Biodiversity, a wealth for cities

During the side event “Sharing best practices for biodiversity conservation in European urban areas” at the UN meeting on biodiversity, keynote speakers from Germany, Sweden, Spain and Switzerland explained how biodiversity conservation can contribute to improved quality of life for urban citizens and how investing in natural capital can lead to sustainable growth.

Urban agriculture in Brussels Photo: eco-innovation

Hosted with the generous support of the Swiss Federal Office for Environment (FOEN), the event highlighted achievements and inspired participants to strengthen efforts to recognise and communicate the multiple functions and services that natural ecosystems offer to urban life. Stefan Schwager of the FOEN opened the event by underlining that there are strong incentives for cities and local governments to develop innovative ways to integrate natural capital in the development and implementation of urban landscape strategies.

In line with the Aichi biodiversity targets of the Convention on Biological Diversity, the new Swiss Biodiversity Strategy adopted earlier this year aims to encourage a sustainable approach to natural resources in the country. Efforts to ensure the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity can only succeed if all sectors of society work together, with the involvement of local and regional governmental authorities.

Professor Thomas Elmqvist from the Stockholm Resilience Centre explained that urbanization in Europe is slowing down. The distance between cities and protected areas is shrinking, which means that these have to learn to co-exist. Having these areas close to the city is an asset, as the ecosystem services they provide benefit human well-being in many ways. Based on recent research in nine cities, Prof. Elmqvist discovered that the monetary value of a selected number of ecosystem services offered by a hectare of urban woodland (such as carbon storage, air quality regulation, energy savings, recreation and storm water reduction) amounts to 12,000 USD per year. The costs of restoring a hectare of urban woodland represents only a third of that amount.

Situated in the Rhine Valley and close to Germany’s oldest nature conservation area ‘Siebengebirge’, the city of Bonn adopted a biodiversity action programme in 2010 and has made strong efforts to mainstream biodiversity across sectoral policies. Angelica Maria Kappel, Deputy Mayor of Bonn, emphasized the importance of building alliances with stakeholders within both the city and across territorial borders. Children have been a special target group for biodiversity action. With the help of volunteers and support from the business sector, thousands of native beech trees have been planted to restore biodiversity in municipal forests.

The Green Capital of Europe 2012, Vitoria-Gasteiz in Spain, presents an excellent model for greening the urban environment. Luis Orive, General Manager of the Natural and Urban Environment of the
Municipality, highlighted the benefits of the green belt around the city, which was partially reclaimed from degraded areas. The green belt is an important local ecological network, supporting a wide range of wildlife. It also provides the city with multiple benefits, including recreational options, air and water regulation, and educational opportunities. The current efforts to connect the biodiversity of this outer green belt with a new interior green belt within the city itself underline once again how the powerful message of Vitoria-Gasteiz, ‘Where green is capital’, is being turned into reality.

Dr. Gilles Mulhauser, Nature and Landscape Director of the State of Geneva, gave a regional perspective on biodiversity conservation and management and highlighted the ways in which the urban landscape is being integrated with agricultural and rural territorial development. He emphasised that effective biodiversity action need not wait for detailed biodiversity surveys or audits; a great deal can be achieved by applying basic ecological principles. In this regard, he noted that transboundary cooperation with France is essential in order to ensure effective connectivity. Some 100 municipalities in France and Switzerland are working together to conserve biodiversity and bring natural values into the heart of their towns.

Several valuable ideas and pathways for action emerged from the exchange of best practices from different European countries; these could be replicated elsewhere in the world. Ms. Aban Marker Kabraji, IUCN Regional Director for Asia, concluded that local and regional authorities have a valuable role to play in helping to achieve the Aichi biodiversity targets. She also noted that the conservation and management of biodiversity and ecosystems at the landscape level will result in increased resilience for cities, thus helping them to adapt to climate change and other pressures and threats.

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