California at COP 15: Reflections on the UN Biodiversity Conference

By Michael Esgro, Senior Biodiversity Program Manager & Tribal Liaison

UPDATE: On December 19, 2022, more than 190 countries agreed on a landmark new deal to protect nature and halt biodiversity loss worldwide. The new Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework calls for conservation action at an unprecedented scale, and includes a commitment to conserve 30% of the planet’s land and oceans by 2030.

An unprecedented global gathering is currently taking place in Montreal, Canada, where representatives from 195 nations have convened at the United Nations biodiversity conference (COP 15) to negotiate a new agreement to protect the world’s habitats and species. COP 15 has been described as a “Paris moment for nature.” It is a once-in-a-decade chance – and perhaps the last opportunity before it’s too late – for nations to come together to halt extinctions and set the world on a path toward a nature-positive future. But a lack of national-level leadership across the globe, disagreements over financing, and the complexity of the biodiversity crisis itself have caused negotiations to teeter in recent days. Against this backdrop, a group of California leaders arrived in Montreal last week to showcase our state’s global leadership on biodiversity and push for an ambitious agreement aligned with California values.

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DDT – A Never Ending Story

By Mark Gold, D.Env.

In 1962, Rachel Carson’s groundbreaking Silent Spring exposed the devastating environmental harm caused by synthetic pesticides including DDT (dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane). In the book, she wrote, ”How could intelligent beings seek to control a few unwanted species by a method that contaminated the entire environment and brought the threat of disease and death even to their own kind?” The book helped catalyze the environmental movement of the 1960s and led to the eventual DDT application ban in the United States in 1972. I was born a year after Silent Spring was published and nine years before the DDT ban, yet here we are a full half-century after the ban with DDT still causing ecological harm and posing public health risks to exposed populations.

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A Reckoning for Plastic Pollution

By Mark Gold, D.Env.

By now, everyone in the nation, if not globally has heard about California’s groundbreaking new circular economy and plastic pollution reduction law: SB 54. Senator Ben Allen, an OPC council member, authored the bill and received tremendous support from the Newsom administration, leadership in the legislature, the environmental community, manufacturers, and waste managers: an extraordinary and unprecedented coalition. Governor Newsom, always ready to seize the day, put California into the global environmental limelight with a stroke of a pen on the same day as the Supreme Court condemned millions of people to devastating public health threats through a court ruling that prevents the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from taking broad greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction action on power plants. California’s move to an extended producer responsibility and circular economy approach to plastic pollution reduction builds on the state’s marine debris leadership through plastic bag bans, the ocean litter prevention strategy (PDF) developed by OPC and NOAA, and the world’s first comprehensive microplastics strategy (PDF).

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A Great Day for OA (Ocean Acidification)

By Mark Gold, D.Env.

Wednesday morning at the UN Ocean Conference started with a session entitled, “Interactive Dialogue: Minimizing and Addressing Ocean Acidification, Deoxygenation and Ocean Warming”. Not exactly a title that inspires confidence that major action was on the agenda (I am skeptical when the word “addressing” is part of an action agenda!). I couldn’t have been more wrong. The chair of the session was John Kerry, U.S. Special Envoy for Climate, and as part of a rousing speech on the urgency to reduce greenhouse gas emissions for the good of the oceans, his first announcement was that the United States was joining the Ocean Acidification Alliance. Kerry emphasized that the 1.5-degree Celsius target was slipping from our grasp with every incremental increase over that target costing humanity trillions of dollars. Also, he highlighted the ongoing impacts of ocean acidification (OA), hypoxia, and marine heat waves on kelp forests, coral reefs, and more: an ecologically and financially devastating way to treat the source of over half the oxygen we breathe and the moderating buffer to some of climate change’s most devastating impacts.

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UN Ocean Conference Kickoff

By Mark Gold, D.Env.

Sunday night, the Oceano Azul Foundation hosted the 2022 United Nations (UN) Ocean Conference kickoff at the Lisbon Oceanarium. The president of Portugal, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, delivered a powerful speech making it clear that war and refugee crises can’t be used as an excuse for inaction on climate and ocean conservation. President Rebelo de Sousa also praised the environmental nongovernmental organization (NGO) community for their tireless pursuit of ocean conservation, children for their bold and clear voices on climate and the oceans, and Portugal for their Marine Protected Area program. To have the leader of the host nation kick off the week in such a bold and candid manner should set the tone for the week.

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California and Canada Partner to Advance Bold Action on Climate and Biodiversity

Building on California’s global leadership on biodiversity and climate, and following the partnership established with New Zealand last month, Governor Gavin Newsom and Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau announced a new partnership on June 9 to advance bold action on climate change and biodiversity conservation. California and Canada signed a Memorandum of Cooperation (MOC) focused on fighting climate change, reducing pollution, cutting back on plastic waste, advancing zero-emission vehicles, protecting species and habitats, and building climate resilience.

Credit: Sandra Fogg

At the California Science Center in Los Angeles during the Summit of the Americas, Governor Newsom and Prime Minister Trudeau, along with their respective delegations, held a bilateral meeting to discuss California and Canada’s shared values, which are reflected in the MOC. These include enhancing partnerships with  Indigenous Peoples, accelerating biodiversity conservation efforts, and conserving 30% of lands and waters by 2030.

The partnership also advances the goals and objectives of the California Ocean Litter Strategy and Statewide Microplastics Strategy to prevent plastic pollution by partnering on a range of complementary voluntary and regulatory actions spanning the plastics lifecycle in order to address the threats of plastic waste and pollution, including microplastics, on the health of the environment and ecosystems, including wildlife, rivers, lakes and ocean.

A joint statement on the new California-Canada climate action and nature protection partnership can be found here.


