Cities contain not only human settlements but also natural, agricultural and even abandoned areas which are home to a variety of flora and fauna, so-called biodiversity. Urban biodiversity contributes, directly and indirectly, to many aspects of city dwellers’ livelihoods and well-being. It provides the basis upon which people and other living organisms fundamentally depend upon, such as the provision of food, fibre, fuel, water, air purification, and soil fertility; known as ecological services. The contribution of biodiversity in terms of socio-economic and environmental aspects are vital for urban sustainability. Moreover, maintaining urban biodiversity is recognised as an effective measure for climate change adaptation and mitigation.
Implementing urban development by ignoring biodiversity and the attendant ecological services it provides can cause severe problems. The expansion of urban areas and changes in land use in some natural and/or agricultural areas can cause natural habitat loss to some endemic species. Moreover, a rise in urban population with an acceleration of socio-economic activities do increase the use of natural resources, particularly energy utilisation and waste production. These aspects could induce the need for further production; such as mono-cropping, intensifying the use of herbicides, pesticides and perhaps genetically modified organisms (GMOs). This could result in biodiversity loss, leading to the unsustainable development of cities.
Urban biodiversity emerged as an important issue in 2006, fourteen years after the Declaration of the Convention on Biological Diversity. Subsequently, urban biodiversity summits were held in parallel with the Convention on Biological Diversity namely the Cities Biodiversity Summit in Nagoya, Japan in 2010 and Cities for Life held in Hyderabad, India in 2012 with the aim to foster and consolidate local actions for biodiversity. At the core of the summits lay a strong and consolidated commitment made by local governments, sub-national governments, academia and international organizations towards implementation of biodiversity conservation and management.
As a member of the Convention on Biological Diversity, Thailand is undertaking initiatives aimed at conserving biodiversity in the cities in some municipalities including the Bangkok Metropolitan Area. Unfortunately, not much progress has been made except in the case of Chiang Rai city municipality. To tackle the issues, on 25 July 2013, IUCN’s Thailand Programme held an urban biodiversity meeting between four municipalities; namely Chiang Rai city municipality, Sisaket town municipality, Klang sub-district town municipality in Rayong Province, Thung Song town municipality in Nakhon Si Thammarat Province, and the Bangkok Metropolitan Region, at the IUCN Asia Regional Office in Bangkok. Experts from the Royal Forestry Department (RFD) and the Biodiversity-Based-Economy Development Office (Public Organization) were also invited to present as well as to exchange knowledge about urban biodiversity and urban forestry. A good practice of urban agriculture and urban biodiversity implemented in Chiang Rai city municipality was presented by the Chiang Rai city municipal clerk.
Regarding the ongoing processes, in Chiang Rai city municipality urban biodiversity activities have been expanded to include the areas of the Phra Tat Wang Sang temple, San Tor swamp, Tu Pu cave and Doi Khao Kwai temple. For Klang sub-district town municipality, the mayor emphasized “learning from mistakes” and some concrete-covered ground is now being removed for tree planting. In addition, more trees are being grown instead of perennial or biennial plants. Rivers and streams are being cleaned up and the fresh-water animals, in particular endemic turtles, are being conserved. In Sisaket town municipality, in the area covering 1.60 sq km of His Majesty the King's 80th Birthday Anniversary Park, there is a plan to conserve waterfowl who have migrated as well as endemic freshwater species in the area. For Thung Song town municipality, there is a plan to conserve the main streams for flood prevention in addition to conservation of local fishes.
For the success of the urban biodiversity conservation programme, the key points agreed on at the meeting were “collaboration”, “community” and “ownership”. Academic collaboration such as expertise from RFD in conducting field surveys and database development can be very helpful for government at local-level. More importantly, communities are key stakeholders in undertaking these activities. Local ownership can ensure the success of this programme.
Regarding urban biodiversity in Thailand, Dr Chamniern Vorratnchaiphan, IUCN Thailand Country Representative emphasised, “For effective management, there is a need to develop a biodiversity database that can support decision-making. Also, there is a lack of awareness and understanding of the importance of urban biodiversity, while the capacity of municipalities and local actors to carry out conservation practices remains inadequate.”
To facilitate the exchange of knowledge and experience on urban biodiversity in the Asian region, IUCN and Chiang Rai municipality are hosting the First Urban Biodiversity Regional Seminar: Sustaining Urban Biodiversity for Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation from 18-20 December 2013 at Chiang Rai municipality. Lessons learned from good practice as well as implementation measures will be exchanged amongst participating organizations. More importantly, the seminar aims to strengthen urban biodiversity partnerships between involved institutions.
Participants involve representatives from local Thai governments as well as the Bangkok Metropolitan Area, International Council for Local Environment Initiative (ICLEI), Asia Pacific Adaptation Network (APAN), Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES), Asian Cities Climate Change Resilience Network (ACCCRN), academia and other organizations.
Activities include presentations and group discussions on urban agriculture, urban biodiversity and urban climate change resilience by collaborative organizations as well as excursions to urban agricultural sites and to the Urban Biodiversity Centre of Chiang Rai municipality.
By Foyfa Shutidamrong, Nantana Atibodhi and Ria Sen