Lemire, Emissary for Climate Change and Nordic and Arctic Issues for the Government of Quebec, explained that since the whole-of-government approach has been accepted, it is critical for local and subnational governments to upscale and showcase their actions. “It’s surprising it took so many years to get that victory – it’s clear to me that cities will determine the future. Now we have to transform those years we were asking to be around the table by showing real implementation and action.” 

Given that urban populations are projected to double by 2050, cities are critical in implementing the KMGBF and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). With the 23 targets as blueprint, the Director of UNEP’s Ecosystems Division, Susan Gardner, echoed the call for a whole-of-government, whole-of-society approach to secure health and food across all urban contexts. “Cities have that ability to be more inclusive, economically responsible, and ecologically restorative,” she said.

Gardner added that biodiversity protection is contingent on increased investment in nature-based solutions (NbS), as per its UN Environment Assembly definition of ‘actions to protect, conserve, restore, sustainably use and manage natural or modified terrestrial, freshwater, coastal and marine ecosystems, which address social, economic and environmental challenges effectively and adaptively, while simultaneously providing human well-being, ecosystem services and resilience and biodiversity benefits.’ UNEP’s State of Finance for Nature in Cities: Time to Assess report revealed that in 2020, financial investment into NbS received just 0.3% of overall urban infrastructure, which indicates a need for significant upscaling of NbS investment.

Whole-of-government approaches to implementing the KMGBF

Partnerships are critical to the implementation of the KMGBF. The webinar highlighted how  the objectives of the Convention on Wetlands and the Convention on Migratory Species can contribute to the 30×30 targets through collaborative initiatives involving local and subnational governments.

The KMGBF and wetlands

Wetland conservation and restoration are particularly in need of partnerships, because the ecosystem services they provide are cross-sectoral, such as providing habitats for animal species and clean water to downstream communities. The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands’ Secretary General, Musonda Mumba, noted two key collaborative movements to support urban wetlands: the Plastics Treaty – which links with the 2023 World Environment Day theme of “Beat Plastic Pollution” – because plastic pollution has severe adverse effects on wetlands; and the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. “Through these partnerships we amplify why biodiversity matters so much,” Mumba said. 

To achieve wetland restoration, Mumba called on the inclusion of two types of partners – cities and the youth. Cities are uniquely positioned to affect change better and faster, because they are experiential spaces that are changing quickly. Looking forward, Mumba calls for cities to be involved in supporting and championing green jobs which are instrumental to the youth. Youth were recognized as key roleplayers in the recent Ramsar COP because of their ability to challenge the status quo. To increase the involvement of young people, and society as whole, in the implementation of the KMGBF, Mumba suggested that the language around biodiversity be accessible, anchored in reality, and free of jargon. 

The KMGBF and migratory species

“Cities and nature have always been closely interconnected; cities were built where natural resources can sustain them,” noted Amy Fraenkel, the Executive Secretary of the Convention on Migratory Species. She added that even the most highly urbanized cities – such as New York and Johannesburg – have green spaces hosting migratory species, yet these are often overlooked. Fraenkel suggested that cities’ critical role in achieving the GBF targets, in particular the 30×30 and restoration targets, should include the following approaches:

  • well-planned city development, because habitat loss and destruction is the biggest threat to migratory species;
  • conserving and restoring green spaces in cities, for all species and humans; and
  • increasing ecological connectivity, because biodiversity and migratory species cannot thrive if disconnected.

Fraenkel reiterated that “I love working with cities, because this is where things get done.” CMS COP14 will be hosted in Uzbekistan in October 2023, where they will share their new Guide on reducing light pollution in cities that was created through collaboration with CitiesWithNature and ICLEI CBC. 

KMGBF implementation in practice

National governments want local action to be recognized

To illustrate mechanisms for bringing agreement to action, Mohlago Flora Mokgohloa, the Deputy Director General for Biodiversity and Conservation, Ministry of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment of South Africa, discussed South Africa’s recently adopted White Paper on the Conservation and Sustainable Use of South Africa’s Biodiversity. South Africa is one of the most mega biodiverse countries in the world, and a conservation leader with 16% of terrestrial land (and 15% of marine areas) under formal protection. “We have embraced the 30×30 target. This forms a key implementing lever of the white paper,” Mokgohloa said. Of the two enabling goals of the White Paper – resources and mainstreaming, local and subnational governments play a critical role in the latter. Specifically, the South African national government requires subnational and local governments to create Bioregional Plans, Local Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plans (LBSAPs) and develop by-laws to protect biodiversity and restore ecosystems.

