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'5 ways we can promote nature-positive cities': These Mayors around the world are calling for action

The new Nature-Positive Cities initiative recognizes that protecting ecosystems is crucial for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The new Nature-Positive Cities initiative recognizes that protecting ecosystems is crucial for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Image: Photo by Nerea Martí Sesarino on Unsplash

Yoo Jeong-Bok
Mayor, Incheon Metropolitan City
London Breed
Mayor of San Francisco, City of San Francisco
Edmilson Rodrigues
Mayor of Belém, City of Belém
Jaime Pumarejo
Mayor, City of Barranquilla
Thomas Mxolisi Kaunda
Mayor, City of Durban
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  • The new Nature-Positive Cities initiative recognizes that protecting ecosystems is crucial for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
  • Nature conservation and climate action are essential for long-term sustainability, and neglecting either could lead to irreversible ecological damage and jeopardize the well-being of current and future generations.
  • Mayors of five port cities across different regions are calling on global leaders to re-frame their ambitions beyond net zero and align actions towards more nature-positive cities.

There is a broad span in the challenges, priorities and constraints local governments face worldwide. Still, we, the Mayors of five port cities from across different regions, in conjunction with private sector leaders and civil society organizations, are raising the ambition.

We will work beyond a net-zero approach to build future-proof cities.

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The moment for nature

The year 2022 ended with a landmark agreement to guide global action on nature through to 2030: the Global Biodiversity Framework. Representatives from 188 governments agreed that urgent and transformative nature-positive action taken now would be significantly less costly than delay.

From the city perspective, we know that nearly half of the GDP in cities worldwide is at risk due to nature loss. Nature is our home. Good economics demands we manage it better: accumulating produced capital at the expense of nature must be reversed if we want our cities to thrive.

This week marks a new milestone: not only is it the beginning of a new phase of accelerated progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) with high-level political guidance and accelerated actions leading up to 2030, but it is also the moment where we are joining efforts with business leaders, world-renowned urban planners and civil society leaders, to build more resilient, prosperous and equitable cities by 2030 with nature and through nature.

This new global undertaking, called Nature-Positive Cities, is based on the premise that no SDG can be fulfilled without protecting the oceans, meadows, rivers, forests and many other ecosystems upon which prosperity and development ultimately rest.

Image: J. Lokrantz/Azote

Beyond net-zero: the rise of nature-positive cities

Both nature and climate action are essential for long-term sustainability. Neglecting either could lead to irreversible ecological damage.

Both nature and climate action are essential for long-term sustainability. Neglecting either could lead to irreversible ecological damage and jeopardize the well-being of current and future generations. Despite a general awareness of the value of nature, environmental management often takes second place to urban development priorities, such as housing, inflation, migration, rising debts and worsening inequality. But biodiversity provides fundamental natural 'dividends' that nourish and protect urban living, way beyond its intrinsic – and incalculable – worth. This is why we are calling on other global leaders to re-frame their ambitions beyond net zero and align actions towards more nature-positive cities.

Nature-based solutions are an invaluable part of the solution and are realized in different forms in urban areas: green buildings, facades and roofs; green space connected to grey infrastructure (playgrounds and street trees); parks and urban forests; allotments and community gardens; as well as different types of green-blue spaces, such as lakes, urban drainage systems, permeable surfaces and wetlands.

Nature and healthy ecosystems can provide a unique set of services, benefits and values for many urban stakeholders. It is also a powerful tool to achieve climate action plans and help protect, manage and sustain the environment, being low-cost and multi-beneficial. In sum, nature-based solutions and nature-positive interventions can be framed as 'no-regret solutions.'

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What is the World Economic Forum doing to promote sustainable urban development?

A target space for nature-positive urban development

Is there an easy way to better coordinate investments and action plans to protect nature, while addressing other pressing development challenges? Well, here are five things that can help advance a nature-positive transition:

1. Screening economic and other co-benefits

Conserving and regenerating nature can generate multiple benefits in the long run. Nature-based solutions not only reduce the urban heat island effect, manage stormwater and enhance overall urban resilience, they also increase property values, attract tourists and reduce healthcare costs associated with pollution and stress-related illnesses.

2. Advancing public/private collaboration

Collaborating with the private sector can help fund and implement nature-positive projects. It can provide access to capital, technical expertise and resources that help accelerate the transition.

3. Enabling incentive programmes and financial mechanisms

Private investment in sustainable projects can be enabled if the right financial incentives and tax breaks are implemented. Green bonds, trust funds and grants can accumulate over time and provide a stable source of financing for nature-positive interventions.

4. Establishing track record and performance metrics

Building a visible account of nature-positive accomplishments and experiences helps to build trust and credibility. Performance metrics, on the other hand, provide insights into the transition pathway and can help build investor confidence.

5. Honouring a long-term vision

Promoting a long-term vision that transcends political cycles. Consistency in policies and commitment to nature-positive development models can empower residents, create a sense of ownership, attract more investors and lead to more sustainable and inclusive development.

Cities in harmony with nature

There is an ethical dimension to safeguarding nature. It involves recognizing our responsibility to protect the planet's natural beauty and biodiversity and the right of future generations to inherit a habitable world. It also involves acknowledging the disproportionate impacts of climate change and biodiversity loss on vulnerable communities and ecosystems.

We are convinced that by recognizing the importance of biodiversity to cities and actively incorporating it into urban designs and interventions, we will enhance the quality of urban life, activate local economies and lead the way towards a planet where humans and the rest of nature coexist in harmony.

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Related topics:
Forum InstitutionalNature and BiodiversityUrban Transformation
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Institutional update

World Economic Forum

May 21, 2024

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