COP15 reaches new landmark deal for nature

Learn about the outcomes from COP15, and how Whitley Award winners around the world are already working towards these targets

Chaired by China in Montreal from 7-19 December, the United Nations Biodiversity Conference (COP15) called upon representatives of almost every nation to address the significant ongoing loss of terrestrial and marine biodiversity, representing a long-awaited opportunity to see robust targets set for nature that have clear indicators to quantify progress, and which are adequately resourced for implementation.

The conference was widely seen as a ‘last chance’ to set humanity on a path to a sustainable relationship with nature.

At Whitley Fund for Nature, we are pleased to see that COP15 has signalled a renewed sense of urgency to protect nature and a robust commitment to investment in conservation. This is an opportunity for governments and nations to align with the proven solutions of the decades-long, dedicated work that grassroots conservationists, like our network of over 200 winners across the Global South, have long been implementing.

2022 Whitley Award Winner Dedy Yansyah works to protect Sumatran rhinos, of which there are fewer than 50 left in the wild.

What does COP15’s new biodiversity framework look like?

In-line with the conference’s mission to deliver a framework for ‘living in harmony with nature’ for the benefit of people and planet, the newly agreed deal contains four global goals and 23 targets aiming to protect and restore nature for current and future generations, ensuring its sustainable use, and spurring investments for a green global economy.

The headline target of the conference is to protect 30% of Earth’s land and sea by 2030, which is seen as crucial to reversing biodiversity loss. It was widely feared that these targets would be set without recognition of the role of local and indigenous communities in conservation efforts, who have historically been displaced by the establishment of protected areas, but in what has been broadly welcomed as an important shift in the global narrative of biodiversity conservation, the new framework recognizes the rights and traditions of local and indigenous communities in the global effort to conserve 30% of the planet’s terrestrial, inland water, and coastal and marine areas.

2009 Whitley Gold Award winner Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka said of the conference and it’s outcomes:

“COP15 provided a great opportunity to get all countries to focus on the urgent need to prevent biodiversity loss and commit funding in order to achieve agreed upon targets.  I am glad that most of the 23 targets for 2030 emphasized the need to engage local communities in protecting nature and ensure that they benefit from biodiversity conservation. Community-led conservation will help us to achieve the targets more quickly.”

2022 Continuation Funding winner Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka spoke at a side event at COP15 to emphasize the need to empower local communities as partners to reduce zoonotic disease transmission between people and gorillas (and other wildlife) as well as other threats to biodiversity. Photo credit: Reseau Environnement.

Together with the Paris Agreement on climate, this historic Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework sets out a path for a climate-neutral, nature-positive and resilient world in the coming decades.

2022 Gold Award winner Charudutt Mishra and a growing group of other Whitley Award winners and conservationists formed the ‘Partners Conservation Alliance’ through Charu’s Gold Award project with a common mission of helping improve the way conservation is practiced. The group released a statement calling for governments to strengthen their recognition of local and indigenous community leadership in conservation efforts, which was referred to at COP15.

Grassroots conservationists LEADING THE WAY

As in our earlier joint statement with fellow conservation funders, calling for COP15 to deliver significant, clear and ambitious targets backed by equivalent funding, we believe that effectively channelling support to grassroots, science-based solutions results in proven and measurable positive outcomes for biodiversity.

Across the Global South, Whitley Award winners are already effectively spearheading community-based solutions that support the Global Biodiversity Framework targets, such as the few examples highlighted in the case studies below. In the coming years, we hope to see increased funding and support to these grassroots experts around the world, to ensure as a global community that we meet the ambitions set out in this landmark new deal for nature.

Micaela Camino (2022 Whitley Award)

TARGET 1: Ensure that all areas are under participatory integrated biodiversity inclusive spatial planning and/or effective management processes addressing land and sea use change, to bring the loss of areas of high biodiversity importance, including ecosystems of high ecological integrity, close to zero by 2030, while respecting the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities.

2022 Whitley Award winner Micaela Camino is working to conserve Argentina’s Dry Chaco – an impressive breadth of forest in northern Argentina, home to the indigenous Wichí and criollo people, who live in isolated communities in the forest, as well as endemic species, such as the Critically Endangered Chacoan peccary.

The Chacoan peccary has a large portion of unique evolutionary history and is #61 on the Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered (EDGE) mammals list

The Dry Chaco is the largest sub-tropical dry forest in the world, spanning 650,000 km2 across Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia, and Brazil. The region also has one of the highest deforestation rates in the world, driven by advancing industrial agriculture, mainly for soy and beef production for export to other countries. In just 20 years, 25% of the forest has been lost.

As the forest is cleared for agricultural development, local people are losing their homes and livelihoods, and the region’s cultural and biological richness is disappearing.

If these trends continue, the Chacoan peccary – which acts as an umbrella species for this biocultural landscape home to species such as the giant anteater, giant armadillo and jaguar – will be extinct in less than 30 years.

Applying a grassroots approach, Micaela is using her Whitley Award to strengthen networks of local leaders, professionals and other stakeholders to work with communities on co-constructing solutions to address the environmental and social problems in the region, using scientific and traditional knowledge to keep this biodiverse ecosystem intact.

She is empowering local people with tools and information about their legal rights, to help them make informed decisions to resist unethical corporate land grabs, conserve the forest and improve their livelihoods. Alongside this, Micaela is co-developing an emergency action plan and long-term conservation strategy that restores and connects Chacoan peccary habitat across 35,500 km2 of the Argentinian Dry Chaco Forest and increases the number of research groups in the area, involving higher numbers of local people working on the project.

