Urban Transformation

Why we must talk about nature-positive cities this COP28

Nature-positive cities will reduce carbon emissions.

Nature-positive cities will reduce carbon emissions. Image: Unsplash/Hector Argüello Canals

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Nature-Positive Cities

This article is part of: Centre for Urban Transformation
  • We are currently grappling with a triple planetary crisis, where challenges of climate change, biodiversity decline and desertification are deeply interlinked.
  • Nature-positive solutions have the potential to tackle all these issues in parallel, while simultaneously contributing to cities’ resilience and increasing economic, social and health benefits.
  • The Global Commission on Nature-Positive Cities urges cities, private sector and public sector representatives to collaborate to share knowledge about implementing nature-positive solutions and harness the power of collective wisdom.

Nature and biodiversity are fundamental to life. They provide the essential building blocks of existence, which technology cannot replicate.

As members of the Global Commission on Nature-Positive Cities, we stand united in our commitment to shaping a more regenerative future for all.

Our mission is clear: prioritize and implement nature-based solutions to increase urban liveability, resilience and prosperity in cities through enhanced collaboration between public and private sector stakeholders worldwide. By doing so, we can create urban environments that are inherently beneficial to humanity and the planet.

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Cities and the multilateral agenda

Cities are hubs shaping the future of our planet and, this year, take central stage on the global agenda.

The Local Climate Action Summit at November’s United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28), the first-ever COP-hosted event for cities, demonstrates the urgency of engaging every level of government with every sector, organization, community and individual to fight the climate-nature crisis.

Cities are epicentres of human activity and the steam of global gross domestic product. They are also, however, drivers of urban sprawl and climate change, with an environmental impact equal to over 75% of global carbon emissions. The built environment alone is responsible for 39% of energy-related emissions, 33% of material consumption and waste, and 25% of land system change. Cities’ rapid expansion also exacerbates public health issues, with urban pollution being a prime contributor to respiratory diseases and mental health challenges.

This year, we are standing shoulder-to-shoulder with nation-states and peers worldwide to increase ambition and strengthen the next round of commitments. We are putting all our efforts into enhancing the voice of nature, listening to and learning from Indigenous People and Local Communities who steward and protect our most vital ecosystems, and turning Paris’s and Montreal’s ambitions into action.

While numerous agreements have been ratified to confront the global environmental crisis, the value of safeguarding nature and the role healthy ecosystems play in tackling climate change continues to be overlooked.

The Global Commission on Nature-Positive Cities

Solving the triple planetary crisis

As acknowledged by the United Nations, we are currently grappling with a triple planetary crisis, where challenges of climate change, biodiversity decline and desertification are deeply interlinked.

Cities can contribute to tackling these challenges. They should leverage comprehensive strategies of compact, mixed-use cities to accommodate the rise in urbanization while limiting urban sprawl and reclaiming space for nature.

While numerous agreements have been ratified to confront the global environmental crisis, the value of safeguarding nature and the role healthy ecosystems play in tackling climate change continues to be overlooked.

Nature-based strategies could supply 37% of the climate mitigation required by 2030 to limit global temperature rise to below 2 degrees Celsius. However, if action is delayed until after 2030, this window of opportunity could drop to 33% and only 22% after 2050.

But the benefits do not stop here. Besides enhancing urban resilience, nature-based solutions allow cities to increase social and health benefits while creating jobs and yielding economic value.

Take, for instance, the Transformative Riverine Management Project in Durban, which, in collaboration with the C40 City’s Finance Facility, has employed 10,000 individuals from marginalized communities to rejuvenate local rivers, thereby providing support for small businesses and facilitating a reconnection between people and the natural world.

Investments in nature also represent potential for significant economic opportunities: research has shown that every dollar spent on investing in more resilient infrastructure in low- and middle-income countries provides $4 in benefits and every dollar spent in transforming the global energy system provides a payoff of $3-7.

In New York City, for example, profits from investments in blue-green infrastructure solutions for flood and stormwater management are projected to be more than 100%, deriving from a cost and loss avoidance from flooding, as well as the long-term added value derived from improved air and water quality, enhanced physical health and recreational opportunities.

Despite these multifaceted advantages, the restoration of nature to achieve interlinked climate and environmental objectives has been significantly delayed. While land-based climate solutions are prevalent in more than 75% of individual country commitments to the Paris Agreement, these receive 30 times less public investment than renewable energy, energy efficiency, and clean transportation solutions.

The Global Commission on Nature-Positive Cities firmly acknowledges the role cities can play in changing this course and is ready to support local governments in advancing targeted action in benefit of nature.

Only through palpable examples can we influence global practice and local action, and demonstrate the significant advantages nature solutions entail.

The global approach and composition of our community allows for a tailored application of natural climate solutions according to context-specific social, economic and cultural needs.

Action cities can take now

A unanimous message echoes across the global community working on climate and sustainability: delaying action is no longer an option.

As local leaders, we cannot solely rely on guidance from national governments, and we must transform our vision towards nature to lead our organizations to work with it rather than against it.

To contribute to these objectives, we aim to deliver actionable results applicable at the city scale by:

  • Defining principles and enablers for a nature-positive transition at the city level.
  • Identifying, compiling and prioritizing existing nature-positive ambitions for cities.
  • Providing roadmaps for cities to assess their readiness to advance in the transition.
  • Offering examples of replicable solutions.
  • Fostering dynamic public-private collaborations that bridge gaps among governments, businesses and civil society.

Lead by example and pledge to:

  • Support and commit to existing nature-positive ambitions at the city level.
  • Advance in the journey to achieve nature-related targets by increasing public-private investment in nature-positive interventions and enabling technologies.
  • Measure progress across pilot cities pioneering the Nature-Positive transition, and inspire other cities to follow suit by 2050.

Nature-positive action worldwide

Today, we, the members of the Global Commission on Nature Positive Cities, make a resounding call to nature-positive action worldwide. We invite all cities, regardless of size or location, to share their experiences, successes and lessons learned. By pooling knowledge and best practices, cities can collectively chart a path towards sustainability, guided by the wisdom of many.

We are confident that taking decisive steps to protect and restore nature within cities’ boundaries is the best investment for creating liveable, resilient and sustainable urban environments that enhance the wellbeing of citizens worldwide and safeguard the precious ecosystems upon which all life depends.

Join us in this transformative journey towards nature-positive urban development.

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