How local governments can lead the biodiversity movement: New ICLEI Global Ambassador for Local Biodiversity will shine a spotlight on local action

Over three billion people depend on marine and coastal biodiversity for their livelihoods while 1.6 billion people, including 70 million indigenous people, depend on forests for their livelihood.

Nature underpins our very existence and livelihoods and is integral to the effective functioning and well-being of urban communities.

The decline of the natural world, due to human actions, such as over-exploitation of natural resources, pollution and unsustainable consumption, is a global crisis in its own right that also exacerbates the severity of climate change.

In May, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) released a report that estimated that one million species are threatened with extinction and that extinction rates are accelerating. The report found that the current global response is insufficient and transformative change is needed.

And the news gets worse. The IPCC special report on land released this month found that the land we depend on to sustain ecosystems and stabilize the climate is suffering under the effects of climate change. This weakens not only the defense against climate change but also the protection of natural habitats.

Cities and regions have a critical role to play in tackling these global challenges. Mayor Valérie Plante of the City of Montréal will take up the role of ICLEI’s Global Ambassador for Local Biodiversity. The position will shine a spotlight on the role of cities to address the biodiversity extinction crisis facing the world and will serve as a global advocate for the protection of nature and biodiversity by local governments.

Mayor Plante is calling on Mayors around the world to join her in igniting a global wave of action in cities, towns and regions to plan with, conserve and restore nature. “Now is the time for urgent action. Nature underpins our very existence and livelihoods and is integral to the effective functioning and well-being of urban communities,” said Mayor Plante. “Collective action at the local level is our best hope for seeing the change needed at a global scale. It is crucial that the voices of urban communities are heard in the negotiations on a new deal for nature leading up to and following the Convention on Biological Diversity Conference of the Parties in China in 2020.”

Mayor Plante will work closely with ICLEI’s network of nearly 2,000 cities to ensure all urban communities, regardless of size, are supported in defending biodiversity and nature from imminent threat. This work builds on existing global initiatives and partnerships that are putting cities and regions at the forefront when it comes to tackling climate change and conserving biodiversity.

Cities from around the world are eager for this representation at the global level. “The city of Campinas recognizes the relevance of integrating biodiversity in the global urban context. In this sense, measures are needed to articulate the actions of local governments in line with international milestones aimed at valuing nature in metropolitan contexts. It is with great pleasure that the city of Campinas recognizes and supports the global action for urban biodiversity through the appointment of the Mayor of Montreal, Valérie Plante, as ICLEI Global Ambassador for Local Biodiversity.” said Jonas Donizette, Mayor of Campinas, Brazil.

This sentiment was echoed by ICLEI’s President, Mayor Ashok Sridharan of Bonn, who appointed Mayor Plante to this new role. “Cities need a strong voice at the table. Mayor Plante has taken the lead in Montréal, and she will serve as a powerful advocate for urban nature globally,” said Mayor Sridharan.

The Road to Beijing and COP15 for the Convention on Biological Diversity

The 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP) for the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) will happen in China in 2020. In 2015 in Paris, the world came together in a commitment to tackle the crisis of climate change. 2020 can be the Paris moment for biodiversity. It is crucial that the voices of urban communities are heard in the negotiations on a “new deal for nature” at the biodiversity COP next year.

Government officials, experts and activists from around the world are gathering in Nairobi this week to open talks on what the CBD is calling “a global agreement to safeguard life on Earth.” The August meeting marks the official start of negotiations toward a new global framework for biodiversity.

The CBD has already expressed their enthusiasm in working closely with Mayor Plante in this new role. “Mayor Plante has been a champion for sustainable urban development in Montreal, and a strong advocate to the urban agenda in the context of the Convention,” said Dr. Cristiana Paşca Palmer, Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity in Montreal. “I stand ready to work with Mayor Plante in her new role, towards the full engagement of cities in the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, also through the CitiesWithNature platform, and for safe cities that provide a healthy and vibrant urban environment for our growingly urban planet.”

In the lead up to the COP, cities are giving their inputs via consultations and informal and formal meetings, many of these coordinated by ICLEI. ICLEI also supports cities with skilled policy, legal and technical expertise on biodiversity and urban development through the ICLEI Cities Biodiversity Center (CBC).

The CBC recently launched CitiesWithNature – a rapidly growing global partnership initiative between ICLEI, the IUCN, The Nature Conservancy, World Urban Parks, the Biophilic Cities Network, WWF and other organizations – as a platform for cities and regions to connect, learn, act and inspire one another to design, plan and work with nature; demonstrate what they are doing to restore connections with nature; and pledge their local actions and commitments to protecting nature.

CitiesWithNature is endorsed by the Secretariat on the Convention on Biological Diversity as the official platform for cities and subnational governments to share and report on their ambitions and commitments to the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework. More than 70 cities from around the world are already committed to embark on this ambitious journey alongside Mayor Plante, including Melbourne, London, Manchester, Bonn, Kochi, Dar es Salaam, Cape Town, Barcelona, Fort Collins, Londrina, and many more on all continents.

Participating cities are eager for Mayor Plante to showcase CitiesWithNature on a global stage. “As a longstanding ICLEI member and CitiesWithNature Pioneer City, the City of Cape Town welcomes the appointment of Mayor Valérie Plante of the City of Montréal as the ICLEI Global Ambassador for Local Biodiversity.” said Executive Mayor Dan Plato. “Through the global CitiesWithNature initiative, we are connecting with other cities to share our experiences and commitments, and to learn from them.”

Leading on Nature at the Local Level

In the twenty-two months since taking office, Mayor Plante has already led pioneering biodiversity and nature conservation initiatives in Montréal. Plante has a plan to protect 10 percent of the city’s green spaces and the newly announced plan to build Canada’s largest urban park – expected to be over eight times the size of New York’s Central Park – is a big part of that. “Like its citizens, the City of Montréal is firmly committed to the protection of biodiversity,” said Plante.

These initiatives made her natural candidate for the role of Global Ambassador. “Nature-based development and biodiversity conservation is a critical element of sustainable development. Local leaders such as Mayor Plante understand the extreme urgency of the conservation of biodiversity, and that local and subnational actors make a tangible difference and have an overall global impact,” said Gino Van Begin, Secretary General of ICLEI. “We welcome Mayor Plante’s leadership to show how cities can lead in planning, designing and building cities with nature, respecting the services and benefits nature offers and restoring nature in ever-growing urban centers.”

Mayor Plante is not alone in taking action to bring nature into cities. Mid-sized cities, such as Fort Collins, USA, have joined CitiesWithNature and are embedding biodiversity and nature conservation into their missions.

John Stokes, Director of the Natural Areas Department of Fort Collins, USA talked about how this reaches in to every department in the city. “Colorado is experiencing unbelievable population growth and that’s putting a lot of pressure on our public lands… I am very proud of how hard this community has pushed for biodiversity conservation. In the planning department we have performance standards relating to natural habitat features, our storm water department takes biodiversity conservation into consideration in their capital projects, our parks department is working to get their parks certified as Audubon sanctuaries and the list goes on and on.”

His department has preserved over seventy square miles of open space for conservation and habitat restoration. Fort Collins residents are behind this approach as well – the last regional sales tax that funds these efforts was supported by an overwhelming ninety percent of voters.