COP15: Marin Shares Biodiversity Learning on a Global Scale

The California COP15 delegation in Montreal with Scott Webb on the left (Photo courtesy of Turtle Island Restoration Network)

With recent rains, one of the southernmost wild populations of coho salmon return from the ocean to their natal streams in West Marin. As the coho salmon population has seen staggering declines over time, local organizations including Olema’s Turtle Island Restoration Network are leading efforts to restore vital habitat via the Salmon Protection and Watershed Network (SPAWN). “Our organization has been focusing on doing hands-on restoration out in West Marin, making sure that this critical habitat is restored and has a chance to come back,” says Scott Webb, Turtle Island’s advocacy and policy director.

“If we can do that in Marin, it’s a great example for the state, if not the world.” Indeed, this past December, Webb brought observations and insight from local Marin projects to the world, participating in the United Nations Biodiversity Conference (COP15) in Montreal. Though the United States is not an official signatory at the conference, California attended as a subnational observer delegation, influencing but not ratifying the agreement that assembled some 190 nations together to take action on the urgent need to protect rapidly declining levels of biodiversity worldwide. As a member of the California delegation Webb had the opportunity to connect with participants and speak at a roundtable discussion during the formulation of conservation targets.

Of the 23 targets established at the conference, the “30×30” target sits at the center of the COP15 agreement, stipulating that 30 percent of land and sea be protected by the year 2030. Webb’s participation in the conference emphasized the realization that international targets will ultimately be implemented by local communities. “There is a gap there,” says Webb, stressing the importance of making sure folks on the ground are connected to the goals that come out of the conference.

Nonetheless, the new COP15 targets can help to empower state- and local-level efforts. “I think it’s pretty exciting, California taking this leadership. For us it’s nice to put the work we’ve been doing into actual boxes and targets,” says Webb. “There is a lot of work that California has already done that fulfills some of this.”

Marin boasts a storied past in conservation connecting back to interactions among community members, government and environmental organizations to protect treasured locations and rare biodiversity, from the Headlands to Muir Woods. Now, COP15 provides a renewed call for Marin leaders to consider next steps in protecting the immense biodiversity that exists around the region. “Marin is a biodiversity hot spot, and we need to make sure that we at least try to implement these goals,” says Webb.

In working with global leaders to forge an effective plan for conserving the planet’s biodiversity, Webb found great joy and relevance in sharing things learned from home, Marin County, to inform the conference discussions. “I love this area so much; I’m just a Northern California kid. It felt so cool to wear that hat, represent Northern California, and show that we care, are trying, and have a lot of stuff that we are doing right,” Webb said. “Being an ambassador for California on the world stage was just a dream come true.”