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Asian cities act on biodiversity on the road to 2020

In the last decade, the campus of Peking University in Beijing has recorded sightings of over 200 bird species – accounting for one seventh of all bird species in China.

Cities are home to extraordinary amounts of animal and plant biological diversity. As cities work to develop comprehensive approaches to protecting these natural resources, the global biodiversity movement is waking up to the power of cities to be a part of the solution.

In the run up to the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP 15) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in 2020, cities and regions are coming together to make their voices heard on global biodiversity conservation.

“Biodiversity and human habitation share similar characteristics” said Professor Lu Zhi of Peking University at a roundtable on urban biodiversity held last month in Beijing. Zhi stressed that places with high population density should not forget that they are also living space for other organisms, and that it is possible for areas with high levels of human activity to maintain good environmental quality and biodiversity.

As the hosts of COP15, Chinese cities are bringing action to the table. At the urban biodiversity roundtable, local government representatives from China had fruitful knowledge and experience exchange with officials from Singapore and Germany, as well as experts from international organizations focusing on the instrumental role of local and regional governments in designing and implementing a post-2020 global biodiversity framework.

Planning with nature

The Chinese Capital Beijing is promoting the protection of ecosystems via three prioritized approaches, namely, natural reserves, ecological conservation redlines – or places where space is reserved for the ecosystem services it offers – and a newly-launched Beijing Urban Master Plan (2016-2035). To enhance ecological measures and management, the city has divided its landscape into three areas with different levels of construction restrictions, and is looking to carry out an in-depth analysis of its biodiversity status and trends.

Singapore, the globally-known as the “Garden City,” is on its way to becoming instead a city in nature. As a city-state, the government of Singapore has recognized biodiversity as not merely a “nice-to-have” but a “must-have” for its citizens, and has, for decades, dedicated itself in keeping the city clean and green. With building a livable and sustainable city as the ultimate goal, the government ensures its pragmatic policy-making is based on sound economic principles and science, long-term planning and effective implementation, and the potential to mobilize popular support from the public.

Yunnan, a southern province of China, is at the forefront of biodiversity conservation work in the country. With a varied landscape encompassing snow-capped mountains, rice terraces, lakes and deep gorges, the province has been integrating biodiversity conservation actions into local economic and social development, and looking to introduce sustainable initiatives without hindering industrial growth.

At the roundtable in Beijing, Carina van Weelden of GIZ introduced cases from Bangladesh, Laos and the Philippines, where cities have undertaken participatory governance assessments – an approach that has been practiced in many sectors with respect to the principles of good governance. While each stakeholder has their own concerns, the process of joint self-assessment supported by independent facilitation can lead to enhanced mutual understanding and acceptance of results.

On the other hand, it was also suggested that there is still room for improvement regarding local government officials’ awareness and capacity to tackle the biodiversity challenge. For example, there is still a lack of knowledge and expertise in conserving biodiversity in urban settings, and in integrating scientific research into policy-making and implementation.

In preparation for a consolidated local and subnational government effort at the upcoming CBD COP 15 in Kunming, China, ICLEI will continue to join hands with partners and provide platforms for local and subnational governments to exchange knowledge, coordinate meetings and capacity building events for cities and regions to further advance their actions, seek practical solutions, learn from each other, and support those who are facing similar challenges.

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