Public Policy


Official policy can help facilitate actions at all levels.

State Policy

AB 1573 Update

Long-term protection and enhancement of biodiversity logically start from the ground up. Native plants support native insects, birds, fish, amphibians, and other organisms because they are the anchors of terrestrial (and many riparian!) food webs.

In recognition of this important role for native plants, AB 1573 was introduced in the California State Legislature this year. AB 1573 would establish a minimum requirement for use of native plants in commercial landscaping. This is the biodiversity equivalent of regulations mandating minimum levels of recycling or water conservation, and hopefully will act as an incentive to nudge the state in the right direction. Currently, much commercial landscaping has few or no native plants, and this has made vast swaths of California into “wildlife food deserts.” AB 1573 had wide support, including editorial endorsement from the Los Angeles Times, the state’s largest newspaper. It passed out of the state assembly in June with a resounding majority and then went to the state senate. Its prospects looked good until it was unexpectedly sabotaged in committee at the last minute. For more information, please see https://www.cnps.org/stories.

Global Policy

COP15 Update

The COP15 biodiversity meetings, originally scheduled for 2020 in Kunming, China, finally concluded at the end of 2022 in Montreal, Canada. Delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, their official theme was “Ecological Civilization – Building a Shared Future for All Life on Earth”

COP15 was the fifteenth in a series of Conferences of Parties, all being attempts to improve implementation of the International Convention on Biodiversity, originally opened for signing at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and now endorsed by almost all countries in the world. (The history and text of the Convention can be found at: https://www.cbd.int/convention/).

Vice President Al Gore said that the most important statement of the 1992 meeting was that of 12-year-old Severn Suzuki. She had become very concerned that the growing environmental problems meant young people everywhere faced a bleak future. So she started a fundraising campaign to allow her and other children to attend the meeting. She asked the delegates, “Did you have to worry about these things when you were my age?” Then she told them what to do. “You grown-ups say that you love us. Please make your actions reflect your words.”

Thirty years later, she returned to make a statement at COP15. She said “Love is the important thing, and our actions do not reflect it.” She said the problem was not people, but rather a type of strange mindset that is “eating the earth and making us hurt each other.” She and many others advocated changes in ways of thinking as pre-requisites for effective action.

So what kind of action was taken at COP15 and how are people evaluating it? The agreement that resulted from two weeks of negotiations is known officially as the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF). Its full text may be found at: https://www.cbd.int/article/cop15-final-text-kunming-montreal-gbf-221222.

All of COP15 sessions were recorded and are still available at cbd.int/live in three main sections, Negotiations, Briefings, and Parallel Events. However, the last hour of the last plenary session of the negotiations provides key evidence of divergent opinions. The organizers congratulated themselves on finally making the meeting happen, and on finally reaching an agreement that addressed many important aspects of the biodiversity crisis. However, the last four presenters, representing the Global Biodiversity Youth Network, the Women’s Caucus, the International Indigenous Forum on Biodiversity and the CBD Alliance, while acknowledging that while the final agreement had some good points, feared that it ran the risk of suffering the same fate as the Aichi Targets approved at COP10 in Nagoya, Japan (https://www.cbd.int/sp/targets/). Out of those twenty targets, only six were even partially met by the end of the UN’s Decade of Biodiversity in 2020.

A very succinct and sharp criticism of the final document was given by the last speaker, Theiva Lingam of Malaysia. Her full text may be found at: https://www.twn.my/title2/biotk/2022/btk221204.htm.

Her last sentence sums it up: “We cannot solve the biodiversity crisis using the same system that caused it.”

In general, criticisms focus on four main points. The first is that the agreement is not ambitious enough in its goals. The second is that it has no enforcement mechanisms to hold governments and corporations accountable. The third is that it does not provide financing sufficient for needed action, especially for cash-poor nations. The fourth is that it has not recognized the root cause of the crisis – centuries of exploitation.

A very thorough analysis of the plusses and minuses of the meetings has been provided by the Nature-Based Solutions Initiative of the University of Oxford (https://www.naturebasedsolutionsinitiative.org/news/landmark-kunming-montreal-global-biodiversity-framework-to-halt-and-reverse-biodiversity-loss-by-2030-agreed/). The World Wildlife Federation (https://www.worldwildlife.org/press-releases/global-deal-struck-to-reverse-nature-loss-by-2030-but-immediate-action-and-funds-needed-to-deliver) commends the targets and goals, but laments the lack of means to reach them. The Natural Resources Defense Council (https://www.nrdc.org/experts/paul-todd/final-biodiversity-framework-fails-meet-moment) is critical of the lack of ambition in the goals and targets, especially in comparison with the Aichi Targets. A summary from Nature (https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-022-04503-9) describes the conflicts in the final hours and minutes of the negotiations.

Will things change? Severn Suzuki offered the COVID-19 pandemic as an example of people rising to a great challenge at the local level, and she thinks that local action is key to meeting the challenges of the biodiversity crisis as well. (Her full remarks may be found at the beginning of the 7th Subnational Government Summit at cbd.int/live under the Parallel Events). Local action is what MBCI does!

Local Policy

Larkspur Biodiversity Resolution

Here is the full text of the Larkspur Biodiversity Resolution.

