Hearing the Voice of Subnational Governments: Learning from the Edinburgh Declaration for Biodiversity
The Edinburgh Declaration for subnational governments, cities and local authorities on the post-2020 global biodiversity framework is a key milestone in the formal recognition of contributions by subnational governments to the achievement of global biodiversity goals and targets. Celebrating this vital role of subnational, regional, and local governments to the achievement of biodiversity targets and climate resilience, signatories gathered at this event to discuss success stories and action plans to tackle the dual crises of biodiversity loss and climate change. Government representatives gave examples of peatland restoration, deforestation-free certification labels within the agriculture sector, and natural infrastructure to boost disaster resilience.
ICLEI - Local Governments for Sustainability and the Government of Scotland co-hosted this event in the Multilevel Action Pavilion at COP 26. The event concluded with over 200 signatories to the Declaration.
During the opening of the event, the importance of the Edinburgh Declaration was emphasized as important in recognizing that city, local, and subregional government action can lead to real change on the ground. Event speakers encouraged government representatives to use its framework for implementation and monitoring.
Harriet Bulkeley, Durham University, moderated the event and discussed her university’s new platform which documents nature-based solutions projects around the world.
Màiri McAllan, Minister for Environment and Land Reform, Scotland, opened the main session by highlighting Scotland’s leadership role on biodiversity, expressing hope that more subnational governments will sign the Edinburgh Declaration. She added that subnational governments have a vital role to play in translating global strategies into tangible action on the interlinked crises of climate change and biodiversity loss.
Jyoti Mathur-Filip, UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) noted that upwards of 70% of the global population will live in and near cities by 2050. Therefore, she said the work of subnational governments is essential to ensure nature is not destroyed while growing cities. She added that the Edinburgh Declaration has a role to play in mainstreaming the biodiversity process and enhancing the 10-year plan of action for engagement with subnational governments within the CBD.
Sergio Graf Montero, Secretary of Environment and Territorial Development, State of Jalisco, México, noted that seemingly small efforts of subnational governments on biodiversity and climate change can together make a huge difference. He provided an example from Jalisco, where a whole-of-government approach was used to create the world’s first deforestation-free tequila certification, echoing the importance of mainstreaming biodiversity in all sectors.
Benoit Charette, Minister of the Environment and the Fight Against Climate Change, Québec, Canada, expounded on his own government’s regional approach to biodiversity conservation with an advisory committee that integrates all regional government representatives into decision making. He added that Quebec has mainstreamed nature-based solutions into many of its policies, which contributes to emissions reductions and increased community resilience.
Julie James, Minister of Climate Change, Wales, gave a local example of peatland restoration which both tackles climate change by sequestering carbon and protects against biodiversity loss. Another crucial element to success, she said, is to also work through a bottom-up approach alongside local communities.
Sayda Melina Rodriguez Gomez, Secretary of Urban Development and Environment, State of Yucatan, Mexico, added that all governments should understand the importance of biodiversity. She urged everyone to join the Cities with Nature platform, which aims to help local governments prioritize biodiversity policies.
Roby Biwer, Bettembourg Municipal Council, Luxembourg, hoped that the Edinburgh Declaration is the missing piece to acknowledge, within the CBD, the vital role local governments play in contributing to achievement of the biodiversity targets.
Axel Grael, Mayor of Niterói, Brazil, as one of two cities in Brazil that have signed the Edinburgh Declaration, added that despite the obstacles to action at the national level, much is being done at the local level in his country on climate change and biodiversity.
Ana Oregi, Deputy Mayor of Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain, echoed the importance of cities and regions as they are the ones closest to the citizens. She highlighted her government’s partnership with ICLEI on biodiversity conservation throughout the range of habitats in the Basque region of Spain.
Errick Simmons, Mayor Greenville, Mississippi, US, discussed a regional partnership within the Mississippi River Basin to improve natural infrastructures for sequestering carbon and mitigating disasters. He added the recently passed US infrastructure bill will add funds to this effort.
Suzanne Case, Chair of the Department of Land and Natural Resources, State of Hawaiʻi, US, said that though Hawai’i is one of the highest biodiversity states in the US, it is also one of the most threatened, including by wildfires, coral bleaching, and invasive mosquitoes. She said Hawai’i’s Climate Commission is structured to take advantage of multiple levels of government to build a resilient planet through activities such as reforestation and fishery replenishment.
Jonny Hughes, United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC), gave concluding thoughts echoing the need for action from all levels of government. He said that since biodiversity and climate crises are inextricably linked, one risks exacerbating one crisis if action does not involve tackling both crises in synergy. He celebrated the work of peatland restoration as a fantastic example of a nature-based solution that contributes to biodiversity protection and upwards of 5-10% in carbon sequestration.
Edinburgh Declaration Signing
Wade Crowfoot, Secretary for Natural Resources, State of California, US, signed the Declaration as the 198th signatory, stating that the CBD is needed to protect nature but that the Convention also needs local governments to translate the goals to work on the ground. He added that the State of California will soon unveil what will be the world’s largest wildlife crossing near Los Angeles, a project run by state and local governments in partnership with nonprofits and private funding. It will help support, he said, the iconic population of mountain lions in the region.
Minister McAllan concluded by inviting subnational government representatives in the room to sign the Declaration, hoping to reach over 200 signatories after the day’s event. This target was consequently met.
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