The increasing domination of nature by humans or the psychological separation of humans from nature is the root cause of biosphere degradation that we are experiencing today. The human-nature dualism, largely originated in the industrialized countries has become wider in the globe and has delivered many negative effects. Growing materialism among the human beings drives them into the cities, adding pressure to urban life and ecosystem.
As estimated, by 2050, 80% of the world’s population will be living in cities. Rapid urbanization is a major driver of environmental imbalance and biodiversity loss. Cities cover only 2% of land space worldwide but consume 75% of the resources by importing from around. It is ironic that cities draw resources from ecosystems and affects ecosystems through emissions of various forms.
As cities are connected to larger ecosystems and donot exist in isolation, these negative impacts go far beyond urban boundaries and affect biodiversity and ecosystems regionally and globally. Continuous human inflow into these compels the cities to gradually eat away surrounding areas of ecosystems. There is a greater potential for continued destruction of local natural environment. Species are becoming extinct at alarming rates. Resources are being exploited at a much greater rate than the capacity of the planet to regenerate them. To say the least, urban areas have sacrificed biodiversity for development purposes.
We need to change the way we deal with nature for ecological restoration. Maintaining a harmonious and respectful relationship with local nature is the key for our survival in the planet. Our interaction with nature should be positive. Conservation of local urban biodiversity, everywhere unique in its own right, is essential and paramount to global ecosystem conservation, sustainability and human survival on the planet. The living diversity of nature biodiversity is the variability among living organisms, be they part of terrestrial, marine or aquatic ecosystems.
Biodiversity supports essential functions of ecosystems such as the regulations of the impacts of floods and droughts, and the purification of air and water. It provides food, fibre, medicines, fuels and materials for various industries. Having nature in the city is part of addressing urban environmental justice. Urban biodiversity with its natural habitats and species in and around cities contributes to the wellbeing of urban dwellers. Healthy ecosystems provide cities with a range of services.
Urban areas are the varied, complicated, intensely developed and influential background in which we humans meet head-on with the global challenge of how to interact more harmoniously and locally with the rest of the natural world. Urban ecological restoration is critical to urban and rural ecological sustainability. Urban biodiversity can reduce the urban heat island effect, provide recreational space and improve urban aesthetics. It also increases the quality of urban life and enriches public health conditions.
Urban biodiversity conservation can also lead to cost savings by reducing the need of engineering solutions for the management of rainwater runoff or the treatment of water for city water supply. Integration of mechanisms of biodiversity preservation and enrichment into urban planning is the need of the day. It can be done without incurring significant costs.
By promoting quality green space within cities biodiversity can be protected and enhanced. Large green spaces in the city act as carbon ‘sinks’ and control climate change. Bringing green space to the urban landscape can promote and inspire a better relationship with the environment. Apart from supporting a variety of species and habitats, urban green space contributes to essential services including water filtration and absorption, nutrient cycling, air filtration and noise buffering. Also, this space develops better social interaction and improves the quality of living through its aesthetic appeal. This arrangement in urban areas facilitates greater environmental responsibility. The promotion and conservation of green space in cities is in the hands of local and regional authorities.
Promoting natural vegetation everywhere in the city strengthens resistance to floods and droughts, and promotes healthier biological processes such as pollination. Abundant vegetation can facilitate more diverse animal and insect species in the city as different animals depend on different plant species. Local vegetation hardly needs any maintenance cost. Many species of local vegetation reseed themselves and live several years, requiring little human attendance or input of water and fertilizers. Assembly of diverse plant species improves soil health, absorbs flood water and helps in water filtration.
Urban land–use planning and regulation play a fundamental role in conserving ecosystems and creating green belts. However, smaller efforts can help revitalize urban biodiversity conservation. There is a role to play for property development companies by popularizing green design solutions like green roofs and green walls. Green roofs, the planting of vegetation on rooftops, ideally replace the vegetated footprint that is destroyed through the construction of the building.
They can help manage the storm water runoff, increase the thermal performance of the buildings and conserve energy, and reduce the urban heat island effect. It will also see rise of the number of birds using the roof. Green walls, vegetation growing directly on a building’s facade, have similar numerous benefits and help improve indoor air quality.
Urban agriculture can be another solution and at the same time can provide commercial opportunities. One acre of urban agriculture, using urban organic waste as input, can save more than five acres of rural marginal agricultural land. It can produce vegetables for local market, thus reducing transportation, storage and packaging needs. In addition to that, it can contribute to soil conservation and improve urban hydrology and micro climate. Similarly, community gardens that add to biodiversity enhancement can be developed by collective effort of city dwellers. Also, on water front, so much can be done. Rainwater harvesting can play an important part in urban biodiversity conservation. Reduction of water run-off from buildings and concrete roads will be possible through techniques of waste water management.
As more and more people are living in densely populated cities, the quality of urban life and public health impacts are becoming of greater concern. So, urban biodiversity research and practices should be advanced and be linked to urban design principles. For sustainable urban development, urban biodiversity can be seen as the tool. A strategic approach towards biodiversity conservation, that goes beyond occasional tree planting and conservation of individual heritage trees at building sites, is required to be followed.
Policies are required to be developed to screen the supply chain and broader value chain of biodiversity impacts and ensure products are being sourced from sustainable sources. Focus must be on studies and projects that aim to conserve biodiversity.
School and college students should be engaged under proper guidance to spread environment literacy and contribute their time for biodiversity conservation initiatives. Responsible consumption and proper material sourcing should be accorded top priority in everyday activities. To facilitate regeneration of native flora and fauna, local authorities along with civil society groups should come forward and integrate biodiversity concerns into master plans for the cities.
Biodiversity monitoring is a key aspect in the process of restoration. Notable decline of certain species like sparrows and vultures can be detected by effective monitoring mechanism. Yearly bird census and tree counting exercise will give a good understanding of changes over a period of time. Plant and animal species highly susceptible to seasonal variations should be noticed first and be prevented from being extinct by providing them suitable habitat.
About the Author: Himanshu Sekhar Panigrahi is the Dy. Manager-CSR working at Hindustan Copper Limited (A Government of India Enterprise). The views expressed in the article are personal.
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Disclaimer: The views expressed by the author in this feature are entirely his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of India CSR.