The Biodiversity COP15, held in Montréal in December 2022, was a historic milestone for cities & subnational governments, endorsing their key role in contributing to implementation of the Kunming-Montréal Global Biodiversity Framework and the dedicated Plan of Action. As the focus shifts towards implementation, we explore the implications of the GBF and Decisions for cities and subnational governments as key partners in developing and implementing national biodiversity strategies and actions plans, and to reaching the 2030 targets.
The Biodiversity COP15, which took place in Montréal, Canada, from 7 to 19 December 2022, was a historic moment, following four years of intensive consultations and delays in the negotiation process due to the COVID pandemic.
The stakes were high:
The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) 7th Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, released in 2019, warned about unprecedented extinction rates and described increasing threats to biodiversity and ecosystem functioning, from climate change, increasing urbanization, unchecked unsustainable production and consumption patterns, unsustainable agricultural practices to deforestation, which exacerbate biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation;
The global scorecard on achieving the Aichi Biodiversity Targets (ABTs), adopted at COP10 in Nagoya in 2010, was dismal: the 5th Global Biodiversity Outlook (GBO-5), released in September 2020, demonstrated that none of the ABT’s had been met, and the world was not on track for the 2050 Biodiversity Vision of ‘living in harmony with nature’;
The COVID-19 pandemic brought the consequences of nature’s decline into stark reality, and reminded us of the interconnectedness between nature and people. Urban communities, and particularly the vulnerable and marginalized communities within cities, were most impacted by the consequences of the disconnect between nature and people; and
In his 2020 “The State of the Planet” address delivered at Columbia University, Antonio Guterres, United Nations (UN) Secretary General warned that “Humanity is waging war on nature. This is suicidal. Nature always strikes back – and it is already doing so with growing force and fury. Biodiversity is collapsing. One million species are at risk of extinction. Ecosystems are disappearing before our eyes … Human activities are at the root of our descent toward chaos. But that means human action can help to solve it.” He added that ‘making peace with nature’ should be the defining task of the 21st Century.
It was against this backdrop that the stage was set when negotiations on a ‘post-2020 global biodiversity framework resumed with the first in-person meetings, since the declaration of the global COVID pandemic was announced in March 2020, in Geneva in March 2022. While negotiations on key fundamental issues, such as funding and targets about restoring and conserving 30% of marine and terrestrial ecosystems by 2030, were tough and tense, there was strong support among an increasing number of Parties for a more ambitious Decision and Plan of Action (POA) on engaging subnational and local governments to enhance the implementation of the new global biodiversity framework. This growing support was evident in the adoption at COP15 of:
- a stronger and more ambitious Decision and POA on engaging subnational and local governments to enhance the implementation of the Kunming-Montréal Global Biodiversity Framework;
- the inclusion of references recognizing the role of subnational and local governments in the Kunming-Montréal Global Biodiversity Framework, which includes, for the first time, a target that is specifically directed at local governments; and
- references to subnational and local governments in several other COP15 Decisions.
Role of subnational and local governments a ‘game changer’ at COP15
The mobilization and level of commitment and solidarity among subnational and local leaders at COP15 participating in the 7th Summit for Subnational Governments and Cities, held as an official parallel event to COP15 on 11 and 12 December in the main negotiation room, and the first ever associated Pavilion from 7 to 17 December, represented a historic game changer. There were more than 200 subnational and local government leaders representing 300+ cities and regions from 70+ countries around the world.
Thirty-six new cities – including Paris, San Francisco, Kunming, Nagoya and Kampala – and five new global partners signed up to CitiesWithNature, and 8 new regions, including the State of California and the State of Rio de Janeiro, joined RegionsWithNature, which was officially launched at the 7th Summit. Commitments by subnational and local leaders included the announcement by the Scottish Government of a new £60 million restoration fund which includes an Edinburgh Process strand, providing multi-year funding directly to local governments; Shanghai committing to increasing its parks to over 500 and greatly increasing green space to become a city that is in harmony with nature; Aburrá Valley in Colombia announcing that it is building a wildlife center that will be the largest in South America; and Nagoya announcing that is is designing an Action Plan for its 2030 Nagoya Biodiversity Strategy, incorporating the Kunming-Montréal GBF. Subnational and local governments demonstrated that they are already taking concrete action for biodiversity, and committing to new and more ambitious actions; and their leaders called on Parties to adopt an ambitious new global biodiversity framework and targets, emphasizing that they are ready and willing to support their national governments in implementing the new framework and achieving global targets. Additionally, cities worldwide were encouraged to join the ongoing international consultation process for developing a Berlin Pact (BP), with its highly ambitious and SMART targets, which will be embedded in the CitiesWithNature Action Platform to inspire cities to engage in ambitious biodiversity action at the local level. And the parties responded by recognizing the considerable support and contribution their subnational and local governments can make, in the Decisions adopted at COP15.
