IUCN’s engagement with cities and local authorities
22 April 2011 | Article
Today, well over half of the world’s population lives in urban areas. As the world urbanises, biodiversity and ecosystems are deteriorating at alarming rates with discernable social and economic consequences. In addressing the plight of nature, IUCN recognises that cities and local authorities can play a decisive role.
If properly managed, urban biodiversity can be surprisingly rich and well-functioning. Urban habitat patches facilitate the movement of species and safeguard natural populations by providing important ecological corridors, stepping stones and refuges. Urban biodiversity can help to raise the well-being of citizens by enhancing the attractiveness of buildings and public spaces, curbing noise and air pollution, mitigating the urban ‘heat island effect’, absorbing storm flow, and providing an increasing number of people with their primary connection to nature. Urban residents also receive generous ecosystem services, notably food and clean drinking water, from biodiversity resources located well beyond urban boundaries. Indeed, despite covering just 2% of the Earth’s surface, cities consume 75% of its resources.
However, certain urban activities and consumption patterns corrode the integrity of near and distant ecosystems. Urban sprawl fragments natural areas and increases their proximity to human presence. Average distances between urban peripheries and protected areas are diminishing rapidly. Urban consumer behaviour can deplete natural resources and pollute ecosystems in faraway regions of the world. Reconciling urban development with nature conservation is therefore imperative to ensure that urban growth does not accelerate the loss of biodiversity.
In rising to meet this challenge, and in recognising the need to better engage cities and local authorities in the implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), IUCN is actively involved in a number of pertinent initiatives, from grassroots projects to global policy.
IUCN’s former Countdown 2010 initiative established a network of over 400, mostly European, local authorities, each of which adopted specific commitments to tackle biodiversity loss. The potential for a follow-up initiative to build on the momentum of Countdown 2010 is currently under consideration.
IUCN participates in several European projects, including the LIFE+ supported, European Capitals of Biodiversity. This project constitutes a series of national competitions - in France, Germany, Hungary, Slovakia and Spain - that seek to recognise and reward local authorities which take the strongest, most innovative measures to protect biodiversity.
The LAB initiative (Local Action for Biodiversity) entails engaging with a group of leading cities to develop urban biodiversity management programmes. IUCN is a founding partner of this initiative which is coordinated by ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability.
IUCN is also an active member of the Global Partnership on Cities and Biodiversity. The Partnership brings together local governments, international organisations and UN agencies to cooperate in the management of urban biodiversity and to better coordinate capacity-building projects and communication campaigns. Similarly, IUCN is a member of the Urban Biosphere Network, URBIS. Launched in May 2008, URBIS aims to bridge the divide between science and practice, to develop governance systems that uphold ecosystem services, and to create platforms for urban resilience. Another worldwide network, in which IUCN participates, is Urban Biodiversity and Design -URBIO. This is a scientific network for education and research that aims to promote urban biodiversity through a continuing dialogue with the Global Partnership on Cities and Biodiversity.
IUCN made contributions to the groundbreaking study, TEEB (The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity) D2 for Local and Regional Policy Makers by conducting local stakeholder consultations and providing technical input to certain chapters. IUCN strongly advocates the use of the ‘TEEB approach’ to environmental management and continues to actively promote the study. A manual on how to use the TEEB approach in cities is currently being prepared by UFZ (Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research), ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability and IUCN.
Parties to the CBD recently endorsed the Singapore Index on Cities’ Biodiversity, an urban biodiversity monitoring tool comprising a set of indicators. IUCN helped to devise the Index and has coordinated its implementation in several hundred European municipalities.
IUCN is a partner of the European Environment Agency’s initiative, IUME-Towards an Integrated Urban Monitoring for Europe. This knowledge sharing platform, coordinated by the European Environment Agency, brings a number of different urban monitoring initiatives together with a view to identifying important trends and drivers of urban development.