“I commend this study to policy-makers, planners and all who have a stake in creating ecologically sustainable urbanization for the benefit of humanity and the planet.” These are the words from Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary-General, in a foreword of a new report entitled the Cities and Biodiversity Outlook (CBO).
The report highlights the role of cities in conserving biodiversity and providing opportunities for making the transition to an inclusive green economy in both the developing and developed world. The topic of the report is definitely relevant considering that, if current trends continue, by 2050 the global urban population is estimated to be 6.3 billion, nearly doubling the 3.5 billion urban dwellers worldwide in 2010.
Critical to people's health and well-being
The new report emphasises not only the unexpected wealth of urban biodiversity but also its role in generating crucial ecosystem services upon which large and small urban populations and communities rely for their food, water, and health. As such the report makes a strong argument for greater attention to be paid by urban planners and managers to the natural capital assets within their cities as one way toward realizing a range of targets related to sustainable development.
"Cities need to learn how to better protect and enhance biodiversity, because rich biodiversity can exist in cities and is extremely critical to people's health and well-being," explains Professor Thomas Elmqvist from the Stockholm Resilience Centre and scientific editor of the CBO.
The assessment is the world's first global analysis of how projected patterns of urban land expansion will impact biodiversity and crucial ecosystems. It draws on contributions from more than 120 scientists worldwide and states that over 60 percent of the land projected to become urban by 2030 has yet to be built. This presents a major opportunity to greatly improve global sustainability by promoting low-carbon, resource-efficient urban development that can reduce adverse effects on biodiversity and improve quality of life, it says.
Focus on solutions
The report highlights a number of challenges of the ongoing urbanisation, but also many opportunities. For example, it states that urban expansion is occurring fast in areas close to biodiversity 'hotspots' and coastal zones. Moreover, it concludes that resources to implement sustainable urban planning are often lacking in rapidly urbanizing regions, such as large and mid-size settlements in sub-Saharan Africa, India and China.
Nonetheless, the Cities and Biodiversity Outlook does have a strong focus on solutions. It showcases a wide range of successful initiatives by cities, local authorities and sub-national governments in both developed and developing countries. In Bogotá, Colombia, for example, measures such as closing roads on weekends, improving the bus transit system and creating bicycle paths resulted in increased physical activity among residents, and a reduction in greenhouse gases emissions.