Invest in nature and reap cash benefits, World Economic Forum urges cities

BARCELONA, Jan 17 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – After a landslide in 2017 killed 1,141 people and left more than 3,000 homeless in Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown, the recovery plan included training residents to plant 21,000 native trees to reduce the risk of future disasters on bare land. hillsides.

Amid erratic and unusually heavy rains, as well as urban sprawl, the city’s mayor has also launched a “Freetown the Treetown” campaign to increase green coverage by 50% by the end of 2022, residents tracking tree growth via a smartphone app.

Meanwhile, in Seoul, South Korea, the city government has been working with residents to restore Cheonggyecheon Stream, a river covered by a highway overpass for decades.

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The Nature Revitalization Project, conducted in the early 2000s, has reduced traffic, flooding and temperatures, spurred nearly $2 billion in urban redevelopment and attracts 64,000 visitors daily.

Such examples suggest why cities around the world should invest more in expanding green spaces and maintaining the natural systems that provide water, food and clean air – not just to keep residents healthy and combat the risks of climate change, but to boost their economies, researchers said on Monday.

Yet despite the benefits of green urban improvements, little money is being spent on them, they said in a report released by the BiodiverCities by 2030 initiative.

This effort to green cities is led by the World Economic Forum (WEF), the Alexander von Humboldt Biological Resources Research Institute in Bogota, and the Colombian government.

Cities invest no more than 0.3% of their infrastructure spending in so-called ‘nature-based solutions’ – only around $28 billion in 2021, researchers have said, calling for an increase of this figure.

GDP AT RISK

Akanksha Khatri, head of nature and biodiversity at the WEF, said the conventional view that urban development and a healthy environment are at odds no longer holds.

“Nature can be the backbone of urban development,” she said in a statement. “By recognizing cities as living systems, we can support the health of people, the planet and the economy in urban areas.”

The report warns that if cities fail to protect their natural habitats, 44% of their gross domestic product, or $31 trillion globally, is at risk.

It could come from flooding – identified as the most common natural hazard in more than 1,600 cities with more than 300,000 people – due to issues such as the loss of coastal mangroves that prevent storm surges or clogged rivers from storm surges. waste, he said.

Other major threats related to climate and nature damage include drought – with one in four cities already under water stress – more severe heat waves and water and air pollution that harm human health.

The resulting economic losses could be avoided by investing a greater share of stretched municipal budgets in “green infrastructure” like parks, street trees, lakes, wetlands and rooftop gardens.

Spending $583 billion a year by 2030 on such solutions and projects that free up urban land for nature could create more than 59 million jobs, including 21 million dedicated to restoring and protecting natural ecosystems, note the report.

Nature-based solutions are on average 50% more cost-effective than man-made, heavy concrete options such as roads, buildings and paved areas, he found.

BREAK DOWN BARRIERS

Robert McDonald, a scientist at The Nature Conservancy and a member of the global BiodiverCities commission, said simply doubling spending on green infrastructure – which would still be a tiny fraction of city projects – would be “transformative for how which many cities feel they inhabit”.

Yet the traditional option of building concrete infrastructure still tends to win out, in part because of silos between city departments, he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Reaping the full benefits of expanding urban nature will require working with city governments, as well as businesses and citizens, he added.

The benefits of nature-based solutions, such as planting trees to shade and cool streets, are beginning to become evident as climate change takes its toll in the form of threats such as worsening heat waves hitting city ​​dwellers the hardest, McDonald noted.

This leads to wider recognition of the value of investing in nature, he said.

“Even people who really want to think about dollars and cents realize this connection,” he said.

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Reporting by Megan Rowling @meganrowling; edited by Laurie Goering. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which spans the lives of people around the world struggling to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org/climate

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