Nature Within Cities and Cities Within Nature
30 Jun 2021
Venue: Online | Webex
Organization: United Nations Environment Programme
This high-level event, co-organized by the United Nations Environment Programme and the Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the European Union (EU), with the support of the Geneva Environment Network, focused on exploring the multiple benefits of Nature-based Solutions (NbS) for cities, highlighting opportunities and challenges to advance and scale up NbS, from local action to global solutions, accelerating impact in 2021 and beyond.
Nature-based Solutions and Cities
The COVID-19 pandemic is only a prelude to the looming climate and biodiversity crisis. The UN Secretary General has called 2021 “a critical year to reset our relationship with nature” and for setting foundations for the transformations of sectors, systems, and economies. Nature offers a range of solutions that could effectively address climate change and reduce the impacts of extreme weather events. It provides crucial ecosystem services, and its inclusion in national plans and strategies could lead to widespread sustainable and cost-effective climate action. As the climate crisis intensifies and extreme weather events continue to increase in frequency and severity, we need to scale up NbS. These encompass a broad range of actions that harness the power of nature for sustainable development, thus delivering benefits for climate resilience, healthy populations, sustainable economies, green jobs and biodiversity conservation.
Forests are one of the best examples of NbS, as well as multiple benefits for jobs, biodiversity, and health. Forests deliver a range of important ecosystem services to urban dwellers: mangroves protect coastal cities from storm surges; forested catchments provide clean water and store carbon; tree-lined streets reduce the urban heat effect and noise pollution; city parks connect people to nature, provide islands of biodiversity and lend aesthetic appeal; urban wetlands and parks increase water infiltration, reducing flood risks; and urban farms reduce food miles and connect people to the food they eat. For example, 90% of the world’s cities rely on forested watersheds for their water supply, yet 40% of the world’s major watersheds are at risk of erosion, forest fires and water stress, reducing their capacity to provide high-quality water to cities.
Within cities, NbS such as tree covered areas, along streets, or in parks and wetlands, provide multiple benefits which include natural shading, thereby reducing urban heat island effects and cooling needs; managing run-off water with fewer flooding episodes; and improving health and well-being, both directly and through recreational opportunities. Around cities, NbS interventions can help with watershed management, recreational space, managing wildfires, reducing, and capturing CO2 emissions, and reducing the impact of sand and dust storms.
Moreover, cities are at the forefront of both the impacts of, and responses to, major environmental crises, as they concentrate millions of people into locations that can be highly vulnerable to disaster. They allow for economies of scale, delivering services to large numbers of people, driving economic growth and innovation, and creating jobs. But they also expose large, vulnerable populations to climate change, environmental hazards, and latent stressors such as scarce resources. In essence, the triple crises of climate change, pollution and biodiversity loss are particularly relevant for cities and the people who live in them.
There is now increasing attention and momentum for NbS, as exemplified by the 2019 Climate Action Summit NbS Manifesto, the 2020 UN Biodiversity Summit (including the Leaders’ Pledge for Nature), the UN Decade for Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030) and the recently launched IUCN NbS standard. The building blocks are there, but NbS need to move into mainstream discussions and generate actions that affect the realities of the post-COVID world. NbS should be fully integrated into the European Green Deal´s implementation and incorporated in its nine policy areas, which range from sustainable agriculture to the circular economy and the biodiversity strategy.
At the EU Environment Council on the 10th June, Ministers adopted Council Conclusions on forging a climate-resilient Europe, with the aim of capturing the essential elements of all the different dimensions of the new EU Strategy on Adaptation to Climate Change. This new strategy outlines a long-term vision for the EU to become a climate-resilient society that is fully adapted to the unavoidable impacts of climate change by 2050. It emphasizes NbS, adaptation action at the local level, the need for enhanced adaptation mainstreaming and the necessary financing for these adaptation measures and underlines a new international dimension.
About the High-Level Event
This high-level event was co-organized by the United Nations Environment Programme and the Portuguese EU Presidency, with the support of the Geneva Environment Network.
The event’s objectives was to demonstrate the value of Nature-based Solutions (NbS) for cities, from developing climate resilient pathways to harnessing a broad range of environmental and socio-economic benefits, the event will highlight local participatory approaches as bases for long-term success, look at ways to scale impact with innovative approaches and call for genuine action across different scales and sectors.
The event focused on exploring the multiple benefits of NbS for cities, highlighting opportunities and challenges to advance and scale up NbS, from local action to global solutions, accelerating impact in 2021 and beyond.
The event started with a high-level panel (16:00-16:30 CEST) which discussed how the application of NbS can provide long-term social, ecological and economic benefits.
The second session (16:30-17:30 CEST) featured two technical panels with a focus on implementation challenges and opportunities as well as models for scaling up NbS from local action to global solutions.
- Susana NETO (University of Lisbon) and Catarina ROSETA-PALMA (ISCTE-IUL)
Including message from the UN Secretary-General
- H.E. João Pedro MATOS FERNANDES, Portuguese Minister for the Environment
- Inger ANDERSEN, Executive Director, UNEP
Multiple Benefits of NbS
- H.E. Ana ABRUNHOSA, Portuguese Minister of Territorial Cohesion
- H.E. Svenja SCHLUZE, German Federal Minister for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (Video)
- H.E. Andrej VIZJAK, Slovenian Minister of the Environment and Spatial Planning (Video)
Opportunities and Challenges to Advance NbS
- Philippe TULKENS, acting Head of Unit, DG Research & Innovation, Healthy Planet Directorate, European Commission
- Ana DAAM, Head of Division of Sustainable Finance and Adaptation, Portuguese Environment Agency
- Rosário OLIVEIRA, Researcher, Institute of Social Sciences (ICS), University of Lisbon
From Local Action to Global Solutions: Models for Scaling up NbS
- Duarte D´ARAÚJO, Landscape Architect, Lisbon Municipality
- Angela CRUZ GUIRAO, Director of Green and Sustainable Development, Campinas City Hall
Wrap up by Moderators
- Susana NETO (University of Lisbon) and Catarina ROSETA-PALMA (ISCTE-IUL)
In addition to the live WebEx transmission, the video will be available on this webpage.
