Articles/Blog

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Urban biodiversity strategies: Necessity and effectiveness

As cities expand, habitat deterioration, loss, and fragmentation have become the cruel architects of biodiversity loss, pushing countless species to the brink of extinction. This alarming trend is largely attributed to rapid urbanization, growing human populations in cities, and increased demands on land, water, timber, and energy, often at the expense of biodiversity-rich habitats.

We are facing a concerning forecast for the coming decades, with expectations of the most significant decline in biodiversity since the extinction of dinosaurs 66 million years ago. As a result, the design, development, and biodiversity strategies of future cities – as well as the transformation of existing ones – will play a pivotal role in shaping the health and well-being of billions of humans and their livelihoods.

Biodiversity encompasses the variety of life on Earth, including species diversity, genetic variations within those species, and the intricate balance of ecosystems. This diversity is crucial for sustaining ecosystem services, which, in turn, play a vital role in ensuring clean air, water, land, and, consequently, our livelihoods and well-being.

Biodiversity in cities - Why its protection is important in facing climate change

The loss of biodiversity is closely intertwined with climate change. Biodiversity is key in providing essential ecosystem services regulating Earth's climate, forests, wetlands, and oceans. While the connection is not always evident, urbanization can indirectly affect even oceans through factors like pollution, runoff, and climate change, which are influenced by urban development practices. Diminishing biodiversity compromises the resilience and effectiveness of these ecosystems in sequestering and storing carbon, leading to elevated atmospheric CO2 levels.

Cities can serve as leaders of change that spark a revolution in biodiversity conservation, promoting green spaces, fostering life, and inspiring innovation. Local governments can create a balanced blend of urban development and natural sanctuaries that coexist harmoniously.

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How can we preserve urban biodiversity?

Preserving biodiversity is a critical and complex challenge that requires coordinated efforts at the local, national, and international levels. The responsibility for preserving biodiversity typically falls on various stakeholders in local biodiversities, such as:

  • Cities and Municipal Governments: Develop green spaces, conservation policies, and regulate land use.
  • Local Communities: Engage in conservation projects, educate residents, and participate in habitat restoration.
  • NGOs: Advocate for conservation, fund initiatives, and raise awareness.
  • Businesses and Industries: Implement sustainable practices, support initiatives, and adopt responsible sourcing along the supply chain
  • Academic and Research Institutions: Conduct research, provide data, and educate on biodiversity.
  • Citizens and Local Communities: Respect and protect biodiversity, volunteer, vote for biodiversity, and advocate for awareness.

The goal of the EU's biodiversity strategy is to halt the loss of nature and shift the development of biodiversity to a positive trend by 2030. Member states have committed to 17 key objectives to achieve this goal.

Three objectives relate to the protected area network, including:

  • Increasing the protected surface area so that 30 percent of EU land and 30 percent of marine areas are protected legally.
  • Ensuring that at least 1/3 of EU-protected areas, including all remaining old-growth and wilderness forests, are under strict protection.
  • Enhancing the management of all protected areas.

Cities and municipal governments are key players at the local level

Cities often have unique biodiversity challenges as well as opportunities. The importance of cities and municipal governments as key players in biodiversity conservation lies in recognizing that cities are crucial because some biodiversity issues are local and need local solutions.

In addition, cities can also serve as hubs for education, advocacy, and innovation in biodiversity conservation. Local governments can develop urban green spaces, support local initiatives, and promote policies that balance urban development with protecting natural areas.

By being situated within specific ecosystems, cities experience firsthand the impacts of urbanization on biodiversity. Their direct engagement is crucial for understanding and addressing the unique challenges posed by local urban environments. Collaboration among local stakeholders is essential for effective local biodiversity conservation, fostering a collective commitment to preserving the ecological balance within the community.

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The importance of biodiversity action plans

Collaboration among all stakeholders is the key to preserving our planet's precious biodiversity. The need for Biodiversity Action Plans, or BAPs, becomes abundantly clear in this critical quest. BAPs are the compass guiding us through the challenges of urbanization, pollution, and habitat loss toward a future where cities thrive and flourish in harmony with nature.

These plans consist of strategic actions for direct and indirect biodiversity improvement. The publication of these plans holds implementation partners, policymakers, and stakeholders accountable. Additionally, the public visibility of these plans raises awareness, positioning biodiversity as a significant challenge second only to climate change in terms of crises to be addressed.

