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Protect the Web of Life: People of Faith Call for Ambitious Action at UN Biodiversity Conference

Tommy Thompson Park--Photo by Jeffrey Eisen on Unsplash

“The natural world is a vital source of humanity’s collective flourishing, and in its grandeur can be found signs of the Divine. Throughout history, and in all parts of the world, nature is the physical loom upon which the tapestry of culture, civilization, and peace is woven. Religious and spiritual traditions compel us to care for creation, of which we are an integral part, with love, respect, and reverence.” 

-2020 Faith Call to Action for Biodiversity signed by over 50 religious bodies
and faith based organizations in the lead up to the UN Summit on Biodiversity

Protect the Web of Life: People of Faith Call for Ambitious Action at UN Biodiversity Conference

Not far from downtown Toronto lies the Leslie Street Spit, a 5-kilometre long peninsula jutting into Lake Ontario. It was formed by a dumping of construction and dredging waste, which began in the 1950’s, originally for a breakwater that was later not needed. Plants began to grow there from seeds in the landfill or washed ashore or brought by wind or birds. In the 1970’s, a local group of birdwatchers, naturalists and cyclists worked to gain access and soon came together as Friends of the Spit. They engaged in ongoing advocacy against various development plans so the area could “grow as nature intended”. In 1985 the part of the spit owned by the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) became Tommy Thompson Park. 

 Over the years the TRCA, with support from community groups and others, have stewarded the evolving ecological communities as well as engaged in various habitat restoration and enhancement initiatives. To help deal with the Spit and other Toronto shoreline alterations contributing to erosion of the Toronto Islands, the TRCA built a nearshore reef at the islands which also provides fish habitat. 

The Spit is now a “biodiversity hotspot” providing wetland, woodland, grassland, aquatic and other habitat homes for diverse and at-risk species. It is also recognized internationally as an Important Bird Area.  Migrating birds, butterflies and other insects use the Spit as a critical stopover point. The Spit also provides a space for low impact recreation opportunities, ecological education and reconnection with nature—all contributing to the well-being of nearby city residents. A waste dump became a space for learning to live in harmony with nature.

Nature is resilient. 

However, around 1 million animal and plant species are threatened with extinction and nature is declining globally at unprecedented rates. We will all be affected by the projected decline in biodiversity, but it will have a worse impact on Indigenous Peoples, local communities, poor and vulnerable peoples as they rely more on biodiversity for their wellbeing. Canada’s list of endangered, threatened, and special concern species is growing longer every year.

According to biodiversity and climate experts “the biodiversity and climate crises are inextricably linked” and the “window to deploy solutions that avoid irreversible impacts is rapidly closing on both the climate and biodiversity crises”.

We need to work with the rest of nature so we become more resilient together. Never has this been more critical.

COP 15 in Montreal

The UN Biodiversity Conference (COP 15) has begun in Montreal and runs December 7-19. Over 18,000 registered participants, and still more unregistered; continue arriving to take part officially and unofficially in the 15th Conference of the Parties (COP15) to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), an international treaty adopted at the 1992 UN Earth Summit

Biodiversity is the diversity of life on Earth which forms the web of life upon which we depend and which includes us. Biodiversity COPs usually take place every 2 years. However, COP 15 is significant because a new Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework is being negotiated to guide global actions on protecting and restoring nature through 2030. The 196 countries that have ratified and are parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity are the ones who will need to adopt the Framework. 

Originally scheduled to take place in 2020 in Kunming, China, the Biodiversity Summit was repeated delayed due to Covid restrictions. The first part of COP 15 was a hybrid event held both in Kunming and online. Further delays led to the second part being moved to take place in Montreal. 

The world also failed its previous attempt to protect biodiversity. In September 2020, the UN reported that despite some progress the world failed to fully meet any of the 20 targets to protect biodiversity which countries had agreed to in 2010 under the CBD. 

That lack of progress also threatens the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals and undermines efforts to address climate change.

“Nature and biodiversity [are] dying the death of a billion cuts. And humanity is paying the price for betraying its closest friend. In the words of the UN Secretary-General, “we are committing suicide by proxy”. This Conference of the Parties must secure the future of our planetary life support system… When the web of life falls, we fall with it. In the coming days, you have a unique responsibility to deliver: to agree on the plan to make peace with nature. This responsibility is not a choice between something or nothing. It is a choice between everything or nothing.”

Inger Andersen
Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme,
UN Biodiversity Conference, COP15 Opening plenary speech on December 7th 

In addition to official government delegations, Indigenous Peoples, environmental and other civil society organizations, corporations, youth, people of faith and others will be organizing events or participating in various capacities both inside and outside the COP 15 Conference Centre. 

