Nature in the Urban Century: CSTEP Post-Doc contributes to Nature in the Urban Century Assessment

Seaside urban setting permeated by plants and wildlife.

December 5, 2018—This century will be remembered as the urban century. By 2050, there will be 2.4 billion more people in cities, a rate of urban growth that is the equivalent of adding a city with the population of New York City every 6 weeks.

This growth means that the physical footprint of cities is expanding, often into natural habitat surrounding urban areas. As a result, crucial environments for biodiversity may be lost, and ecosystems providing vital climate change adaptation and mitigation benefits may be destroyed. The question is, where are these impacts going to be greatest, given projections of future urban growth? And what can cities do to grow in smarter, more sustainable ways that protect nature?

Dozens of the world’s scientists united to answer these questions, in an effort called the Nature in the Urban Century Assessment. Dr Maike Hamann, a postdoctoral researcher at the Center for STEP, contributed to the assessment by analysing the impacts of urban growth on habitats that store carbon and provide protection from coastal hazards like storm surge. Maike became involved in this project through her long-standing collaboration with The Nature Conservancy and the Natural Capital Project at the Institute on the Environment.

The assessment finds that, if current trends continue over the next two decades, urban growth will threaten more than 290,000 km2 of habitat—an area larger than New Zealand. By destroying natural habitat that stores carbon, urban growth could set free 4.35 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide – the equivalent of 931 million cars on the road for a year. In addition, urban areas in low-lying coastal zones that are protected by habitats such as coral reefs, salt marshes and mangroves, are expected to more than double in size to 23,000 km2 by 2030.

Infographic of Nature in the Urban Century findings

Even though the impacts of urbanization are potentially severe, there’s still time to protect critical natural habitat. Cities are vibrant places of opportunity and innovation, which means that these trends can be shifted with better planning for sustainable urban growth, careful management of protected areas near cities, and integration of habitat into cities. The assessment report details a number of strategies that local governments and international institutions can pursue to ensure a bright future for nature and people in the urban century.

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