Biodiversity as a Valuable Resource for Cities of the Future: Implications & Opportunities for African Cities

At the recent international biodiversity meetings of the United Nation Convention on Biological Diversity’s COP11 in Hyderabad, India, the ‘Cities and Biodiversity Outlook – Action and Policy’ report was launched to explore and assess links and opportunities between urbanization, biodiversity and ecosystem services. This report also aims to address how biodiversity and ecosystem services can be managed and restored in innovative ways to reduce the vulnerability of cities to climate change and other disturbances, drawing on contributions from more than 123 scientists worldwide.

According to the Cities Biodiversity Outlook (CBO), by 2050 the global urban population is likely to be be 6.3 billion, which is almost double the 2010 figure. In addition, over 60 percent of the land projected to become urban by 2030 has yet to be built and most of the growth is expected to take place in small and medium sized cities, not in mega-cities.

This urban expansion will draw heavily on water and other natural resources and will consume prime agricultural land. These predictions concerning population and urbanisation rates  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.

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“This report makes a strong argument for greater attention to be paid by urban planners and managers to the nature-based assets within city boundaries. Sustainable urban development that supports valuable ecosystems presents a major opportunity for improving lives and livelihoods, and accelerating the transition to an inclusive green economy,” said Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme.

The report states that urban expansion is occurring fast in areas close to biodiversity ‘hotspots’ and coastal zones. In rapidly urbanizing regions, such as large and mid-size settlements in sub-Saharan Africa, India and China, resources to implement sustainable urban planning are often lacking.

Biodiversity and ecosystem services in cities are important in many ways – for example, they help to absorb carbon dioxide from the air and improve air quality; contribute towards climate change mitigation and adaptation; provide a source of food and medicines and raw materials; are the basis for many jobs and livelihoods; regulate water; protect against natural disasters (e.g. flooding); protect against soil erosion; and provide areas for recreation, cultural inspiration and spiritual fulfillment. Ultimately biodiversity sustains life and the destruction and breakdown in natural ecosystem services is having increasingly negative impacts on global economies, livelihoods, well-being and the ability to secure a sustainable future for all.

Sustainable urban planning, which addresses biodiversity issues along with other priorities such as poverty alleviation, employment, and housing, can bring positive effects for health and the environment.

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,” said Professor Thomas Elmqvist of the Stockholm Resilience Centre and Scientific Editor of the report.

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In Africa, urbanization is occurring faster than in any other continent, and most of the population growth is predicted to occur in cities of less than 1 million people. The predictions are that Africa’s population will double between 2000 and 2030 – from about 300 million to 750 million people. Africa’s population growth and rate of urbanization will occur in cities that often have weak governance structures, high levels of poverty, low scientific capacity regarding biodiversity, high dependency on ecosystem services and high levels of vulnerability to climate change. There is thus an urgent need to accelerate and mainstream sustainability in all sectors of the economy and throughout governance structures in Africa – with the protection and sustainable management of biodiversity and ecosystem services as a central component.

The way our cities are designed, the way people live in them and the policy decisions of local authorities will define, to a large extent, future global sustainability,” said Braulio Dias, Executive Secretary of the CBD.

“The innovation lies not so much in developing new infrastructural technologies and approaches but to work with what we already have. The results often require fewer economic resources and are more sustainable,” he added.

The Cities and Biodiversity Outlook, which was coordinated by the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in partnership with the Stockholm Resilience Centre (SRC) and Local Governments for Sustainability (ICLEI), highlights a wide range of successful initiatives by cities, local authorities and sub-national governments in both developed and developing countries.  Thomas Elmqvist of the SEI discussed the CBO in the video below.

Cities and Biodiversity Outlook from Stockholm Resilience Centre on Vimeo.

What are the links between urbanization, biodiversity and ecosystem services? Thomas Elmqvist, editor of Cities and Biodiversity Outlook explains. See more here: http://www.cbd.int/authorities/cbo1.shtml

Sources: Stockholm Resilience CentreICLEI, United Nations Convention on Biological DiversityCities and Biodiversity Outlook 2012 

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