Monterey State Beach.Gerick Bergsma 2009Marine PhotobankGovernance

California has an enormous environmental and economic stake in how we care for our ocean.  It is responsible for the air we breathe, the water we drink, the seafood we eat, and for unparalleled recreational experiences.  Our ocean economy was estimated at $43 billion in 2000, and that economy is largely dependent on the health of our ocean.  We must protect and manage our marine resources and fisheries, maintain good coastal water quality, and devise ways to meet the challenges of climate change – particularly sea level rise – that threaten our coastal communities.

One of the principal goals of the Ocean Protection Council is to evaluate the way California protects and conserves the state’s ocean and coastal ecosystem resources and to recommend legislative or administrative changes.  The OPC is working to coordinate governance and stewardship of the state’s ocean, identify priorities, bridge existing gaps, and ensure effective and scientifically sound approaches to protecting and conserving the most important ocean resources.

Governance Objectives of the 2006 – 2011 OPC Strategic Plan

Objective 1: Funding:
Numerous state agencies receive public funds to protect ocean and coastal resources.  These agencies regulate how these resources are used, regulate activities that impact these resources, and purchase coastal resources and place them in the public trust.  The OPC is tasked with analyzing state agency spending in order to maximize the efficiency of public fund expenditures.

Objective 2:  Inter-agency Coordination and Collaboration:
A patchwork of state and federal statutes and accompanying regulations govern the management of California’s ocean and coastal resources.  These laws were drafted over the last several decades, during which time no concerted effort was made to evaluate how well each agency discharged its duties.  The OPC works towards improving coordination and management of state efforts to protect and conserve the ocean and to identify changes in federal law and policy necessary to better protect ocean resources. The OPC also works to ensure that resource managers and decision makers have access to the best available science to inform their decisions through advice from the California Ocean Science Trust and the OPC Science Advisory Team.

dfg_enforcementObjective 3: Enforcement:
California’s environmental laws are enforced by a number of federal, state, and local regulatory authorities, each of which may have its own enforcement unit.  While it would be impractical and unwise to try to place all enforcement authority in one agency, enforcement efforts can and should be better coordinated between agencies.

Objective 4:  Ecosystem-Based Management (EBM):
Ecosystem-based management is an integrated approach to management that considers the entire ecosystem, including humans, when making decisions.  The goal of ecosystem-based management is to maintain an ecosystem in a healthy, productive, and resilient condition so that it can provide the services humans want and need.  OPC supports the development of ecosystem-based management pilot programs in several regions throughout California.

080729 WCGA announcementObjective 5:  Federal Influence.
By engaging federal government support for California’s priorities, the OPC looks to encourage cooperative management with federal agencies in order to protect and conserve representative coastal and ocean habitats and the ecological processes that support those habitats.

Objective 6:  Regional Coordination.
OPC supports increased regional coordination between California, Oregon and Washington, focusing on measures to improve ocean and coastal management.

In addition to specific objectives listed in the strategic plan, the strategic plan also calls for the creation of a Science Advisory Team (OPC-SAT) to ensure that the best available science is applied to OPC policy decisions.  The OPC-SAT is composed of leading scientists from all major ocean and coastal scientific disciplines including the social and human sciences.  The Advisory Team works with OPC staff to ensure that all staff recommendations and projects proposed to OPC are based on the best available science.

Initiatives and Funded Projects:


Inter-agency Coordination and Collaboration:


  • Department of Fish and Game – State Water Resources Control Board Memorandum Of Understanding

Ecosystem Based Management:

Regional Coordination:

West Coast Governors Agreement on Ocean Health


On September 18, 2006 the Governors of California, Oregon and Washington announced the West Coast Governors’ Agreement on Ocean Health. The Agreement launched a new, proactive regional collaboration to protect and manage the ocean and coastal resources along the entire West Coast, as called for in the recommendations of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy and the Pew Oceans Commission.

After extensive public participation and close coordination with three federal co-leads from the Department of Commerce, the Department of the Interior, and the Environmental Protection Agency, the Governors released their Action Plan in July 2008.

The Action Plan highlights two overarching actions:
1) establish a national ocean trust fund and
2) mitigate and adapt to climate change impacts.

In addition to these overarching actions, there are 24 visionary actions within the following areas:

* Polluted runoff
* Harmful algal blooms and hypoxia
* Marine debris
* Oil spill prevention and response
* Maritime shipping emission controls
* Habitat protection and restoration
* Marine invasive species
* Ecosystem-based management
* Offshore oil and gas operations
* Alternative environmentally sustainable energy development
* Ocean awareness and literacy
* Regional marine research
* Ocean observing and long-term monitoring
* Seafloor mapping
* Working waterfronts and sustainable coastal economies
* Regional sediment management

In late summer 2008, nine Action Coordination Teams (ACTs) were established including representatives from the three states, federal and tribal governments, academia, industry, non-governmental organizations and interested citizens. In October 2008, the ACTs convened in Seattle to develop specific work plans that will be available in Spring 2009.

Action Coordination Teams
* Climate change
* Polluted runoff
* Marine debris
* Spartina eradication
* Renewable ocean energy
* Ocean education
* Sustainable communities
* Sediment
* Regional research
* Seafloor mapping
* Integrated ecosystem assessments (IEAs)

California Governors Office
California Natural Resources Agency
Oregon Governors Office
Washingtion Governors Office
NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service
NOAA Coastal Services Center
Department of the Interior
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

*There are no events at this time

Council Documents
OPC Resolution on the West Coast Governors Agreement

Related Projects
Gulf of Mexico Alliance
Gulf of Maine Council on the Marine Environment
Great Lakes Regional Collaboration
Northeast Regional Ocean Council

For more information, please visit:

Valerie Termini, OPC Project Manager