Sustainability Co-Ordinators and Local Biodiversity Policies

Many Marin cities and towns are appointing Sustainability Co-Ordinators. They are logical people to ask for help with the development and implementation of local biodiversity policies.

Marin County Housing Element and Form-Based Code

Locally, the most important countywide policy being made is the update to the Marin Countywide Plan, especially the Housing Element. To date, MBCI has made comments on both the Housing Element and its relation to the overall countywide plan, and to the Objective Design and Development Standards (Form-Based Code). The latest revision of the Standards (Form-Based Code, Section B2, p. 62) requires “Landscape selection shall include 70% California native vegetation, applicable to Marin County.”

Link to Form-Based Code:

https://www.marincounty.org/-/media/files/departments/cd/plans-policies-and-regulations/marin-county-fbc-low-res.pdf

The website for the update to the Housing Element is: https://www.marincounty.org/depts/cd/divisions/housing/housing-element/draft-2023-2031-housing-element

Here are the comments for the Housing Element:

Comments on Section 4 – Resources

Page 180.

Just as the Inland Rural and Coastal communities must recognize the need for housing, so the City-Centered Corridor must recognize its responsibility to conservation. Though it is good to recognize different zones, and indeed this was a major advance in the 1970’s, now in 2022 it is time to move forward again to recognize contemporary thinking. New areas of consensus that must be recognized are:

1. We face intensifying global environmental threats, especially in the three critical areas of biodiversity loss, climate change and pollution, as summarized in the recent United Nations Report Making Peace with Nature (https://www.unep.org/interactive/making-peace-with-nature/)

2. Urban and suburban areas must be recognized for their potential to contribute to environmental improvement. A summary of this new understanding may be found in McKinney, M.L. 2002. Urbanization, biodiversity and conservation. BioScience 52(10): 883-889) (https://academic.oup.com/bioscience/article/52/10/883/354714?login=true), as well as many more recent reports and popular books such as Tallamy, D. 2019, Nature’s Best Hope. Timber Press, 254 pp.

3. Mitigation of negative trends in the areas of biodiversity loss, climate change and pollution will have positive impacts on the health of urban and suburban residents, while failure to make any progress on these issues will lead to deteriorating human health. An example of new research in this area is recounted in Donovan, G.H. The surprising benefits of biodiversity Arborist News, Oct 2020, pp. 26-30. (https://wwv.isa-arbor.com/quizbank/resources/5629/Donovan_October%202020.pdf).

To bring this section up to date, language such as this should be added after the second paragraph on Page 180:

“Similarly, the City-Centered Corridor recognizes the need to contribute to improvement of the overall environment and to the health of its residents by countering the negative trends of biodiversity loss, climate change and increasing pollution.”

Page 194.

New language should be added at the end of the page to reflect new concern about the health of the urban environment.

Suitable language would be:

The County also recognizes the responsibility of the City-Centered Corridor to contribute to the health of its residents and the overall environment by encouraging specific measures such as reducing the total area of impervious surfaces, increasing the amount of vegetative canopy, and increasing the proportions of native species.

Comments on Section 5 – Housing Plan

Housing Goal 1 (Page 196)

Policy 1.1. “Efficient use of land” is vague, because use can be efficient with respect to many things. It could simply be generating the most money for a developer. If the plan really wants to promote sustainable development, it needs to be more specific about ensuring that projects must take into account the main three threats to sustainability today – loss of biodiversity, climate change, and pollution – as recognized by local, state, regional, national and international agencies and organizations.

Better language would be “enact policies that help to reduce loss of biodiversity, climate change and pollution while fostering a range of housing types in our community.”

The link to the Objective Design and Development Standards is: https://www.marincounty.org/-/media/files/departments/cd/planning/cwp/housing-and-safety-elements/bos-pc-hearing-092722-odds/mac_odds_0_final-draft_code-documentcompressed.pdf?la=en

Here are the comments for the Objective Design and Development Standards:

It is now widely recognized that action in urban and suburban areas is essential if we are to meet the biodiversity crisis effectively. These new design standards give us a great opportunity to do this by making two slight changes to the proposal for Objective Design and Development Standards.

First, on Page 15, Section 01.030, Relationship to the Marin Countywide Plan, reference should be made to Section 2.4, the Biological Resources section of the Countywide Plan.

Second, on Page 60, Section 04.030.4, a new section, B4, should be added. This should build on the recommendation of the Countywide Plan Goal Bio-1.5 to use native plants in landscaping to improve wildlife habitat, and it should also take into account recent research showing the proportion needed to prevent significant biodiversity loss.

Good wording for Section B4 would be, “Proportion of locally native species in each of the major categories (trees, shrubs, herbs) should be at least 70%, in order to support native wildlife and prevent further loss of biodiversity.”

Other Local Resolutions

In addition to commenting on planning updates, MBCI has also supported local resolutions pertaining to biodiversity. The first was the declaration of October 27, 2021, as Marin Biodiversity Day in honor of the event held at Dominican University featuring a talk by renowned ecologist Doug Tallamy.

Resolution Adopted by Marin County Board of Supervisors in Support of the First Marin Biodiversity Day

The second resolution was one passed on September 13, 2022, in support of the monarch butterfly.