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9 February, 2024

When we think about cities, we don’t necessarily think about the role of nature and wildlife, yet biodiversity is fundamental to thriving urban areas. Cities rely on nature for essential services like building materials, clean air and water, food, medicines, and human wellbeing.

The dilemma is that urban land expansion is a key driver of biodiversity loss. By 2050 it is expected that 75% of the global population will be living in cities, and most future urban expansion will take place in some of the world’s most biodiverse regions. The resulting increase in fragmentation of non-urban ecosystems interrupts wildlife and ecological zones and increases risks from fire, pests, and diseases.

Some cities, notably in India and China, are embracing eco-city developments to address these challenges. Broadly, eco-cities are defined as ecologically sensitive cities which aim to restore natural environments and promote social justice. However, despite their allegedly ‘eco’ credentials, there have been cases where these developments have ignored local contexts, placed an excessive focus on economic growth, and caused environmental harm (see Lavasa eco-city in India as an example).

Therefore, joined-up, context-specific approaches to urbanisation that recognise the importance of biodiversity, and bring together scientists, policymakers and planners are essential. The Peak Urban Project — an international collaboration between universities across the world — has called for the establishment of a new Urban Science Advisory System. They encourage the adoption of a systems approach, connecting those working on cities with those who run and live in them. Similarly, the Columbian government has worked with the WEC on the concept of BiodiverCities by 2030, which encourages the collaboration of multidisciplinary expertise to work towards the ambition for more resilient and adaptive futures for cities. They suggest that BiodiverCities can restore the balance between cities and nature by improving urban governance, adopting nature-based solutions (NbS) and nurturing nature-positive values in citizens.

We think there is a great opportunity to act now, and tap into the potential of urban areas, by encouraging policymakers, businesses and the whole urban community to bring nature and biodiversity to the centre of the urban agenda.

By Charlotte Pounder

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