For nearly a month people across the world had been hitting life’s pause button and turning their gaze to elite athletes kicking and head-butting inflatable round balls into netted goals in Lusail, Qatar. Then this past Sunday in epic fashion, the 2022 FIFA World Cup Soccer marathon finally crossed its finish line and crowned a champion. To Argentina went the spoils.

At the same time, over a two weeks period, representatives from most of the world’s nations were also butting heads, mostly unnoticed, in Montreal, Canada. They were seeking a win not just for their own country, but for the entire planet. The goal was to give Mother Nature in all her biodiversity a sustainable, viable future. And when all was said and done in the wee hours of Monday morning, December 18, they scored!

At the UN biodiversity summit, COP 15, nearly 200 countries agreed on a way to put the world on a path for restoring nature by the end of the decade. In the end the agreement was akin to the 2015 Paris climate accord, but this time for biodiversity. When you understand what ‘biodiversity’ refers to, this is a big deal. Biodiversity is the sum of all living things on the planet and the way they are connected in a complex web of life that we rely upon for food, clean air and water.

When you understand that we humans have pushed and bludgeoned nature to the brink of a million species at risk of extinction, it’s a huge deal. But achieving this goal isn’t just about saving rare species. According to Tony Juniper, chair of the government nature agency, Natural England, “It’s about sustaining the web of life upon which humankind ultimately depends, for food, water, health and climate regulation.”

At the recent COP 27 climate conference in Egypt, in a lead up to the COP 15 biodiversity conference, Dr Fernanda Carvalho, head of climate policy at World Wildlife Fund, said: “We have to remember that the climate crisis and the biodiversity crisis are the defining crises of our time. If they are not tackled, we may not have a planet to live on”. Or in other words, no planet – no soccer. (And, no, you cannot play soccer on Mars or the Moon.)

While it may not feel as exiting as Messi’s winning goal in the World Cup, agreeing on a path to clean up the ‘Messes’ we’ve made of the natural world is the necessary work that COP 15 was tackling. And while the need for compromise always diminishes the hoped for outcomes of such conferences, here are some of the more noteworthy agreements that came out of the verbal kicking and head-butting in Montreal:

  • Maintaining, enhancing and restoring ecosystems, including halting species extinction and maintaining genetic diversity
  • “Sustainable use” of biodiversity – essentially ensuring that species and habitats can provide the services they provide for humanity, such as food and clean water

  • Ensuring that the benefits of resources from nature, like medicines that come from plants, are shared fairly and equally and that indigenous peoples’ rights are protected

  • Paying for and putting resources into biodiversity by ensuring that money and conservation efforts get to where they are needed.

At the core of this Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) is a proposal to protect 30% of public lands and waters for conservation by 2030. That’s a bar-too-low for many environmentalists and Indigenous communities, while for some nations it feels like a bar-too-high. Truly it’s on an ambitious scale of conservation that’s never been tried before. Going forward, the challenging task now is mainstreaming the framework’s architecture into country-level policy that delivers meaningful progress where it matters most, across the fragile ecosystems that represent our planet’s collective life-support system.

Religion added its moral voice to the COP 15 proceedings. According to Brian Rowe writing for EarthBeat: “A multifaith coalition of 28 faith-based organizations from around the world drafted its own set of proposals, recommendations and key messages for delegates to consider in finalizing the global biodiversity framework. They outlined six major priorities, including: more ambitious targets to put biodiversity on a recovery path by 2030; greater recognition of the interconnected sources and solutions to biodiversity loss, climate change, pollution and waste; higher emphasis on a rights-based approach throughout the framework; and the need for an implementation mechanism and closing of financial gaps. In addition, the coalition outlines specific revisions and rationales for most of the proposed framework’s 20-plus targets.”

I don’t know if Aldo Leopold (1887-1948) had a religious bone in his body, but I trust that were he alive today, he would be singing the praises of the world-wide religious community for its faith-based commitment to protecting and preserving the world’s ecosystems. Whether or not he worshiped a deity, Leopold was, to my thinking, a ‘saint’ after the model of that ‘Patron Saint of Ecology,Francis of Assisi, who viewed nature as a sacramental expression of God’s generous love.

Leopold is considered the ‘father of wildlife ecology,’ and for me he was a true hero of my home state of Wisconsin. He was a renowned scientist and scholar, exceptional teacher, philosopher, and gifted writer, best remembered for his book, A Sand County Almanac. The book reflects an evolution of a lifetime of love, observation, and thought. It contains Leopold’s philosophy known as the ‘land ethic,’ a moral treatise on what it means to live in peace and harmony with the land and with one another.

In concluding this post, it does not escape me that it is written on a day of cosmic change. Today as the seasons change across the planet, I am reflecting upon what was accomplished in Montreal in the waning days of Autumn (in the northern hemisphere), and contemplating what cosmic changes must now be made this Winter and all the seasons to come in order to meet this moral/ethical biodiversity challenge by the end of the decade. With that earth shaking goal as a not-too-distant target, it feels right to conclude with a Leopold quote made during the mid point of the previous century at a time when there were no ‘COP’s’ and most folks gave little thought to the need for preserving biodiversity. It is a quote that pretty much sums up his moral/ethical take on the critical importance of conserving the intricate web of life he referred to as the ‘biotic community.’

A thing is right when it tends to preserve the

integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community.

It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”