The Kunming-Montréal Global Biodiversity Framework (Decision 15/4) urges Parties to implement the Framework, and in particular, to enable participation at all levels of government through the whole of government approach. It calls for urgent and transformative action by governments, specifically mentioning subnational and local authorities, and all of society, to halt and reverse biodiversity loss to achieve the outcomes it sets out in its targets and goals, in defining the Purpose of the Framework . Subnational and local governments are also included under provisions relating to the revision, development, updating, implementation, monitoring and review of NBSAPs ; and the whole of government and society approach .
Additionally, several of the Framework’s 23 action-oriented global targets are relevant to both subnational and local governments – the extent to which this is relevant will depend on their respective roles and functions as determined nationally. For example the so-called ‘30 by 30 targets’: Target 2, which aims to ensure that by 2030 at least 30 percent of areas of degraded terrestrial, inland water, and coastal and marine ecosystems are under effective restoration; Target 3, which aims to ensure and enable that by 2030 at least 30 percent of terrestrial, inland water, and of coastal and marine areas, is effectively conserved and managed; Target 7, which is concerned with reducing pollution risks and the negative impact of pollution from all sources to levels that are not harmful to biodiversity and ecosystem functions and services by 2030; and Target 11, which seeks to restore, maintain and enhance nature’s contributions to people (NCP) through nature-based solutions (NBS) and/or ecosystem-based approaches (EBA) for the benefit of all people and nature. With direct reference to urban and densely populated areas, Target 12 urges for increasing the area, quality and connectivity, and improving access to and benefits from green and blue spaces in urban areas. This can be achieved by mainstreaming the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity; ensuring biodiversity-inclusive urban planning; and enhancing ecological connectivity and integrity thereby improving human health and well-being and connection to nature, and contributing to inclusive and sustainable urbanization, and the provision of ecosystem functions and services. Referring to ‘within and across all levels of government’, Target 14 aims specifically at addressing biodiversity mainstreaming by seeking to ensure that biodiversity issues are integrated into policies, regulations, planning and different strategies within and across all levels of government to make cities and regions more livable places.
Significantly increase the area and quality and connectivity of, access to, and benefits from green and blue spaces in urban and densely populated areas sustainably, by mainstreaming the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.
The Kunming-Montréal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF), along with five other Decisions, was adopted as a package: 15/5 – Monitoring framework of the GBF; 15/6 – Mechanism for planning, monitoring, reporting and reviewing; Decision 15/7 – Resource mobilization; Decision 15/8 – capacity-building and development and technical and scientific cooperation; and Decision 15/9 – digital sequence information on genetic resources . With the exception of Decision 15/9, all these Decisions address key implementation issues that are also reflected in the action areas of the POA in the Decision on engaging subnational and local governments to enhance the implementation of the framework (discussed below), and as such have a bearing on subnational and local governments to some extent:
In Decision 15/5 Monitoring framework of the GBF, Parties agree to use the period from 2011 until 2020 as the reference period for reporting and monitoring purposes until the GBF monitoring framework is finalized during COP16 in Turkey. To involve data from all levels of government, the optional component and complimentary indicators, that are recommended, will also apply at subnational government levels and can be supplemented with subnational indicators;
Decision 15/6 Mechanism for planning, monitoring, reporting and reviewing aims to encourage Parties to include all levels of government in national biodiversity strategy and action plan development and implementation, as well as in the preparation of national reports. The Decision invites different stakeholders to develop commitments contributing to NBSAPs;
One of the key issues identified in the adoption of the GBF, is the urgent need to channel funds from developed to developing countries, in particular least developed countries, small island developing States, and countries with economies in transition, to assist with implementation. Decision 15/7 resource mobilization addresses this urgent need and also refers to Target 14 to ensure that biodiversity issues are integrated into policies, regulations and planning within and across all levels of government, emphasizing the importance of the availability of adequate financial resources to be allocated for the implementation of the GBF; and
To achieve success in planning, monitoring and reporting, cooperation is truly the key and Decision 15/8 on capacity-building and development and technical and scientific cooperation invites subnational governments, cities and other local authorities to develop commitments contributing to NBSAPs through online platforms or contributions to the national reports.