Indigenous Peoples are leading the way on biodiversity protection

Indigenous Peoples make up 5 percent of the global population and yet care for and protect 22 percent of Earth’s surface and 80 percent of its biodiversity. Around the world land and environmental defenders face threats, violence, criminalisation and death—Global Witness reported that in “2021 the disproportionate number of attacks against Indigenous peoples continued once again, with over 40% of all fatal attacks targeting Indigenous people”. 

Many of those attacks happen in the Amazon region, the world’s most biodiverse habitat. Indigenous peoples of the Amazon basin, alongside various allies, have united “in calling for a global agreement for the permanent protection of 80 percent of the Amazon by 2025 as an urgent measure to avert an imminent tipping point and the planetary crisis”. They emphasize the Amazon is on the verge of crossing the 20-25 percent threshold of deforestation and forest degradation which scientists are warning could “translate into the dieback of the entire ecosystem… and catastrophic consequences for global climate stability”.  

The International Indigenous Forum on Biodiversity (IIFB) is hosting events at the COP 15 Conference Centre to set out their key messages. Among other things, they have called for increasing resources that go directly to Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities (IPLC) so they can ensure their “actions that contribute to meeting the objectives of the Convention and the GBF are fully supported and resourced”.   

Not far from the COP 15 Conference Centre, the Indigenous Leadership Initiative (ILI) is hosting an Indigenous Village from December 9 – 11 which will feature panels and conversations on Indigenous Peoples’ leadership in sustaining biodiversity in Canada and around the world. The ILI supports Indigenous Nations in honouring the responsibility to care for lands and waters and is the only national Indigenous-led conservation organization in Canada. They advise the Canadian government on advancing Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas. 

In 2018 the Indigenous Circle of Elders provided a report with recommendations to federal, provincial, territorial and Indigenous governments for achieving Canada’s conservation goals through creation of Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas in the spirit and practice of reconciliation. The report included some of Canada’s colonial history and legacy associated with its parks and protected areas as well as recommendations related to reconciliation in conservation.

“Imagine knowing that your grandparents’ home had been burned to clear the way for “conservation and protection.” Imagine not being able to gather your traditional medicines—as your peoples have done for millennia—because a stranger to the land says it damages the land and is a criminal act. Imagine not being able to feed your family or community because you have been forcibly prevented from accessing your traplines, hunting areas or fishing places. Imagine not even being able to get what is necessary for ceremony or to access a sacred area because of laws and regulations you had no hand in writing. Imagine having to fill out applications or forms to get traditional materials for your cultural practices, such as basket-making. The point is: in the not-too-distant past, protected areas took away not only the rights of Indigenous Peoples, but their ability to exercise their responsibilities related to the land.” 

We Rise Together, Achieving Pathway to Canada Target 1 through the creation of Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas in the spirit and practice of reconciliation, The Indigenous Circle of Experts’ Report and Recommendations, March 2018


Momentum is growing in Canada on Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas as well as Indigenous Guardians programs. The Canadian government sees the leadership and guidance of Indigenous peoples as “critical to achieve Canada’s domestic and international biodiversity goals". At the COP 15 Summit the Prime Minister announced up to $800 million over seven years to support Indigenous-led conservation through a partnership-based sustained funding model which the Director of the Indigenous Leadership Initiative called “a meaningful commitment not only to conservation, but also to reconciliation and community resilience.”

In the lead up to the UN Biodiversity Summit, 17 Canadian environmental organizations called for ambitious global and national action to save nature and emphasized that “supporting Indigenous-led conservation is an essential part of reconciliation. Respecting the sovereignty and leadership of Indigenous Peoples and supporting Indigenous-led conservation must be at the centre of any plan to save nature”.


Mobilizing for life to thrive

An Indigenous Delegation will lead the March for Biodiversity and Human Rights in Montreal on December 10th, beginning at 1:00 pm at the Monument à sir George-Étienne Cartier. We are one with nature - Protect Indigenous and Human Rights is the theme of the march which falls on international Human Rights Day. Organizers hope to send a powerful message to governments to take ambitious action that protects life on Earth.      

The march is organized by the Quebec Civil Society Collective for COP15, an alliance of 100 organizations--environmental, international development, youth, financial, unions and more—“that are joining forces to protect life on the occasion of COP15”. In collaboration with the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) and the Centre for Sustainable Development, they are also organizing the “Espace Générations vivantes” [Living Generations Space], where nearly 60 events will take place December 6-19. This free gathering space will bring together experts, citizens and organizations for raising awareness about the biodiversity crisis, getting involved in the transformations needed and sharing best practices by Indigenous Peoples and local communities.