The event builds on and follows up to the German Presidency event held on 14 December 2020, which focused on how ecosystem conservation, management and restoration can address the three planetary crises: climate, biodiversity, and pollution.
The event focused on exploring the multiple benefits of NbS for cities, highlighting opportunities and challenges to advance and scale up NbS, from local action to global solutions, accelerating impact in 2021 and beyond. A call-to-action speech from the UN Secretary-General inaugurated the Nature Within Cities and Cities within Nature event. In his written statement, read at the event, the UN Secretary General highlighted that while “cities are on the front lines of environmental degradation and climate disruption… urban planning currently overlooks ecosystems and nature found in and around cities.” Further noting that “without bold policies, we risk missing the opportunities cities offer, especially given the growing concentration of populations in urban areas. It is essential that we address the drivers of urban biodiversity loss and conserve and restore nature so that urban populations can thrive.” Further opening remarks, highlighting the policy relevance and timeliness of NbS implementation, were delivered from João Pedro Matos Fernandes, Portuguese Minister for the Environment and Climate Action, Inger Andersen, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Director of the UNEP, Ana Abrunhosa, Portuguese Minister of Territorial Cohesion, Svenja Schluze, German Federal Minister for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, and Andrej Vizjak, Slovenian Minister of the Environment and Spatial Planning.
This was then followed by discussions between Philippe Tulkens, acting Head of Unit, DG Research & Innovation Healthy Planet Directorate, EC, Ana Daam, Head of Division of Sustainable Finance and Adaptation, Portuguese Environment Agency and Rosário Oliveira, Researcher, Institute of Social Sciences – University of Lisbon regarding the opportunities and challenges to advance NbS. The panelists spoke of the cost-effectiveness of NbS, inclusion of NbS in urban planning and design and scalability of NbS.
Two examples from Lisbon Municipality and Campinas City were presented by Duarte d´Araújo Mata, Landscape Architect, Lisbon Municipality and Angela Cruz Guirao, Director of Green and Sustainable Development, Campinas City Hall, respectively. These interventions illustrated models for using NbS within an ecological landscape approach and elaborated on how coordination and cooperation between cities, central governments and implementing partners can foster the scaling up of solutions.
The following key messages were raised:
- Cities drive but also are vulnerable to the triple planetary crisis: climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution. Therefore, cities play a key role in the fight against these challenges and must prioritize actions to deliver common goals. Cities and NbS cannot be forgotten in the upcoming 15th Conference of the Parties (COP) of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26).
- There is increasing evidence of connectivity between human health and nature. The COVID-19 pandemic is the more recent and clear evidence of this. It has reinforced the importance of ensuring a symbiotic relationship between inhabitants of our planet.
- NbS are a win-win solution that delivers multiple environmental benefits and socio-economic outcomes. By restoring nature, we can mitigate and adapt to climate change and simultaneously improve public health, reduce air pollution, save water and recover landscapes. It will also foster more sustainable economies, create green jobs and make urban areas more livable and equitable.
- Cost-effective NbS can help us to scale climate action and deliver on SDGs. Every dollar that we spend in ecosystem restoration and conservation can yield up to 70 times that amount in the larger economy. Therefore, economic recovery packages are an important opportunity to redefine our relationship with nature at all levels and foster nature-based solutions to enhance resilience in cities. Going back to a business-as-usual scenario is not an option.
- The role of science, research and innovation is crucial. Science has shown over time that nature-based solutions can help address multiple challenges: climate change, land degradation, natural disaster risk, biodiversity loss. Nevertheless, there are still knowledge gaps, so investments in this domain are urgently indispensable.
- Urban planning frequently overlooks ecosystems and nature found in and around cities. Therefore, more national and sub-national policies on sustainable urban development are needed. These policies must be directly linked to territorial active management and recognize the value of ecosystem services.
- Important commitments, investments and actions promoting NbS are taking place at global, national and subnational levels, including the German Act, Portugal’s Climate Adaptation Plan, the EU Biodiversity and Adaptation to Climate Change Strategies, approved in 2021, EU Horizon 2030, among others.
In conclusion, cities must work with the natural world and not against it. To bring nature back to cities we need to let nature back in, rebalance cities’ relationship with suburban areas and reduce pressure on natural ecosystems everywhere. The momentum for NbS has grown. These solutions are going beyond a small circle of researchers and increasingly attracting the attention of policymakers and of the private sector. To let nature take some space we need to change our mindsets, and they are changing. Cities should now build back better and seize the opportunity to boost nature in urban planning.
A short and long summary of the event are available for download.
- UN Secretary-General Message – NatureBasedSolutions
- Presentations made during the event
- Short summary of the event
- Long Summary of the event
- Portuguese EU Presidency | Nature Within Cities and Cities within Nature
- The Geneva Environment Network update on Nature-based Solutions provides relevant information and the most recent resources, news and articles from the various organizations in international Geneva and other institutions around the world.
- NbS contributions platform
- Common approach to integrating biodiversity and nature-based solutions for sustainable development into the United Nations policy and programme planning and delivery | UN CEB | May 2021
- UNEP and nature-based solutions | UNEP | September 2020
- Food and the City: Growing our Urban Future | FAO | 2 September 2021