Cities and settlements

Sustainable Development Goal 11

Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable

Overview

Cities are a testing ground of our capacity to live together and create environments that are socially just, ecologically sustainable, economically productive, politically participatory, and culturally vibrant. They contain more people dependent on nature than the rest of Earth’s population combined. The world is becoming increasingly urban. By 2050, if current trends continue, the global urban population is estimated to be 6.3 billion, nearly doubling the 3.5 billion urban dwellers worldwide in 2010. More than 60% of the area projected to be urban in 2030 has yet to be built. Despite the positive efficiencies of compactness, this urban expansion will draw heavily on natural resources, and will often consume prime agricultural land, with knock-on effects on biodiversity and ecosystem services elsewhere. Other vulnerabilities relate to the form of urban development whereby peripheral dispersion, proliferation of transport lines and piecemeal speculative development are primarily responsible for the fragmentation, degradation and destruction of natural habitat. Despite these challenges, there are untapped opportunities for cities to manage ecosystem services globally.

City governments, to varying degrees depending on their context, have powers to introduce incentives or remove disincentives to benefit biodiversity. For example, cities may not be where commercial fishing happens (although in many cases coastal waters are under their jurisdiction), but they are where most of its products are consumed or the point from where they are distributed. Every single one of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets relies at least partly on cities for its achievement. Despite what is often commonly believed, many cities have high species richness and contain protected areas that provide important contributions to biodiversity. Urban green spaces, ranging from parks and agriculture to residential lawns and roof gardens, can also contribute to climate-change mitigation.

Challenges

Cities, due to their relatively high concentrations of wealth and despite their efficiencies and potential for greater efficiency, are responsible for about three quarters of the world’s consumption of resources. Cities are also home to a large proportion of the industries that produce greenhouse gasses, which affect ecosystems globally. According to the Cities and Biodiversity Outlook, most future urban expansion will occur in areas of low economic and human capacity, which will constrain the protection of biodiversity and management of ecosystem services. Therefore, the impact that cities have on biodiversity and ecosystems needs to be minimised. Although cities are part of the problem, they are also an important part of the solution.

Effective stewardship of ecosystem services must consider the interconnectedness of the resources that link cities to ecosystems outside of city boundaries, and the multitude of actors that shape and sustain the resource flows. Urban regions must also take increased responsibility for motivating and implementing solutions that take into account their profound connections with and impacts on the rest of the planet. The targets Parties are pursuing at the national level rely on the contribution and cooperation of the world’s cities and citizens. Awareness-raising is perhaps the most basic requirement underpinning all of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets and cities are where most of the audience resides. They are also places where the public can most efficiently be rallied to support more sustainable practices through their purchases.

Messages

  • Only 600 cities are responsible for more than half of the global GDP. Cities therefore offer profound potential for positive impact if their citizens make the right choices.
  • Roughly 70% of the world's population is expected to be urban by 2050. Recent studies suggest that the global food supply will need to roughly double to meet the dietary needs of the growing population, global energy demand may increase up to 80%, and global water demand is expected to increase by 55% between 2000 and 2050.
  • Because global urban land cover is growing more quickly than the urban population, better integrated urban and territorial planning, in addition to improved governance, are needed to move forward urban sustainability.
  • Local governments are invited to develop and implement a holistic ecosystem-based approach for developing city-region food systems that ensure food security, contribute to urban poverty eradication, protect and enhance local level biodiversity and strengthen urban resilience and adaptation.
  • A combination of measures can be used to decrease waste and reduce meat consumption, while investing in protecting biodiversity, water quality, local food production and key carbon-sequestering ecosystems.
  • City governments have a role to play, for example in choosing native plant species over exotics in urban landscaping, and guiding the choice of species by the public for purchase.
  • By following the embryonic but growing trend toward considering biodiversity and ecosystems as green infrastructure, cities can contribute enormously to supporting ecosystem services.
  • Many tools exist to help cities manage their biodiversity. One such tool is the City Biodiversity Index (or CBI, also known as the Singapore Index). This and many other initiatives can help cities conserve and manage their biodiversity.