URBES for cities and biodiversity

In Europe around 75% of the population lives in urban areas. In some countries this figure is estimated to grow to 80% by 2020 (European Environment Agency, 2009). With increasing population densities and mounting development pressures, large tracks of land in the immediate surroundings of urban areas are undergoing a process of urbanisation. IUCN believes that investing in ecosystem management and natural infrastructure can play an important role in making our economies and societies more resilient.

Since January 2012, IUCN is a member of the research project URBES (Urban Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services) which aims at bridging the knowledge gap on urbanisation processes and the ecosystem services sustaining them. 

The continuous increase in the number and size of urban regions, and the ensuing transformation of landscapes, pose great challenges for reducing the loss of biodiversity and for ensuring human welfare. Residents of urban communities depend heavily on rural biodiversity, notably for food, clean air, drinking water, climate regulation and recreation to name a few. They have a vested interest in the protection of biodiversity well beyond urban boundaries. 

The project will:

  • Address significant scientific knowledge gaps on the role of urban biodiversity and ecosystem services for human well-being;
  • Contribute to building capacity of European cities to adapt to climate change and reduce ecological footprints;
  • Create innovative ways of integrating monetary and non-monetary valuation techniques in urban landscapes by pioneering the development of The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB)-approach;     
  • Develop a professional communication and training program for cities;
  • Actively contribute to international policy mechanisms and global partnerships like the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), TEEB, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), as well as to the EU 2020 EU Biodiversity Strategy and the Thematic Strategy on the Urban Environment. 

The role of IUCN in this project is to influence the local, regional and international policy arenas through an extensive communication and capacity building programme developed together with ICLEI (Local Governments for Sustainability). This will firstly focus on translating the outcomes of the project in accessible messages which will be disseminated to several audiences in Europe. Secondly, ICLEI and IUCN will present examples of ecosystems services for cities to a variety of stakeholders in Europe and will build capacities in a selected group of local authorities in Europe on the sustainable management of ecosystems services and natural resources.

IUCN considers this project as an excellent partnership for cities and local governments to become better informed on the value of natural capital for sustainable urban life and increasingly contribute to biodiversity conservation and improved management of ecosystems services in Europe.

URBES is a transdisciplinary collaboration between nine European research institutes and partners: Stockholm Resilience Centre, The Humboldt-University, Technical University of Munich, University of Salzburg , Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics, Kiel Institute for the World Economy, Mistra Urban Futures, Erasmus University Rotterdam, University of Helsinki, ICLEI and IUCN.  The project will run until 2014.

This project is by BiodivERsA, a network of 21 research-funding agencies across 15 European countries promoting pan-European research that generates new knowledge for the conservation and sustainable management of biodiversity.

For more information, please consult the project website or contact: Chantal van Ham, European Programme Officer.

Did you know?

  • Approximately 3 percent of Earth’s surface is urban, yet cities account for 75 percent of global resource consumption
  • Urban infrastructure within the next 40 years will cover an area roughly the size of Mongolia, with obvious impacts on natural habitat and the wildlife that depends on it
  • Four out of five European citizens live in urban areas and their quality of life is directly influenced by the state of the urban environment
  • The urban population in Europe accounts for 69 % of European energy use and thus most greenhouse gas emissions
  • The 2001–2005 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment—the world’s largest assessment of ecosystems—covered almost every ecosystem in the world but barely mentioned urban systems
  • In her 741-square-meter suburban garden in Leicestershire, England, Jennifer Owen spent 30 years studying species richness and in the process recorded 1,782 species of animals and 422 species of plants
  • A healthy tree offers an estimated cooling capacity comparable to around 10 airco’s
  • There are approximately 200,000 trees in Amsterdam’s open spaces, and the collage of interconnected landscapes provides a home to many wild animals, including 140 species of birds, 34 mammal species, 60 fish species, 6 species of frog and salamanders
  • It has been estimated that implementing a forest protection strategy in the water catchment area of New York will be seven times cheaper than building and operating a treatment plant.



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