Why nature-positive cities can help transform the planet | مركز سمت للدراسات

Why nature-positive cities can help transform the planet

Date & time : Tuesday, 28 May 2024

Carlos Correa Escaf

In recent years, “nature-positive” has become a popular buzzword among world leaders confronting the climate and biodiversity landscape. The term is defined by the Nature Positive Initiative – which represents conservation organizations, institutes, and business and finance coalitions – as a global societal goal to “‘halt and reverse nature loss by 2030 and achieve full recovery by 2050”.

A new report by the Nature Positive Initiative shows that 44% of global GDP – $31 trillion – generated in cities is at risk from nature loss, and only 37% of the world’s 500 most populous cities have developed a dedicated strategy focused on nature or biodiversity preservation.

The 2021 G7 2030 Nature Compact identifies investing in nature and driving a nature-positive economy as one of four core pillars for action. The Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF), meanwhile, proposes 23 targets that aim to protect 30% of terrestrial and marine ecosystems, reverse biodiversity loss, and scale up finance for nature by 2030. These are largely in keeping with the vision of a nature-positive world.

The transformation to a nature-positive world will be driven by an innovative policy and robust regulatory framework that reimagines our relationship with nature. With global trends showing that nearly 70% of the world’s population is projected to live in cities by 2050, cities will be fundamental drivers of the transformation.

It’s important for governments around the world to align their policies with the broader framework outlined by the GBF targets and Paris Agreement goals. As a member of the Expert Task Force on Nature-Positive Cities, ex-Minister of the Environment, and former mayor of my hometown of Montería, Colombia, I believe it is critical that we draw upon the lessons learned from cities that have already adopted policies designed to lead this transformation.

The roadmap towards nature positivity

The transformation toward nature positivity is a daunting one that will require a set of enabling conditions to be put in place by municipal governments around the world. The new report, Nature Positive: Guidelines for the Transition in Cities (the start of a collection of publications advocating for the regeneration of nature urban areas), emphasizes how a clear mandate from city leadership to prioritize sustainability across all city operations is fundamental to enable the implementation of a nature-conscious agenda in cities.

We must create policy roadmaps that help us meet both our climate and biodiversity targets. Prioritizing regulations and policies that guide and promote the implementation of nature-positive solutions will be critical for urban governments in coming years. They should be backed by adequate and timely financing, as well as standard risk- and impact-management processes. Citizen participation is also an essential component of nature-positive cities.

Strengthening public-private collaboration in real estate, energy, mobility, commerce and elsewhere will help cities meet scale. As a group of mayors recently pointed out, these collaborations can help fund and implement nature-positive projects and also provide the technical expertise and other resources necessary to accelerate the transition.

Urban leaders must connect their local policies and regulatory frameworks to national strategies and international climate and biodiversity goals. This will allow them to show progress and mark cities’ contributions to the Montreal and Paris Agreements.

Finally, local governments are highly encouraged to adapt and address policy failures that have enabled the destruction of our natural habitat. Governments should work to rectify previous failures in public procurement that have stymied nature-conscious innovation. Reforming perverse subsidies that are incentivizing unsustainable practices and pricing in negative externalities can help move us in the right direction

Lessons learned from trailblazers

While policy innovation will be the driving force toward the transition to nature-positive cities, we will have to draw on the experiences of cities that have led the way. Nature-positive cities are a relatively novel concept that requires us to be adaptable and willing to learn.

Increasing and improving green spaces in cities is key to facilitating a shift to nature-positivity. Some have taken ambitious steps forward with measurable benefits. As mayor of Montería from 2012 to 2015, my administration worked with policy-makers, the private sector and stakeholders to build a sustainable city, and we helped transform the city’s Sinu River into an axis of social, cultural and economic development.

Policy-making and urban planning must be rooted in the understanding of the surrounding ecosystem. Under my leadership, we developed Montería 2032, a 20-year development plan to return the city to the river and people. Intrinsic to this plan was the understanding that revitalizing the Sinu River would be critical to reclaiming our public space, water management, basic sanitation and tourism.

The city has made tremendous strides in putting nature front and centre in its policy-making, setting the stage for a remarkable turnaround. In recent years, Montería has recovered 50 urban and rural parks and has expanded Ronda del Sinú, a park that was declared a protected area in 2017.

Elsewhere in Colombia, Barranquilla is one of 120 cities in Latin America that is part of the World Economic Forum’s BiodiverCities by 2030 initiative, which seeks to create a future where the “built environment, social structure and natural capital co-exist in harmony”. The city has undertaken several blue and green infrastructure projects to build the foundation for a better future.

The Ciénaga de Mallorquín Park was a once-neglected area that has been converted into a green space with nearly four kilometres of bike lanes. To date, over 60,000 mangroves have been planted in the park. The city’s Gran Malecón Riverwalk is a bold initiative to reclaim the once-industrial Magdalena riverfront as an area of public use, helping change the perception of the riverfront from uninhabitable and polluted to a thriving public space.

Salvador, Brazil has established 39 conservation areas spanning 19km2 to help restore the Atlantic Forest biome and strengthen climate resilience. The rehabilitation programme has also planted 30,000 trees, with the city’s residents involved in planting half of them. In Ecuador, Quito’s climate change action plan sets forth a bold adaptation goal of increasing green spaces to at least 20m2 per resident.

Creating nature-positive cities presents a formidable task for a rapidly urbanizing world. The race is on to meet the goals of the GBF and become nature-positive by the end of the decade. As we prepare for the next biodiversity COP to take place in my home country, we should expect the discussion of how cities must pave the way for a nature-positive future to take centre-stage.


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