South Africa has a range of strategies to include local governments in achieving its national biodiversity goals, including convening regular ‘biodiversity indabas’ (meetings) to engage local governments in priority setting, policy determination and implementation planning. The national government has also planned a dedicated KMGBF implementation workshop that interrogates the 30×30 targets, and will include all levels of government and society. “We believe in ongoing dialogue and partnership, because biodiversity knows no boundaries and affects all of us,” Mokgohloa said. This dialogue also includes feedback from the national government to cities and provincial stakeholders to explain progress and policy changes.

According to Mokgohloa, because South Africa has different mechanisms to recognize different types of conservation, and these are linked to land ownership, local governments play a particularly crucial role in stakeholder engagement towards conservation. This is especially true because South Africa not only focuses on the quantitative elements – the percentage of land in the 30×30 target – but also the qualitative elements, which refers to the effective management and governance of spaces and species diversity, as well as sustainable use and the biodiversity economy. 

Mokgohloa believes cities make significant contributions to biodiversity, but are often not recognized. “I commend those municipalities that over the years have brought back green spaces, such as the one million trees planted in Johannesburg, which served as a blueprint for other cities across the country.” She added that she would like to see cities being more assertive and proactive in showcasing their actions for biodiversity, such as Cape Town’s successful application to become a Ramsar Wetlands Accredited City for its wetland protection.

Cities use innovative approaches to biodiversity funding

Not only is Cape Town an accredited Ramsar city, but also one of the founding cities in the Local Action for Biodiversity (LAB) programme – which has since developed into the CitiesWithNature global partnership initiative. The city values partnerships, such as the one with ICLEI – that has helped them produce their LBSAP – which not only helps them feed into national government reporting, but connects them with international agendas. Julia Wood, Manager of the City of Cape Town’s Biodiversity Management Branch, explained that through these partnerships the city made great progress with the Aichi targets, and will review and adapt their reporting in accordance with the KMGBF Targets.

The city’s collaboration across departments has also been fruitful, as their work in alien species clearing with the Public Works Department has not only created short-term employment, but also long-term green careers: after three years of temporary work these public works employees are qualified to apply for jobs within the City of Cape Town. Wood explained that employing people for temporary projects has been one innovative strategy to secure funding for biodiversity work. The city’s alien clearing work has been the most important and effective solution in addressing its water scarcity issues. In her experience obtaining and maintaining long-term biodiversity finance has been one of the city’s biggest challenges.

Biodiversity action at the regional level

According to Jean Lemire, Quebec Province’s involvement in the advocacy for Target 30×30 of the KMGBF is not enough, and as a result the provincial government has created an ambitious plan of action. A key aspect of the plan is that its goals are supported by a significant 600 million + CAD budget, which enables Quebec to collaborate internationally. “You can have a good idea but if you don’t have money to go with it, it won’t work,” Lemire explained. Another key focus of the Nature Plan is an extensive stakeholder process with Indigenous communities and civil society, as well as close collaboration with universities to determine where the best areas are for 30% protection.

Finally, via a video message, Scotland’s Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity, Lorna Slater, noted that the Scottish Government’s focus for implementing the KMGBF will include the increase of biodiversity in urban spaces, but also ensuring accountability of those industries and companies that are big polluters. She noted that Scotland “might be a small country, but our challenges may create opportunities that can benefit us all”.

Build-up to UN Biodiversity COP16

COP15 was a turning point in a journey of negotiations. After delays resulting from a global pandemic, the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework was approved by 196 nations, making it a triumph for multilateralism. For the framework to be successful, an integrated approach is necessary, implemented by all levels of government and all levels of society. The Parties have raised ambition and local governments have set the bar high in committing to action. 

Towards COP16, which will be held in Türkiye in 2024, intersessional meetings will be convened, along with the launch of the KMGBF Fund in 2023, establishing a multilateral mechanism for Digital Sequence Information (DSI) benefit sharing, and starting the open-ended working group discussion for reporting to COP16. CitiesWithNature continues its call for cities to join the initiative and contribute to the Action Platform, to ensure biodiversity action at the local and subnational levels can be showcased at COP16.

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