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Cities, Biodiversity and Governance: Perspectives and Challenges of the Implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity at the City Level
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This report was written by Jose Antonio Puppim de Oliveira, Osman Balaban, Christopher Doll, Raquel Moreno-Penaranda, Alexandros Gasparatos, Deljana Iossifova, and Aki Suwa

The report is available for download here.

City governments can contribute more to implementing the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), as the 2010 target to reduce the rate of biodiversity loss set by governments during the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002 is not being achieved. The necessity for city governance to tackle the challenges of biodiversity loss has increased as urban populations have grown enormously in the last decades, particularly in developing countries. The way cities are designed, planned, and governed influence the amount of their direct and indirect impacts on biodiversity.

However, the process of interaction between cities and biodiversity is still not well understood, both in theory and in practice. This gap needs to be closed if we want to make progress on the implementation of CBD since more than half of the world’s population lives in cities today. As cities are the consumption centres of world resources, and this proportion will grow in the future, there is no time to lose.

This report analyses the general relationships among cities, local governance, and biodiversity. Initially, it will examine the relationships between cities and biodiversity by looking at the major influences cities can have on biodiversity loss or on conservation within and outside the city boundaries, as well as the benefits of biodiversity conservation for cities, such as the provision of ecosystem services. The report then moves to understand the main instruments and governance mechanisms that exist, allowing cities to effectively implement the directives of CBD.

Cities are some of the biggest beneficiaries of biodiversity and ecosystem services, as citizens and economic activities depend on those services. However, their involvement in the CBD process is still limited as compared to their potential contribution and amount of benefits they could gain from biodiversity. There are many conceptual underpinnings and governance obstacles to overcome, and we need to create new and adapt existing conservation strategies, as well as city planning and management instruments to deal with biodiversity properly.

Nevertheless, the interest of cities in the biodiversity agenda is moving fast, and there are a lot of opportunities to bring cities to be effective actors in the implementation of CBD. This requires a large effort for collective action to create better governance mechanisms. Good governance at the city level, which indeed can deliver an effective implementation of CBD, depends on governmental and non-governmental actors, not only from one city but from other levels of governments, including international organisations, and of course the cities themselves. The key point in the governance structure is not only the capacity of individual organisations but the strength of coordination among them.

Urbanisation creates new challenges for biodiversity conservation. As a large part of the world’s population gradually moves from rural to urban areas, there are changes in the link between human activities and biodiversity, and consequently in the way we should think about biodiversity conservation policies. Scarce attention has been given to understanding how to make cities more biodiversity-friendly, not only within, but particularly in the faraway places.

Understanding how cities can create better governance mechanisms to effectively support the preservation of biodiversity within and beyond city boundaries is the key to implement the directives of the CBD. The actors, instruments, and processes that should be in place are still not completely understood enough to move the city and biodiversity agenda forward. This report argues the need to study the conceptual underpinnings of the relationships among city, governance, and biodiversity to create the basis for policies at the global, national, and local level, as well as provide some practical insights on the way to move the biodiversity agenda in cities forward.

UNU-IAS/2010/No. 3
ISBN 978-92-808-4517-4
October 2010, B5, 62 pages
Download report as a .pdf file (898 KB)

On implementation of CBD at the local level, the Sustainable Urban Futures Programme collaborates with Local Action for Biodiversity.

Local Action for Biodiversity (LAB) is a global biodiversity programme coordinated by ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability in partnership with IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature). LAB’s approach is action-oriented and customized for local and regional authorities and their partners around the world, with the goal of improved and effective biodiversity management at the local level. LAB is a key component of, and contributor to, the Global Partnership on Cities and Biodiversity, chaired by the Secretariat for the Convention on Biological Diversity and launched at IUCN’s 2008 World Conservation Congress in Barcelona.

LAB started in 2006 with 21 pioneer cities and local governments who are international leaders in managing biodiversity at the local level. The Programme is coordinated by a team of biodiversity experts who offer support to all participants in the form of technical assistance, provision of networking and profiling opportunities and, together with partners, providing a platform for global advocacy. Capacity, objectives and requirements vary among local authorities and accordingly LAB offers a variety of entry points for participation.

In supporting the implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity, LAB and UNU-IAS contribute in a mutually supportive manner. LAB works intensively with local governments, using the lessons learned to inform and lend credibility to global advocacy and policy formulation; while the research of UNU-IAS synthesizes such information and helps to mainstreams it into the United Nations system.

For more information contact the LAB team at lab[at] or visit the LAB website at

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