Urban expansion has changed the earth’s surface and, at the same time, its biodiversity. Within just 40 years the world’s urban population will double. By 2050, 70% of the population will live in cities and an additional area the size of South Africa will have been developed. Much of this urbanization will be carried out in the most biodiverse areas on the planet.
Between 1950 and 2010, the urban population in Latin America grew from 40 to 80%. Currently, 75% of people in Colombia live in cities and, according to data from the Departamento Nacional de Planeación and the World Bank, this figure will increase to an estimated 85% by 2050.
A statement released by the InstitutoHumboldt during last year’s World Urban Forum asserted, “Cities aren’t autonomous. Breathing pure air, riding a bike through wetlands, guaranteeing the availability of water and food to cities are benefits made possible thanks to the ecosystem services that our biodiversity affords us”.
This is a huge challenge for cities, as the growing population represents a greater demand and pressure on natural resources. Cities currently consume 67% of all of the energy produced on the planet and they are responsible for nearly 80% of greenhouse gas emissions. However, at the same time it constitutes an opportunity given that, in accordance with the website Cities and Biodiversity Outlook (CBO) and the report from the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), cities have the political force and capacity for innovation to steward the preservation of ecosystem services rather than merely generating the largest ecological footprint.
Biodiversity can exist in cities and improve people’s physical and mental health by reducing water shortages, mitigating the effects of climate change, improving food safety and providing spiritual stimuli.
The years 2011 through 2020 have been declared the United Nations Decade on Biodiversity. This promotes the conservation of green areas, natural corridors, and the creation of parks and green roofs as carbon sinks.
But more than that, “This decade invites citizens to reflect on the plants, butterflies, birds and other animals that they once observed and that have left today to never return; the river fish that they once caught, bought and consumed and that they now long for; the water that they once drank directly from the river and that today has to be purchased in plastic bottles”, affirms Saulo Usma, a fresh water specialist for the WWF-Colombia.
This change should start from what has already been established. “The innovation lies not so much in developing new infrastructural technologies but to work with what we already have. The results are often far cheaper and more sustainable,” stated Thomas Elmqvist, a scientist for the evaluation of cities for the United Nations.
In Colombia, the efforts to build biodiverse cities are still modest. Cities only began to look towards nature in the year 2000. Bogotá and Medellín are the only cities to have adopted the National Biodiversity Policy. Currently, the rivers of the large cities have been channeled and turned into sewers. The wetlands were drained and filled to be used for building homes. The marshes belong to landowners who use them for livestock and farming.
Today’s task is to revert these activities, because year after year nature is collecting its dues from us in the form of extreme natural phenomena like floods, forest fires and droughts.
THE ADVANTAGE OF HAVING BIODIVERSE CITIES
Urban development is a challenge and opportunity
The total urban area is expected to triple between 2000 and 2030, while the urban population doubles. In the year 2050, 70% of the world’s population will be urban. Recent studies suggest that the global food supply will have to double to meet the population’s dietary needs. The global energy demand may increase up to 80% and the demand for water 55% between the years 2000 and 2050.
It is natural capital
Quantifying the value of the ecosystems in monetary and non-monetary terms and attaching qualitative values are important tools for mainstreaming ecological considerations into the management of a city. This natural capital contributes to job creation, saves money and complements the services already provided by municipalities – such as supplying drinking water, disaster-risk management and increased food security.
Improving people’s health and well-being
The health benefits derived from direct contact with ecosystems range from improving immune function, mood and concentration, to reducing stress and enhancing the benefits of physical exercise. Ecosystems purify the water and air, provide pest control and regulate the climate.
Contributing to mitigating the effects of climate change
Cities are responsible for 70% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Investing in green spaces and wetlands can increase carbon storage and contamination absorption, as well as reduce the heat island effect. Trees can contribute to climate change mitigation by providing shade and cooling. Blue spaces, such as watersheds, play a crucial role, as they provide access to drinking water.
Improving food security
The rapid growth of cities is challenging agriculture and modifying food systems at local and global levels. The capacity of urban, peri-urban and rural areas for developing food is key in an increasingly urbanized world.
Investments and motivated citizens are needed to document and protect the local plant and animal species.
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Title: Bogota, Colombia by ©Fotos593 / Shutterstock.com
Text: Cable Car, Colombia, by Liz © CC BY-NC 2
Maria Paulina Baena Jaramillo is a journalist of the “Vivir” section in El Espectador newspaper of Colombia. She has covered environmental issues of climate change, biodiversity, sustainable development, mining and water. She is also the Editor of the environmental campaign Bibo (Forest goods and services) of the same newspaper. A social communicator and political scientist from the Javeriana University in Bogota, she is a motorcyclist and diver for fun.
This post is an extract from the article Colombia urbanizada y biodiversa, published in El Espectador on July 15, 2015.