Micaela’s work is increasing visibility of this forgotten but biodiversity-rich region, making governments more accountable for their actions and equipping indigenous groups to stand up for what is theirs.

Laury Cullen (2002 Whitley Gold Award)

TARGET 2: Ensure that by 2030 at least 30 per cent of areas of degraded terrestrial, inland water, and coastal and marine ecosystems are under effective restoration, in order to enhance biodiversity and ecosystem functions and services, ecological integrity and connectivity.

Brazil’s Atlantic Forest once spanned over 1.3million km2. Surging deforestation for cattle farms and sugarcane plantations, compounded by weakening government legislation, has left just 14%. These isolated patches still harbour 7% of global biodiversity, but species including black lion tamarin, jaguar and lowland tapir are threatened with extinction because of this dramatic habitat loss and the subsequent threat of genetic inbreeding.


Whitley Award winner Laury Cullen and NGO IPÊ have replanted 1.4 million trees to complete Brazil’s first and biggest wildlife corridor, so threatened species have the space to thrive. As a result, the once Critically Endangered black lion tamarin has been re-classified as Endangered by the IUCN. Laury is also providing green income for landowners as well as local people who work in the tree nurseries, while 43,000 tons of carbon is being sequestered for every 500 hectares planted.

WFN Continuation Funding winner Laury Cullen in Brazil credit Laurie Hedges

Laury’s holistic project is distinct from many tree planting schemes. Rather than building single-species forests without benefit to people or biodiversity, Laury and his team are creating a diverse habitat from the ground up, estimated to sequester up to 40 times more carbon than monoculture plantations.

Ilena Zanella (2019 Whitley Award) 

TARGET 8: Minimize the impact of climate change on biodiversity and increase its resilience through mitigation, adaptation, and disaster risk reduction actions, including through nature-based solutions and/or ecosystem-based approaches, while minimizing negative and fostering positive impacts of climate action on biodiversity. 

Ilena Zanella received Continuation Funding earlier this year, as part of our Nature-Based Solutions programme. She was awarded £100,000 to support her work in establishing a pilot mangrove restoration plan for the Golfo Dulce, on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica.

One of only four tropical fjords in the world, the Golfo Dulce has a unique nutrient cycle, meaning its waters are teeming with life. The area’s wetlands were declared a Hammerhead Shark Sanctuary (HSS) by the Costa Rican government, after Ilena Zanella and her team identified the area as an important nursery ground for the Critically Endangered scalloped hammerhead shark.

However, the mangroves that line this coastline have been degraded at an alarming rate, leaving the area vulnerable to threats such as sea level rise, erosion, and sedimentation.

Recognising the important role these mangroves play as carbon sinks and the ecosystem services they provide to local people, Ilena and her team have established a pilot mangrove restoration plan for the 15,000 ha HSS Golfo Dulce to further improving the health of this hammerhead shark nursery site.

“Mangrove ecosystems are one of the most valuable coastal ecosystems in the world, but also one of the most vulnerable. We are very excited to receive the Continuation Funding from WFN, the two-year grant will allow us to promote the recovery of the valuable mangrove ecosystems in Golfo Dulce, used as nursery ground by the Critically Endangered scalloped hammerhead shark.” – Ilena Zanella

Working with local stakeholders through participatory restoration and monitoring, her project will increase the mangrove restored area in the site by 200% in 3 years. It will also build on Ilena’s earlier work in engaging local communities, particularly women, in ocean conservation and promoting alternative livelihoods based on a blue economy.

Offering a collaborative and holistic solution, Ilena’s work is supporting the Costa Rican government in achieving its international climate commitments while benefiting communities and allowing endangered marine species to recover.

Dino Martins (2015 Whitley Gold Award, Whitley Fund for Nature Trustee)

TARGET 7: Reduce pollution risks and the negative impact of pollution from all sources, by 2030, to levels that are not harmful to biodiversity and ecosystem functions and services, considering cumulative effects, including: reducing excess nutrients lost to the environment by at least half including through more efficient nutrient cycling and use; reducing the overall risk from pesticides and highly hazardous chemicals by at least half including through integrated pest management, based on science, taking into account food security and livelihoods; and also preventing, reducing, and working towards eliminating plastic pollution.

Focusing on sustainable agriculture and biodiversity conservation, Dino Martins has spent the last two decades carrying out research on insect-plant interactions, working with farmers to improve awareness of pollinators and the critical role they play in food production, developing pollinator friendly-agricultural practices and reducing the use of harmful pesticides to promote food security and pollinator conservation.

With laddered support from Whitley Fund for Nature, Dino successfully reduced pesticide use on hundreds of farms following outreach regarding the negative effect of pesticides on pollinators and, in turn, on crop yields. He has lobbied the Kenya government to secure and implement a ban of several highly toxic pesticides, working with partners in government and civil society to develop Kenya’s first legislation to specifically protect bees from pesticides, and recognise their harmful effects, and produced a handbook of pollinator-friendly farming practices which has been accessed by over 150,000 farmers.

Dino used his Whitley Gold Award funding, worth £100,000, to work with local and international partners to tackle the importation, use and spread of unregistered harmful pesticides entering Africa, as well as celebrating the role of pollinators through outreach and public engagement to encourage stewardship of nature.

Since receiving a Whitley Award in 2009, Continuation Funding in 2011, and a Whitley Gold Award in 2015, Dino became a trustee for WFN in 2021. He is currently the Chief Executive Officer of the Turkana Basin Institute, founded by Dr Richard Leakey, where, as an entomologist and evolutionary biologist, he now leads research at the intersection of climate change, biodiversity and sustainable development.