COP15: Are we willing to take action with clarity, agility and speed?


Jean-Marc Fontan


Biodiversity concerns all of us – biodiversity is comprised of all life on Earth – from viruses to elephants. It is typically defined as genetic diversity, species diversity, and ecosystem diversity.

COP15 is underway! The good news is that leaders and representatives from around the world are meeting in Montreal under China’s leadership to evolve the conversation, decisions, and commitments to reduce the impact of human activities on Earth’s ecosystem biodiversity.

This is positive news, given the importance of biodiversity for the survival of humanity. Biodiversity is a pivotal political issue, requiring the mobilization of all human populations. This might be good news, but we also have alarming news. We are not moving in the right direction fast enough. Despite the initiatives, actions, measures and policies that have been implemented since the first meeting of the Convention on Biological Diversity in 1992, much remains to be done.

Thebiological annihilation’ of wildlife in recent decades indicates that the sixth mass extinction in Earth’s history is underway, and it is more serious than previously feared. This massive extinction of the world’s wildlife is already causing cascading effects on the food chain, endangering ecosystem services and threatening the world’s food supply. (Ibid.)

Let us review the Convention’s three main objectives. The first goal is to preserve biodiversity on planet Earth. Secondly, the Convention urges us to use the planet’s resources sustainably. Thirdly, it envisions a fair and equitable sharing of ‘natural resources’ among human societies.

Given the issue at the heart of this Convention, we can ask ourselves whether the efforts already made are sufficient to halt biodiversity decline. Bluntly speaking, more money is currently being spent in Canada on fossil fuels than on preserving our natural ecosystems.

Therefore, despite the efforts of the 168 countries that signed the Convention on Biological Diversity, the expected impact is overall inadequate. On the one hand, the world needs additional financial resources and legal actions to implement a highly effective regulatory framework supporting ecological diversity. On the other hand, although all actors, big and small, are concerned, they are not always on board. We need a great collective impetus, an inclusive, widespread, and massive mobilization to eradicate the processes extinguishing life diversity.

Specifically, among the organizations and institutions engaged in global biodiversity preservation and the fight against climate change, we find granting foundations.

Overall and worldwide, Climate Works estimates the amounts allocated by foundations and individuals or organizations to respond positively to climate change in 2021 at 2 per cent of a total of USD 810 billion. If this percentage is low compared to the severity of the situation, the good news is that the number of foundations and the sums paid have increased since the signing of COP-25 and the Paris Agreement.

Fighting climate change is certainly a political step in the right direction to halt biodiversity decline. However, other steps are being taken, including those taken by the philanthropic sector. In this regard, driven by fourteen foundations in Great Britain and under the leadership of the Association of Charitable Foundations, an international movement has emerged inviting foundations around the world to become involved in the fight against climate change. An appeal was launched, Funder Commitment on Climate Change, which currently brings together foundations from around the world and has resulted in national groupings, including the Canadian Philanthropy Commitment on Climate Change.

What about the pro-biodiversity initiatives put forward by Canadian and Quebec-based foundations?

Recent philanthropic commitments in Canada include the Ivey Foundation’s decision to allocate its entire $100 million endowment contribution to the fight against climate change by 2027.

After careful consideration, Ivey Foundation’s board of directors reached their decision based on the recognition that foundations need not continue in perpetuity for perpetuity’s sake. There is a strong argument that their philanthropic resources can, and in some cases should, be fully utilized for the most critical issues we face today. For example, Ivey Foundation’s singular focus on a current, urgent issue of vital importance to Canadians – climate change – makes it well-suited to a timely capital distribution to achieve maximum impact (Ivey Foundation, November 29th, 2022).

We should also mention the Trottier Foundation, who decided two years ago to increase donations for its Climate program.

In 2020, the Board of Directors of the Trottier Family Foundation (TFF) decided to raise its ambition for climate action and increased its climate grant budget from $3 to $8 million annually, which represents an additional $5 million per year for the next decade (for a total of $50 millions). The Foundation has also decided to hire additional staff to conduct new initiatives under its new climate program ‘Target 1.5 °C’ (Fondation Trottier).

Finally, more closely related to the issue of biodiversity, let us mention the work of the Sitka Foundation.

The Sitka Foundation practices ‘philanthropy in a way that builds trust, diversifies power, and engages leaders, decision-makers, and communities to act in ways that benefit biodiversity. Over the past 15 years, we have invested over $50 million in more than 250 distinct groups, in amounts ranging from $5,000 to $5,000,000 per grant​’.