BAPs are strategic frameworks and roadmaps for improving biodiversity, and they outline the specific actions and measures required to protect the diverse web of life within our cities. These strategies can bridge the gap between urban development and conserving the planet's biodiversity. A good BAP entails responsibilities for those stakeholders (while responsibility should not just be shifted away from policymakers to individuals and NGOs without guidance and funding).

How to measure the effectiveness of BAPs and biodiversity conservation strategies in urban areas

While the outcomes of biodiversity actions are intricate and diverse, they can be easily understood by the general public. These include an increase in the count of keystone species, species removed from the red list (indicating population recovery), and the establishment of protected areas measured in hectares. Factors such as the improved quality of ecosystem services are more challenging to quantify but equally significant. Additionally, there is a rise in awareness and education among students and locals. Indirect impacts encompass greater ecosystem resilience to stress factors like extreme events and external stressors exacerbated by climate change. These factors ultimately contribute to the overall well-being of human health through enhanced ecosystem services.

In defining and assessing the success of a biodiversity plan within an urban setting, it is crucial to establish an urban Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) and consistently translate goals into actionable measures. Monitoring the plan's progress should be done transparently; this can be achieved through tools like the Kausal platform. Success can be gauged using the criteria outlined earlier.

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Nevertheless, it is essential to recognize that enhancing biodiversity is a long-term undertaking. Unless an ecosystem has reached a tipping point (as seen in instances like increased nitrogen saturation in lakes), natural processes sometimes exhibit a remarkable capacity to rebound swiftly. A notable example is the recovering tuna population from establishing high-sea protective areas. This contrasts with other sustainability challenges, such as climate change, where outcomes are less immediately tangible and visible in the surrounding environment.

Highlighting the practical implementation of such principles, the realm of urban biodiversity initiatives presents Helsinki's LUMO program as a noteworthy case example. Reporting on this program, Laura Walin sheds light on its commitment to nurturing biodiversity in the context of a growing and evolving city.

LUMO's vision is to foster biodiversity while ensuring the preservation of natural habitats and species, with continuous monitoring for biodiversity and human well-being.

Key aspects include:

  • Expansion: Increasing surface areas to support biodiversity.
  • Quality: Prioritizing high-quality areas for effective biodiversity support.
  • Connectivity: Recognizing the importance of connected areas for overall biodiversity.

Looking ahead, the landscape of urban biodiversity and biodiversity plans will be shaped by increasing pressures from human economic activities, including unsustainable production, consumption, and developmental practices worldwide.

This threatens biodiversity hotspots, crucial reservoirs of species diversity that could populate other areas. To illustrate, envision a river: when dammed, fish are hindered from migrating up or downstream, akin to a biodiversity hotspot acting as a genetic pool.

Protecting hotspots, both on a global scale (like the Great Barrier Reef) and locally (as in the example of the aforementioned lake), should be a focal point of conservation efforts. Recognizing these hotspots as vital entities aligns with classical nature conservation principles.

Another notable trend is the adaptation of many species to urban environments. In the future, species capable of cohabiting with humans will become more prevalent. For instance, urban foxes are often less shy than their wilderness counterparts. To manage this coexistence successfully, monitoring programs and public education are essential. This dual approach fosters harmonious living conditions for all animal species including humans. Additionally, education plays a crucial role in instilling respect for wildlife, as well as in controlling pest outbreaks and preventing the spreading of diseases.

Considering historical instances where diseases have been transmitted from animals to humans, such efforts have become crucial on a global scale.

Ready to amplify your biodiversity initiatives?

In conclusion, as cities grapple with the challenges of biodiversity loss, the role of urban areas in conservation efforts becomes increasingly pivotal. Cities can be the frontline in safeguarding our planet's biodiversity by implementing smaller protected areas, creating wildlife corridors, engaging in citizen science projects, and promoting tangible outdoor education. While national frameworks provide guidelines, the real impact is felt locally. Cities, with their unique challenges and opportunities, have the potential to be leaders in biodiversity conservation.

To embark on this transformative journey and amplify your biodiversity initiatives, talk to Kausal. Discover how Kausal Watch can enhance your sustainability efforts and turn your clear goals into actionable plans. Book a demo and join us in building a more sustainable and biodiverse future.

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