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EXCLUSIVE: Planning for BiodiverCities by 2030


The initiative basically looks at a proposal to support city governments, businesses and citizens around the world to create an urban development model that is in harmony with nature.

By Salam Rajesh

The World Economic Forum contemplates that the current Covid-19 pandemic has brought into focus the unsustainability of current urbanization models for human and planetary health. This is in the backdrop of the assessment that up to half of the world’s population lives in cities, and it is expected that by 2050 the figure would raise up to 7 billion people. The reading is that buildings across the globe accounts for 30 percent of global energy consumption and is responsible for 28 percent of energy-related carbon emissions fuelling the process of global warming.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) in partnership with the Government of Colombia and the Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Research on Biological Resources recently came up with a proposal for an initiative labeled as “BiodiverCities by 2030”. The initiative basically looks at a proposal to support city governments, businesses and citizens around the world to create an urban development model that is in harmony with nature. The assumption is that as world communities emerge from the Covid-19 crisis, increasing urban resilience and improving the lives and well-being of city dwellers will be critical to boosting economic and citizen confidence.

The initiative is expected to use artificial intelligence and crowd sourcing technologies through the WEF’s Strategic Intelligence and UpLink platforms, collecting up-to-date online content and building ‘a community of innovators and entrepreneurs to address the world’s most pressing challenges on nature and cities’. Concurrent to the initiative is the WEF’s assertion that ‘a nature-positive pathway in the infrastructure and built environment could create over 3 trillion USD in business opportunities and create 117 million jobs by 2030’.

The BiodiverCities by 2030 initiative involves around 25 world-renowned experts and practitioners from the public and private sectors, academia and civil society. The initiative combines the latest research with practical solutions in the service of sustainable, inclusive and nature-positive urban development. The Global Commission on BiodiverCities will advise on the development of a shared concept, framework and forward-looking perspective to integrate cities with nature.

The World Wildlife Fund’s Living Planet Index indicates that changes in land and sea use account for the largest portion of biodiversity loss globally. The report also states that climate change has been a big biodiversity threat, and is possibly linked to an increase in natural disasters. Between 2000 and 2013, the Latin American and Caribbean region alone experienced 613 extreme climate and hydro-meteorological events, from typhoons and hurricanes to flash floods and droughts.

The discussion filters down to understanding what contributes most to carbon emissions and greenhouse gas emissions. The WEF assessment provides that up to 28 percent of energy-related carbon emissions fuels the process of global warming. This concern had given rise to the concept of the BiodiverCities by 2030 initiative. The plan is to devise models of new cities across the globe that caters to the need of new infrastructures while addressing to the concerns on energy-related carbon emissions.

Several cities have already launched their concept of ‘green building’ to reduce their carbon footprints. In Europe and China, for instance, the thrust has been on designing new buildings that utilize every available space to plant flowers and herbs to provide an outer layer of green covering. This is expected to reduce use on energy consuming appliances like air conditioners and other electronic gadgets for cooling. Terrace gardens and parks are being encouraged on rooftops of skyscrapers in cities to reduce energy emissions as well as to absorb carbon presence in the atmosphere.

A Technical Guideline Series of the Wetlands International defines that ‘Infrastructural needs are immense in fast growing countries, but infrastructure that fails because of suboptimal design wastes both resources and time. Consideration of water flows, sediments and the health of existing ecosystems at the design stage, can result in benefits for nature and better infrastructure resilience’. This comes in tandem with objectives such as Building with Nature, Working with Nature, and Engineering with Nature, which actively strive to implement pilot projects and increase the knowledge base for interventions that combine nature and civil engineering.

The European Union aims to be climate neutral by 2050. To achieve this, the EU proposed a European Climate Law to turn the political commitment into a legal obligation. Broadly outlined as the European Green Deal, the target set includes investing in environmentally-friendly technologies supporting industry to innovate cleaner, cheaper and healthier forms of private and public transport, decarbonising the energy sector, ensuring buildings are more energy efficient, and working with international partners to improve global environmental standards.

Quite interestingly, one of the real time focus is on ensuring that new buildings are energy efficient. The focus is particularly on new growth cities expanding to meet the growing human populations who migrate to cities in search of better opportunities. Other than implanting greenery in entire buildings to reduce latent heat, converting to solar to light the buildings is also seen as an option to reduce dependency on conventional electricity use. Building designs that incorporate maximum space for natural lighting rather than artificial lighting is another thrust on energy saving strategy.

Designing growing cities or new cities with integration of green spaces like gardens, parks and recreation sites with water bodies and greenery is basically seen as effort in reducing carbon footprints. This is reinforced by designing streets that incorporate space for cycle lanes to encourage people to use bicycles more in reducing their carbon footprint which is achieved when people start reducing use of motor vehicles for personal travel. Most EU countries are seen edging forward in the goal to reduce carbon emissions by 2030 by encouraging the use of electric and hybrid cars in place of fossil fuel based vehicles, and environment-friendly bicycles.

The pandemic has brought about a new enthusiasm in nature-base solutions in addressing many issues including the climate emergency and global warming amongst others. Many European cities are seen as going for encouraging food parks in every available space so that fruiting trees may provide free food to those who are impacted by events such as the current pandemic when sourcing for food becomes an issue.

Communities are coming forward to plant fruit-bearing trees in spaces labeled as ‘community food forest’. This serves two purposes. Firstly, the trees bear fruits that can be eaten freely by those who are extremely in need of food in times of crisis. Secondly, the green space contributes in the fight to reduce carbon emissions which is one of the targets set in the Paris Climate Agreement to limit global temperature rise by 2030. Any effort, big or small, is considered worthwhile in the larger effort to make cities biodiverse to reduce human carbon footprints and in ensuring harmony with nature.

(The writer is IUCN Member, Commission on Environmental, Economic & Social Policy. He can be contacted at [email protected])

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