Nurturing community and planetary well-being

One of the key lessons from the global COVID 19 pandemic was the value of nature in cities: During lockdown our otherwise scary and lonely existence was lightened by watching and hearing native wildlife species appear in the empty streets and public spaces. The one place we could safely go to during the pandemic was a natural or protected area, and public green and blue open spaces. It was here that we found solace and a sense of wellbeing and were reminded that we are not the only species on planet earth but co-exist and share our planet with an amazing array of wildlife species and plants.

Our cities cannot survive on concrete, cement and steel alone. At the most basic level, nature provides cities and towns with rich and diverse resources. Research indicates that 25% of drugs in modern medicine come from rainforest plans, this means that every time a species goes extinct, we miss out on a potential new medicine. Biodiversity also ensures food security and nutrition, moreover pollination affects the quantity, nutritional content, quality, and variety of foods available. Ecosystems like wetlands provide us with services worth trillions of US dollars every year – entirely free of charge- these services include water purification, flood control, and shoreline stabilization and storm protection.

Cities can flourish when nature and human health unite, however the links between these two topics is not as widely considered as it should be in urban planning. At the ICLEI World Congress local and subnational governments gather with WHO experts, NGOs and academics to discuss the powerful opportunities of Nature-based Solutions to tackle biodiversity loss and climate change while creating healthy and thriving places to live. As Kobie Brand, ICLEI said “We are in a pivotal moment, now more than ever, we need to act collectively and realize the potential of Nature-based Solutions in nurturing a planet that sustains the life and health of people.”

Yucatan is among the subnational governments implementing the One Health approach, driven by a commitment to our planet’s present and future well-being, as stated by Mauricio Vila, the Governor of Yucatan, Mexico. He urged local and regional governments to unite in promoting One Health globally and to incorporate Nature-based Solutions into all aspects of sustainable development. As a RegionsWithNature Champion, Governor Vila reaffirmed his dedication to this initiative, emphasizing its importance in harmonizing urban development with nature.

Cristina Romanelli, Program Officer, Biodiversity, Climate Change and Health, World Health Organization, recognized the importance the importance of livable cities and regions, which is one of the reasons why the WHO Manifesto for a Healthy Recovery from Covid-19: Prescriptions and Actionables for a Healthy and Green Recovery which consist of 6 pillars, has one exclusively dedicated to “Building healthy and livable cities.” During the pandemic, cities such as Milan, Paris and London implemented innovative solutions to face the crisis, that enhanced economic activity and quality of life afterwards, this proves it is regional and city governments that are best placed to understand and act upon the opportunities and constraints for systemic change.

More cities endorsing the One Health approach participated in the session and shared visionary plans and inspiring projects. Rogério Menezes, Secretary of Climate, Environment and Sustainability, Campinas, Brazil spoke about the city’s goal to have 20% of the area covered by trees and forest to create areas where people can walk and practice sports, to improve their health, and quality of life. Ni­ko Kyy­nä­räi­nen, Mayor of Lahti, Finland introduced the program “Nature Step to Health” which unifies the environmental and health objectives of the region into a single 10-year initiative. It has ambitious goals, including public health, climate mitigation, adaptation, increasing biodiversity, collaboration across environmental and health actors, and cost savings.

One Health is also gaining more and more attention in the European Project sphere. Horizon 2020 projects CONEXUS and GoGreenRoutes are at the forefront of this shift, working directly with cities such as Lahti and Bogota to leverage the power of nature-based solutions to improve human and environmental health.

The integration of nature into urban planning is not merely a policy consideration but a crucial strategy for fostering human health, ecological stability, and sustainable development. The lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the vital role that natural spaces play in our well-being, reminding us of our interconnectedness with the environment. Moving forward, it is essential for local and regional governments to embrace Nature-based Solutions to address biodiversity loss, climate change, and public health challenges. By doing so, we can build resilient, livable cities that sustain both human and environmental health, ensuring a better future for all inhabitants of our planet.

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