Other Decisions that are relevant to subnational and local governments are the following :
Decision on Invasive alien species (CBD/COP/15/L12) encourages all levels of government to contribute to national, subnational and local invasive species strategies and action plans to have coordinated efforts in dealing with invasive alien species;
Decision on Conservation and sustainable use of marine and coastal biodiversity (CBD/COP/15/L15) highlights marine and coastal biodiversity as one of the key cross-cutting elements of the post-2020 global biodiversity framework and invites subnational governments to contribute to the conservation and sustainable use of marine and coastal biodiversity;
Decision on Biodiversity and Agriculture and its Annex Plan of Action 2020-2030 for the International Initiative for the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Soil Biodiversity (CBD/COP/15/L16) emphasizes the role of subnational and local governments in the conservation, restoration and sustainable use of soil biodiversity;
Decision on Biodiversity and Health (CBD/COP/15/L17) encourages subnational and local governments to work with national governments and further integrate the One Health approach in their NBSAPs, and national health plans, as appropriate, to support the implementation of the GBF through an integrated, unifying approach to balancing and optimizing the health of people, animals and the environment; and
Decision on the Long-term strategic approach to mainstreaming biodiversity within and across sectors (CBD/COP/15/L34) reiterates “the critical importance of mainstreaming biodiversity across government and society in order to achieve the objectives of the Convention”.
The key Decision regarding subnational and local governments is that on Engagement with subnational governments, cities and other local authorities to enhance implementation of the post-2020 global biodiversity framework and its Plan of Action for 2022-2030 (CBD/COP/15/L22). This Decision and POA, which renewed Decision 10/22 adopted at COP15 in Nagoya, is significant for a number of reasons:
- It represents the continuation, since 2010, of the only mechanism for multilevel governance and a comprehensive plan of action for the decade ahead, in the three Rio Conventions;
- It is significantly more ambitious than the 2010 Decision, and shows stronger commitment on the part of the Parties. For example, it encourages Parties to facilitate – as appropriate according to national legislation – the involvement of local and subnational governments in the revision, implementation and updating of national biodiversity strategies and actions plans (NSAPs); and the allocation of human, technical and financial resources in line with Principle 2 of the ecosystem approach, which states that “Management should be decentralized to the lowest appropriate level” . It also urges Parties to support their subnational and local governments in strengthening their capacities to improve the implementation of the GBF;
- It provides a comprehensive POA with a catalog of activities, grouped into seven interrelated and complementary action areas, and the following clear objectives, to support Parties, and their subnational and local governments and their partners in implementing the GBF:
- To increase the engagement of subnational and local governments in supporting the successful implementation of, and reporting on, national biodiversity strategies and action plans (NBSAPs), the GBF and the programs of work under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD);
- To improve regional and global coordination and exchange of lessons learned between Parties, regional and global organizations, United Nations and development agencies, and other key stakeholders on ways and means to encourage and support subnational and local governments in managing biodiversity sustainably, providing ecosystem services to citizens and mainstreaming biodiversity into urban and territorial planning and development;
- To identify, enhance and disseminate policy tools, guidelines, financial mechanisms or instruments, and programs that facilitate subnational and local action on biodiversity and build subnational and local governments’ capacity to support their national Governments in implementing the CBD; and
- To facilitate the development of awareness-raising programs on biodiversity in line with communication, education and public awareness strategies.
- It recognizes (in Action Area 7, Monitoring and reporting of the POA) CitiesWithNature and RegionsWithNature as the place where cities will monitor and report on their voluntary commitments to national and global biodiversity targets; and for the inclusion of such contributions into National Reports under the CBD.
How can subnational and local governments make a difference?
In his message to the Parties, observers and stakeholder at COP15, the UN Secretary General took both government and the corporate sector to task, highlighting that unchecked degradation of ecosystems would cost the world $3 trillion annually by 2030 from nature-destroying activities. He urged governments and corporations to shift to green solutions.
Cities stand in the frontline of dealing with this degradation and its consequences to communities. Yet, they are also hubs of innovation and solutions. Parties, observers and stakeholders at COP15 all agreed, the time for scaling out actions that will transform the current consumptive and destructive development trajectory, to a more sustainable one in harmony with nature, is NOW. Not only are cities on the frontline when it comes to facing the climate-biodiversity-pollution crisis, but they are also closest to the citizens. And as government institutions, local governments are more agile than national governments when it comes to developing and adopting new policy instruments and plans; and can do so more quickly and easily than their national counterparts. Subnational governments, on the other hand, play an important intermediary role between national and local governments. As such they support both in ensuring national policies are implemented, priorities and targets are met, local capacity is built and local actions are coordinated and aligned.
So what can, and should, subnational and local governments do going forward to support the implementation of the GBF and shift the trajectory to nature positive development and scale out green solutions?
So what can, and should, subnational and local governments do going forward to support the implementation of the GBF and shift the trajectory to nature positive development and scale out green solutions?
For a start, they can join CitiesWithNature and RegionsWithNature, and capture their commitments to take concrete action for biodiversity on the Action Platform, thereby becoming part of the global community of subnational and local governments taking and reporting on actions for biodiversity and supporting their national governments in implementing the GBF and NBSAPs. This will also facilitate easier coordination between national, subnational and local governments in gathering and using data for the National Reports under the CBD. And it will serve, in turn, to inspire other subnational and local governments to follow their lead, thereby amplifying and scaling out actions for biodiversity.
