How we can reimagine our cities as biodiverse hubs

Biodiversity – all living organisms, including plants, animals and microorganisms – is essential for human existence. Yet when we think about biodiversity, we rarely picture a city in our minds. Nature has often been associated as purely a feature of rural landscapes, when in fact urban areas are home to a myriad of ecosystems and natural wealth, harbouring rich biodiversity. We are embedded in nature and yet we know very little about it.

Flickr - The Garden City

Today marks the launch of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, which serves as a reminder that we must mobilize urban decision-makers and citizens to put nature at the heart of urban life. We have a unique opportunity to ensure that cities become true drivers of growth, resilience and well-being that operate within healthy social and planetary boundaries.

Cities play a unique role in today’s world. COVID-19 has placed them, once again, at the forefront of dealing with some of the most pressing global issues putting well-being and prosperity at risk, including climate change and biodiversity loss. But imagine a city where buying your favorite products leads to more nature, not less, and where your job can withstand environmental and economic shocks; where the air you breathe is pure and fresh, and where birdsong no longer has to compete with the roar of traffic.

Most cities in the world are ill-equipped to address the threats urbanization poses to natural habitats. In 1800, only 3% of the global population lived in urban areas. Today, we hit 55%, and the figure is projected to reach over two-thirds by 2050. While cities continue to expand at unprecedented rates, so does the pressure that they put on natural resources, ecosystems and the climate. If left unchecked, this puts our livelihoods, sustenance and the very air we breathe under real threat. Thankfully, solutions exist to allow cities to minimize these risks and reinvent themselves for the benefit of nature, the economy and society.

Some cities have understood the opportunities that addressing biodiversity loss and climate change present and have shown leadership in developing innovative solutions. Despite its small territory, Singapore is home to 4% of the world’s bird species, signalling clearly how rich urban biodiversity can be. In response to increasing urbanization and the effects of climate change, Singapore transformed itself from a Garden City into A City in a Garden, and then took a bold step to further evolve into a City in Nature.

Singapore has applied nature-based solutions to achieve climate, ecological and social resilience with innovative modern technology. This paradigm shift focuses on restoring nature in the city to make it both more liveable and sustainable.

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Source: Espinel, M. R., & Chan, L. 2021. How to reimagine our cities as hubs for biodiversity conservation and climate resilience, World Economic Forum