Biodiversity Conservation Can Improve Human Health In World’s Growing Cities
Integrating Ecosystems into Urban Planning Can Deliver Major Economic Benefits and Reduce Environmental Damage.
Global urbanization will have significant implications for biodiversity and ecosystems if current trends continue, with knock-on effects for human health and development, according to a new assessment by the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).
The assessment, which draws on contributions from more than 123 scientists worldwide, 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.
The Cities and Biodiversity Outlook is the world’s first global analysis of how projected patterns of urban land expansion will impact biodiversity and crucial ecosystems.
The world’s total urban area is expected to triple between 2000 and 2030, with urban populations set to double to around 4.9 billion in the same period. This urban expansion will draw heavily on water and other natural resources and will consume prime agricultural land.
“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 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.
“More than half the global population already resides in cities. This number is projected to increase, with 60 percent of the population living in urban areas by 2030,” said Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme. “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,” he added.
Cities are also increasingly recognized for their role in supporting plant and animal species and diverse ecosystems. For example, over 50 percent of Belgium’s floral species can be found in Brussels, while 65 percent of Poland’s bird species occur in Warsaw.
Urban green spaces perform important ecosystem services, such as filtering dust, absorbing carbon dioxide from the air and improving air quality. Data from the United Kingdom shows that a 10 percent increase in tree canopy cover in cities may result in a 3-4°C decrease in ambient temperature, thus reducing energy used in air conditioning.
Urban biodiversity also delivers important health benefits. Studies have shown that proximity to trees can reduce the prevalence of childhood asthma and allergies. 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.