Connectivity of green and blue infrastructures: living veins for biodiverse and healthy cities

IPBES Global Assessment Summary

The IPBES has today released a summary of its Global Assessment of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services.

The IPBES highlights that:

1 million species are threatened with extinction
20% of the abundance of wild terrestrial species has been lost
9% of domesticated breeds have gone extinct and at least 1,000 are threatened

The top-ranked threat to biodiversity and ecosystem services is land-use change and sea-use change, followed by direct exploitation of species, and climate change. 75% of the land and 66% of the oceans have been significantly altered by human activity. Crop production, timber harvest and non-renewable resource extraction have all increased in the past decades.

Urban areas have more than doubled since 1992. Since 1970 the global population has risen from 3.7 to 7.6 billion people. Over the past 50 years, the global economy has grown 4 fold and global trade has increased 10-fold. Ecosystems and agricultural systems are becoming more similar and less locally distinct across the globe.

Negative trends in biodiversity and ecosystems are undermining progress towards 80% of the Sustainable Development Goals.

The report argues that biodiversity and ecosystem services will continue to decline in all future scenarios unless transformative systemic change is enacted. By this, they mean changes in paradigms, goals, and values. For urban environments, the report calls for “promotion of nature-based solutions; increasing access to urban services and a healthy urban environment for low-income communities; improving access to green spaces; sustainable production and consumption and ecological connectivity within urban spaces, particularly with native species.”

One of their levers for transformative change particularly interests me: “(4) managing for resilient social and ecological systems in the face of uncertainty and complexity to deliver decisions that are robust in a wide range of scenarios.” Businesses, and the global capitalist economy in general, are dependent on reducing risk. While they may talk about being flexible and adaptible to changing times and economic scenarios, businesses stay in business by controlling their environments and keeping sources of instability as external to them as possible. Recent socioeconomic trends have, for example, seen the outsourcing of instability and precarity to the younger generation of (short-term) employees. Ironically, while our parents’ generation is terrified of exposure to risk, we may be experts at handling it. (This is not to say that the future need be some kind of diseases-of-poverty and unhappiness-inducing land of moral judgement on one's failure to achieve success, as precarity is currently expressed. Compassion and solidarity go well with resilience.) Elements of humanity took the wrong turn when they thought we could control uncertainty through technology and financial mechanisms: we ended up creating even bigger, more uncontrollable risks via climate change and biodiversity loss. In a sort-of-optimistic way, I hope that climate change will break our control mechanisms and force us to reinvent the wheel in our understanding of what it means to be flexible and resilient. This in itself would be a large part of the paradigm shift and the solution to biodiversity and ecosystem service loss.

Cities are breeding grounds for the ephemeral, the new, the local, the risky, the precarious, the reinvented. The IPBES is a cry to the power brokers of the world. They may listen, or they may not. But you don’t have to wait and see what happens. Here are some ideas:

If you live in a city, find a project to do in the countryside. Make positive landscape links, learn from nature, build solidarity between rural and urban.

Don’t think its all about changing your consumption. Consumption is too passive and solitary to be the whole answer. Find a group and make something together. If you’re ambitious to make a big tangible impact but you need ideas, look for a group like Makesense to help you get started (makesense.org/en).

Read. There are lots of clever people who already have lots of practical experience changing the world in the direction we need to go. The knowledge exists and its inspiring. Try starting with Wilding by Isabella Tree.

Images come from the IPBES Global Assessment Launch Media Materials.

--Meredith Root-Bernstein 6-5-2019