Secondly, subnational and local governments can introduce projects, programs and measures that are directed at implementing their commitments and contributing to one or more of the GBF targets, This will demonstrate their support to the successful implementation of NBSAPs, the GBF and the programs of work under the Convention on Biological Diversity. For example, actions taken at the local and subnational scales to restore degraded ecosystems, protect areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem functions and services, and implement other effective area-based conservation measures (OECMs) can contribute to the achievement of the ‘30 x 30’ targets (Targets 2 and 3). Furthermore, the restoration of degraded ecosystems will gain traction with the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, and offers opportunities for sustainable job creation, food security and addressing climate change while also contributing to the SDGs. With regard to Target 7, cities can take an active role in reducing sewage pollution and reducing plastic pollution that is harmful to biodiversity. And in the case of Target 11, in addition to protecting and restoring ecosystem functions, subnational governments can raise awareness about ecosystems, such as urban wetland restoration, and how they benefit people through flood control especially in flood-prone inland and coastal areas; whereas cities in close proximity to and dependent on wetlands, especially Wetlands of International Importance, and that value their wetlands, can apply to the Wetland City Accreditation scheme under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, to gain international recognition of their wetlands. Cities specifically should increase the area, quality and connectivity of, and access to, green and blue spaces in their areas of jurisdictions to ensure that they contribute to Target 12. Both subnational and local governments should ensure they mainstream biodiversity into sector and development plans, policies and budgets to contribute to Target 14. For example, to reduce pollution in cities requires the application of appropriate laws, cleaner production guidelines, the sustainable management of food waste and effective waste water management. To reach net improvements in natural ecosystems by 2050, all decision making should take the health of ecosystems into consideration. Mainstreaming is also encouraged to be applied to finance and business sectors, including heavy industries such as mining and oil and gas, and agriculture that all have a large impact on biodiversity.
Thirdly, subnational and local governments can collaborate with their national governments and develop action plans to implement that POA, including actions aimed at providing ecosystem services to citizens and integrating biodiversity concerns into urban and territorial planning and development. They can also encourage their national governments to identify, enhance and disseminate policy tools, guidelines, financial mechanisms or instruments, and programs that will facilitate subnational and local action on biodiversity and build their capacity in implementing the CBD.
In addition to the above, subnational and local governments should familiarize themselves with the COP15 Decisions and ensure that they take steps and implement measures such as to develop invasive alien species strategies and action plans (where these don’t yet exist); support and engage in national efforts and programs to conserve and ensure the sustainable use of marine and coastal biodiversity, as well as in integrating the One Health approach in the implementation of NBSAPs and national health plans.
To conclude: The Parties adopted an ambitious framework, and subnational and local leaders set the bar high in committing to action, creating an expectation that the successful implementation of the GBF will, in respect of certain aspects, hinge on subnational and local governments’ performance. NOW is the time to demonstrate the impact of collective local action on reaching global targets, bending the curve in biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation, and turning the tide in the ‘war on nature’.
The 7th Summit was co-hosted by ICLEI, the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (SCBD) and Regions4, along with the host Government of Québec and the City of Montréal and with the support and engagement of the Province of Yunnan and the City of Kunming. Both the Summit and its associated Pavilion were financially supported by the Government of Québec as main sponsor.
 Article 4: The Kunming-Montréal Global Biodiversity Framework aims to catalyze, enable and galvanize urgent and transformative action by Governments, and subnational and local authorities, with the involvement of all of society, to halt and reverse biodiversity loss, to achieve the outcomes it sets out in its Vision, Mission, Goals and Targets, and thereby contribute to the three objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity, and to its Protocols. Its purpose is the full implementation of the three objectives of the Convention in a balanced manner.
 Article 5: The framework is action- and results-oriented and aims to guide and promote, at all levels, the revision, development, updating, and implementation of policies, goals, targets, and national biodiversity strategies and actions plans, and to facilitate the monitoring and review of progress in a more transparent and responsible manner.
 Article 10: This is a framework for all – for the whole of government and the whole of society. Its success requires political will and recognition at the highest level of government, and relies on action and cooperation by all levels of government and by all actors of society.
 At the time of writing numbers had only been assigned to the afore-mentioned GBF package of Decisions, and none yet to the remaining Decisions adopted at COP15. For the purposes of referring to the as yet ‘unnumbered’ Decisions, their Limited Document numbers are cited in this article. The unnumbered Decisions have not been uploaded onto the CBD website yet.
 Adopted in CBD Decision V/6.