Biodiversity must be built into urban development to make future cities sustainable

By RTCC Staff

Understanding how biodiversity can contribute to sustainable urban development will be vital as 70% of the world’s population moves into cities, an expert from the Stockholm Resilience Centre has warned.

Thomas Elmqvist, a Professor at the University of Stockholm told RTCC that an area the size of South Africa is expected to be lost to rapid urbanisation over the next couple of decades.

He said this could pose a number of challenges, which a focus on biodiversity could help to solve.

“This will be primarily agricultural land,” he said. “This will have knock on effects because at the same time we have an increase in population and an increase in the need for food, so we will need to increase production.

“If we manage to make this urbanisation sustainable, there are so many things we could win for human well-being and for biodiversity and ecosystem services.”

Along with 120 scientists worldwide, Elmqvist helped put together an assessment of the potential impacts and opportunities of urbanisation.

The Cities and Biodiversity Outlook highlights a wide range of successful examples of sustainable urban development, initiated by cities and local and sub-national governments around the world.

With 60% of the projected urban land in 2030 yet to be built, the is a major opportunity to improve the way countries do urban development, promoting low carbon solutions and resource efficiency, said Elmqvist.

This will then also bring environmental benefits and improve the quality of life for people living in cities, he added.

“Cities are facing enormous challenges; climate change is one,” he said. “We know that climate change will increase the frequency of heatwaves. It will also cause much higher variation in precipitation. Here is an opportunity for cities to embrace what we know about ecosystems and how they could reduce vulnerability.

“You can use vegetation and tress to cool the city, then you don’t have to invest in systems that will demand a lot of energy for cooling. You can also use ecosystems and vegetation to reduce the risk of flooding too.”

Elmqvist said the study highlights 50 plus examples of where this type of thinking is already happening. He said Curitiba in Brazil is an important example of where local governments are investing in green infrastructure.

“I think for a city in the global south they actually provide a role model for how cities could develop,” he said. “It is important to have those in tropical countries and countries in the global south because that is where we will have the most rapid urbanisation in the future.”


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