Global South Urbanization Does Not Have to Harm Biodiversity
Global urbanization will have significant implications for biodiversity and ecosystems if current trends continue, harming human health and development, according to a new assessment by the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).
Cities and Biodiversity Outlook – the first global analysis of how projected patterns of urban land expansion will affect biodiversity and crucial ecosystems – argues that promoting low-carbon, resource-efficient urban development can counter urbanization’s adverse effects on biodiversity while improving quality of life.
“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 report says that urban expansion is occurring fast in areas close to biodiversity “hotspots” and coastal zones. And rapidly urbanizing regions, such as large and mid-size settlements in sub-saharan Africa, India and China, often lack resources to implement sustainable urban planning.
But the study found that cities do not need to be in conflict with plant and animal species and ecosystems. They can, in fact, protect species, as is the case with Belgium, where 50 per cent of the country’s floral species are found in Brussels, or Poland, where 65 per cent of the country’s bird species are found in Warsaw.
At the Alexander von Humboldt Research Institute in Bogota, Colombia, researchers have been thinking about making sure that the growing cities of the future are not ecological disasters.
According to Juanamarino and Maria angélica mejia at the Institute’s Biological Resources Policy Programme, which investigates “Biodiversity, Ecosystem Services and Urban-regional Environments”, how cities grow and develop must change.
They believe that cities need to take into account the resources that they require to function and the impact that this has on biodiversity and ecosystems.
“The more people who arrive in cities, the more they demand goods and services (in a massive way!): roads, housing, infrastructure, food, water, [creating] an impressive amount of waste, challenging traditional waste management and sanitation policies,” said Marino. In short, “Cities enhance consumption.”
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
The Humboldt researchers believe that common patterns can be seen across the global South, where ecosystems “surrounding urban areas are deforested and have significant levels of water and air pollution; they also become deeply transformed by informal settlements.”
This process means that cities “lose their ability to be resilient, they become highly vulnerable to global change and they decrease their production of ecosystem services to maintain human well-being in cities.”
They argue that human settlements must be sustainably planned for, with ecological resilience and human well-being. If this is not done, areas suitable for agricultural production and biodiversity preservation will be harmed.
And they see innovation as the way to do this. Innovation is critical if cities and urban areas are to avoid widespread destruction of biodiversity as urbanization increases. – (December 2012)
Use natural habitats in urban areas to create recreational spaces and protect wildlife.
Make green spaces welcoming by providing services such as potable water fountains.