Barcelona’s quest for a green urban future

09 December 2013 | News story

On 28 November, Barcelona presented its Green Infrastructure and Biodiversity Plan 2020 which aims to turn the city’s ambitious ideas for enhancing the role of nature into action. IUCN’s Chantal van Ham gave a keynote speech providing a European perspective on the Barcelona Plan.  

Barcelona is committed to preserving and enhancing the natural heritage present in the city to enable every citizen to benefit from it and enjoy it. The Plan is a strategic instrument that sets out the long-term actions that are needed to attain green infrastructure that can serve a number of environmental and social functions, that can bring nature into the city, that can achieve connectivity between the city and the broader territory and, lastly, that can make the city more fertile and resilient in order to face up to the pressures and challenges it exerts.

Margarita Parés, Head of the Programme for Biodiversity of the city, explained that Barcelona is home to a complex system of green infrastructure, ranging from natural open areas to vertical gardens grown on dividing walls and various parks and squares. Each specific type of area or component has its own features and qualities, which can be enhanced when managed appropriately. They all provide ecological values that are vital to the city, such as wealth richness of species, as well as social and cultural values, such as the direct impact they have on wellbeing, health, beauty, culture and potential for socialisation. Ms. Parés said: “We often fail to realise that the city plays host to a remarkable variety of animal and plant biodiversity: 1172 species of flora, including trees, and 103 native species of vertebrates live in Barcelona.”

She also explained that there are many advantages to implementing this policy, as plant cover absorbs dust and pollutant particles in the air, provides oxygen, reduces noise pollution, stores CO2, regulates dampness, balances the water cycle, reduces energy consumption in buildings, creates ecological connectivity, and serves as a habitat for more biodiversity. 

In her keynote address, Chantal van Ham of the IUCN EU Representative Office in Brussels highlighted the importance for IUCN of working together with cities to retain biodiversity and to make the benefits of nature for urban life more visible across Europe. She emphasised the recognition of the European Union of the important role cities have in promoting biodiversity, green infrastructure, environmental action, resource efficiency and research and innovation leading to investments in natural capital.

We need nature in our life: it is not optional but essential. Ms. van Ham explained that a study by the Woodland Trust in the UK has discovered that if every household had good access to quality green space, around € 2,5 bln/year could be saved in health costs. Professor of Ecology, Joan Pino of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona pointed out that biodiversity is the most important indicator of health in our cities.

The city of Barcelona is leading the way in creating space for nature to protect biodiversity and achieve environmental objectives but also to improve the well-being of its citizens, create jobs and business opportunities. Convincing politicians, architects, landscape planners, business and citizens of the values of nature for urban life and to take joint action in implementing the Plan presented today, is a great step forward towards a sustainable urban future.

For more information: Chantal van Ham, European Programme Officer IUCN European Union Representative Office, e-mail: chantal.vanham@iucn.org, tel. +32(0)2 739 0312