 What else could granting foundations do?

Regarding interventions fighting biodiversity decline, we believe that there are two key pathways that granting foundations could be monitoring and promoting.

First, they have the capacity to support a significant work initiative aimed at reconfiguring our relationship with nature. Drawing on the epistemes of First Nations peoples, we have the ability to create a new ‘great narrative’ and redesign our relationship with nature. We need to start viewing this relationship not as a right to exploit – a thought process where nature is essentially a resource serving human beings – but from a position where we take full responsibility for our actions in nature.

By doing so, we would consider ourselves a part of nature and would share the responsibility to keep it in good health with other living species.

First Nations peoples’ have a special relationship with the earth and all living things in it. This relationship is based on a profound spiritual connection to Mother Earth that guided indigenous peoples to practice reverence, humility and reciprocity. It is also based on the subsistence needs and values extending back thousands of years. Hunting, gathering, and fishing to secure food includes harvesting food for self, family, the elderly, widows, the community, and for ceremonial purposes. Everything is taken and used with the understanding that we take only what we need, and we must use great care and be aware of how we take and how much of it so that future generations will not be put in peril (Assembly of First Nations).

Secondly, by working to reconfigure our relationship with nature, we will be forced to translate this great cultural orientation into concrete, pragmatic actions, which will enable us to define our lifestyle in society in a way that is inclusive, equitable, proud, democratic, and sustainable.

Different paths head in this direction. For example, we have made progress in restoring natural spaces in the city landscape. Since much of the human population is now living in cities (almost 60 per cent), it is difficult to do urban design without bringing back natural spaces in the urban environment. As an example, biophilic cities, stationary, soft or slow, represent a step in this direction. Thinking of the human space as a natural space implies connecting or linking natural habitats (forests, meadows, banks, deserts and rivers, oceans, and transhumant air zones…), inhabited areas (the countryside) and sparsely or densely populated areas (cities and megacities).

… key landscape connections within, across and around urban areas facilitate wildlife movement, reproduction, feeding and access to habitat. These connections can effectively be classified as infrastructure investments. Connected landscapes rely on green infrastructure such as wildlife passageways, corridors, elevated and underground pathways; therefore, they are undoubtedly as important as the civil engineering infrastructure that defines our cities (Dale et al., 2019).

Not only do we need to rethink our urban planning methods, viewing cities as landscapes, but we must above all protect natural areas. To this end, one of the objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity is to create protected areas covering 30 per cent of terrestrial and marine territories.

Concretely, this means setting aside at least 30 per cent of Canada’s terrestrial and marine territory towards the creation of protected areas. The purpose of this goal is not only to reach a measurable target, but also to take qualitative action. We must ensure that this 30 per cent of protected areas is distributed equally throughout Canada and Quebec.

Moving in this direction, i.e., generating sustainable urban planning and establishing large and very large, protected areas outside urban areas, requires that protected areas and green cities be interconnected. This means we need to rethink our way to inhabit the Earth with an ecological value in mind.

The two pathways we have identified will have a major impact on our economies. They will equally affect the way we produce, consume, and dispose of used materials. We must question our production, consumption and disposal of ‘waste’ habits, and new behaviours must pass the ‘ecological value’ test.

In this vast project, grant-making philanthropy has a place, a role, and a function to play. It must therefore take action, commensurate with its means, for the Convention on Biological Diversity to be effective.

  • Environmental philanthropy can support conversations and debates about the social and ecological transition.
  • It can support the meshing needed between various social actors to support their efforts to redefine our relationship with nature.
  • It can support experiments and analytical work necessary to identify biodiversity conservation best practices and behaviours.
  • It can work with the economic sector to facilitate and accelerate the scaling up of alternative and sustainable production, consumption, and waste disposal methods.
  • It can support the reorganization of our relationship with consumption and help us temper our needs and desires, to embrace a responsible and environmentally sustainable consumption mindset.
  • Finally, it can mobilize its capital of influence to drive our governments to define public policies in line with the goals promoted by this great social and ecological transition project.

Environmental consciousness is the result of a threat, not hope; it prompts us to rethink not only our relationship with nature, but our history and civilization (Edgar Morin, Twitter feed).

Jean-Marc Fontan is a Researcher and the Co-director of PhiLab.

This article was published with permission from PhiLab and was originally posted on 13 December 2022. The original article can be viewed here.

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