BARCELONA, Spain (Reuters) - The world’s burgeoning cities must do more to safeguard animals and plants by increasing parkland, planting trees and recycling resources, the U.N.’s top biodiversity official said on Wednesday.
“The battle for life on earth will be won or lost in cities,” Ahmed Djoghlaf, executive secretary of the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity, told Reuters.
Cities cover just two percent of the planet’s land area but dictate 75 percent of the use of the world’s natural resources, he said. City dwellers have an impact far into the countryside, with rising demand for water and food.
“This growth of cities is not in developed countries, but in developing countries where there is still biodiversity. We want to make sure that this growth is not at the expense of biodiversity,” he said.
“Cities are not incompatible with the environment,” he added during an October 5-14 International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) congress in Barcelona. The IUCN said this week that a quarter of the world’s mammals are at risk of extinction.
Djoghlaf urged more cities to join a 2007 plan launched in Brazil when 34 mayors agreed to protect biodiversity, for instance by setting aside more land in parks, planting trees, shifting to renewable fuels and improving recycling.
That would make them better places, both for people and wildlife. A reforestation drive in the Japanese city of Nagoya, for instance, helped cut peak daytime temperatures by up to 4 degrees Celsius (7 Fahrenheit).
U.N. statistics show that half the world’s population now lives in urban areas and the proportion is likely to rise to two-thirds by 2050. Djoghlaf said 150 new cities would reach the size of New York by mid-century.
Many creatures and plants can paradoxically thrive in cities.
“We often tend to believe that cities are just stones,” he said. But he said Germany’s Munich “has more birds than other parts of the countryside -- intensive use of agriculture means biodiversity is finding refuge in cities.”
Wild boars were living in some urban areas in France while foxes thrive in London.
“The idea is to engage people,” he said. “The battle for life on earth will not be won only by bureaucrats...We are over-consuming, the footprint is exceeding the capacity of the planet.”
Editing by Ralph Boulton
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