Faith-based organizations are calling for action to protect the web of life

Leading up to the 2020 UN Summit on Biodiversity that was subsequently delayed, a diverse group of religious bodies and faith based organizations began gathering to discuss how to raise their concerns and “unanimous desire for strong global action to reverse global biodiversity loss”. The group wrote a faith Call to Action addressing both world leaders and their own faith communities and which has been signed by over 50 religious bodies and faith based organizations. 

“We grieve the excessive use of natural resources that disrupts the balance of ecosystems and acknowledge our shortcomings in aligning our actions with the values and tenets of our traditions. Yet we also recognize the immense power of faith to bring about radical positive change by imparting hope and summoning the courage necessary for billions to respond to the challenges and crises before us.”

Faith Call to Action for Biodiversity

After the Call to Action launched, the Faith & Biodiversity UN Coordination Group was established to provide a space for faith-based organizations and conservation groups to network and advocate internationally as well as help increase faith-based organizations understanding of biodiversity.  

The Group organized Faiths at COP15, a coalition of faith groups, including almost every major faith tradition, and bringing the voice of faith communities to COP 15. The Faiths at COP15 coalition is hosting a number of events at the Faith Pavilion inside the COP 15 conference centre. They will be live-streamed on their YouTube channel and recordings will be available. There is a calendar of events on their website.

Faith groups are also engaging on policy and have sent to the CBD Secretariat an international Multi-Faith Response to the first draft Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework being negotiated. It was endorsed by over 25 faith-based organizations including the Parliament of the World's Religions, UN Environment Programme Faith for Earth Initiative and the Missionary Society of St. Columban. Their key proposals included improving the text “to reflect the worldviews which are grounded in interconnectedness, interdependence and relationship”, increasing ambition, taking a more integrated approach with interconnected issues such as climate change, as well as taking a rights-based approach that empowers Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities “as active partners and decision-makers” and protects their rights to land, water and resources.

They have also prepared an updated Multi-Faith Response to the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework based on the latest negotiations. This latest version has been signed by 55 faith-based organizations including Laudato Si’ Movement, KAIROS-Canada, the Parliament of the World's Religions and Faith & the Common Good.


Courtesy of Faiths at COP15

Catholic Church leaders and organizations:  advocacy and events

At the July 21st press conference presenting Pope Francis’ message for the 2022 World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, Cardinal Michael Czerny, S.J., head of the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, emphasized the need for an ambitious UN agreement:  “Regarding biodiversity, the Holy Father highlights the need for a new UN agreement to halt the destruction of ecosystems and the extinction of species. At least half of the earth and oceans need to become protected areas by 2030,[3] and ravaged ecosystems must be restored, always upholding the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities.”                                                                                              

In June the Catholic Bishops in Africa had also called for the protection of half of the Earth by 2030 as well as the protection of Indigenous Peoples’ rights.

Laudato Si’ Movement (LSM) will be present at COP 15, through Caroline Kiiru, Biodiversity and Climate Manager; Anna Johnson, North America Senior Programs Manager; and Agnes Richard, coordinator of Mouvement Laudato Si’ Movement Canada (MLSM Canada). They are organizing various events including delivery of the Healthy Planet Healthy People petition as well as the African Bishops’ (SECAM) statement. Visit MLSM Canada’s Facebook page for news and updates. Laudato Si’ Movement is hosting an event Lifting Up the Cry of the Earth and the Cry of the Poor: Our Moral Duty on Friday December 9th at 4:00 pm ET at the Multi-Faith Pavilion which will be live-streaming events on their YouTube channel.  

An MLSM Canada statement has been prepared to share with Canadian negotiators and others. It highlights the Healthy Planet Healthy People petition including some recent science references. It also features the Catholic Eco-Investment Accelerator Toolkitwhich guides divestment from fossil fuels in favour of sustainable investments, including those which help protect biodiversity and respond to Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission Call to Action #92 through partnership with Indigenous businesses”. 

MLSM Canada also joined 44 other Catholic communities and organizations across Canada calling for urgent and integrated measures to protect biodiversity that also address climate change and advance reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. Joint Ecological Ministries organized the letter and delivered it on November 28th to the Hon. Steven Guilbeault, Minister of Environment and Climate Change.

On December 10th in Montreal there will be a 7:30 am Mass (in French) at Mary Queen of the World Cathedral for COP 15 delegates and participants, that will be livestreamed by Salt + Light Media. Later that day people of faith will meet up at 12:30 pm just south east of the Monument à sir George-Étienne Cartier, to then join the March for Biodiversity and Human Rights organized by the Quebec Civil Society Collective for COP15.

Updates will continue to be posted on MLSM Canada Facebook page, including for any follow up events after COP 15 is over.


“Because all creatures are connected, each must be cherished with love and respect, for all of us as living creatures are dependent on one another. Each area is responsible for the care of this family.” 

-Pope Francis, Laudato Si’ #42 

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