Cities – Boon and Bane for Biodiversity

  • 2021/11/15     Dresden, Germany

    Image: Alexandr Hovhannisyan/Unsplash

    Led by the question “Biodiversity in Cities: How Can We Take Action to Protect Biodiversity amid Urbanisation?” the Saxon Dialogue on Biodiversity continued with a discussion on the interlinkages between biodiversity and urbanisation.

    By Laura Hoffmann

    The majority of humans live in cities, and numbers are rising – by 2050, the global urban population is estimated to nearly double compared to 2010, and this development will affect biodiversity (CBD 2012). In addition, cities are often located in landscapes naturally rich in biodiversity, such as coastal zones in which cities are more likely to expand.

    On the one hand, biodiversity loss is indirectly caused by urbanisation and land-use change within cities for housing, agriculture, infrastructure, and transportation. On the other hand, cities offer unique habitats and can be an opportunity for biodiversity conservation. Urban areas may host rare and endangered species adapted to cities and provide essential ecosystem services. Therefore, the critical role of cities in biodiversity conservation cannot be neglected.

    Urban Biodiversity – An Important Responsibility of Cities

    Image: Natalie K

    Opening the seminar, Peter Werner, a former researcher from Institut Wohnen Umwelt (IWU), introduced urban biodiversity and actions that can be taken by cities to support it. For example, megacities such as New York, Singapore, and Beijing started investing in green spaces and green façades to increase biodiversity and air quality. However, with more green spaces, another challenge will be to deal with human-wildlife conflicts, such as in Mumbai, where leopards roam through parks and kill pets. In Germany, raccoons and wild boars can cause damages to property while rummaging through the household waste in search of food and can get aggressive towards humans when they feel threatened. Proper waste management would be necessary to prevent these wild animals from finding food easily.

    By introducing the citizen science project called VielFalterGarten, Birte Peters (iDiv/UFZ) presented a perfect example of how citizens can get involved in research projects while becoming more aware of the nature around them. By counting butterflies, which are very easy for citizens to identify, researchers can analyse green spaces and environmental changes in cities. Through citizen science projects related to biodiversity, people can learn about its importance and actively take action against its loss.

    Dr Juliane Mathey (IOER) shared the local perspective from Dresden. She pointed out the importance of extensive parks, small urban gardens, and allotments that can provide habitats for biodiversity and contribute to city climate regulations. With more than half of the population living in cities, the first contact with nature will be the green spaces and therefore, environmental education becomes ever more important. Installing insect hotels and deadwood constructions in citizens’ immediate surroundings can increase their awareness of the importance of biodiversity.

    How Can We Increase Urban Biodiversity?

    Image: Lelanie

    The experts agreed: green spaces in cities have to be increased and better connected with each other and to the citizens. To achieve that, citizens and landowners have to be included in the discussion about the importance of near-natural areas. When planning green areas, regional and seasonal species should be prioritised. Also, different structures, such as deadwood and shrubs, should be installed to accommodate as many different types of habitats. Decision makers have to integrate strong incentives and guidelines in local biodiversity strategies. Still, in many discussions, the demand for affordable housing is prioritised over creating green spaces. How municipalities can offset the disappearance of green areas and their ecosystem services remains a challenge.

    Citizens have a role to play in increasing city biodiversity. By participating in ongoing discussions about regional planning and advocating for more green spaces, the importance of biodiversity receives more attention. Individuals can initiate urban gardening projects, which provide various ecosystem services and create a place for intergenerational exchange and environmental education. Mainstreaming a biodiversity index for cities and citizen science projects will help us gain more insights into the development of nature in cities and to define how cities shall react to biodiversity loss. In the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework discussions, biodiversity is an essential topic as it is the foundation of life on Earth. To achieve the 2050 vision of “living in harmony with nature”, cities are essential actors to set clear goals. As citizens, we must act upon them.