"Governments and the finance sector are the key"

Paque das Aguas in Campinas in Brasil

In Campinas, Brazil, INTERACT-Bio improves the understanding of biodiversity in the cities. Photo: Carlos Bassan

Cities are responsible for more than two thirds of the world's human-made CO2 emissions. At the same time, they are particularly sensitive to the effects of climate change. But how can cities become climate and environmentally friendly? The IKI project "INTERACT-Bio Integrated regional action for biodiversity" is focusing on nature-based solutions in three cities in Brazil, Tanzania and India. At the same time, it is using effective communication tools to improve the understanding of local people of the interrelationships between ecosystems and a liveable everyday life in urban centres. An interview with the project advisory board and staff of the CBD Secretariat Oliver Hillel about the project work on three continents.

Mr Hillel, many people have lost touch with nature, particularly in cities. How do you manage to raise awareness of key ecosystem-related services and the importance of their conservation?

Oliver Hillel: This is one of the most challenging paradoxes of this post-COVID-19 world: urban quality of life is threatened as never before by biodiversity loss, yet the level of awareness of urban dwellers on the many benefits they get, and the many dependencies they have from nature is at its lowest.

Everything you eat comes from biodiversity. Clean freshwater comes to your home 10 times cheaper if it has been depurated by diverse wetlands, and will have contributed to climate resilience, peri-urban soil fertility and water security. The way we work in cities and rural areas, your choices in every purchase and every election – all those influence forests thousands of miles away, as well as the quality of the most distant seas on our “little blue dot”. Yet we have very little idea of this and our lack of awareness has contributed to this integrated climate-economy-biodiversity crisis.

This is why International Climate Initiative (IKI) Interact-Bio project in relevant cities in three megadiverse countries, led by ICLEI with the support of the Secretariat of the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD), is essential in testing tools for awareness raising, participative planning and governance of  nature in and for cities. The IKI project is working with citizens, and bringing these chains to people’s minds and hearts. For example, when urban planners in Campinas, in South America, or in Kochi in India, put their heads together to produce an interactive map of the assets and benefits they perceive from nature to their city, and to measure them using the best monitoring tools available, new solutions will come up naturally.

INTERACT-Bio uses, for example, well-designed biodiversity maps. What are the advantages of such communication tools?

Mapping is a social effort in conjugating space, time and resources for achieving good and services, it is a roadmap for people. It is a cartography of human knowledge, not of landscape accidents. Producing maps needs to involve “people everywhere’, it needs to engage and represent the needs and expectations of all.

Communications tools, such as these and others produced by ICLEI’s INTERACT-Bio and UNA Rivers projects, help to present complex subjects and information in an easily understandable graphic format to decision-makers in urban settings, with accessible messages. These techniques have been successfully used in various settings, combining customized information with input from local experts; on this basis, local governments can make informed decisions about managing and investing in green space, and green and blue infrastructure. The assessments and mapping done in the INTERACT-Bio project will be used well beyond the project’s duration to create awareness of the presence and value of nature in the project cities, and to inspire officials and the public to protect and benefit from urban nature.

In your opinion, what is the advantage of Nature based Solutions (NbS) especially in cities?

In the strict sense of the climate change negotiations, and in its original concept as proposed by IUCN, NbS means “actions to protect, sustainably manage, and restore natural or modified ecosystems, that address societal challenges effectively and adaptively, simultaneously providing human well-being and biodiversity benefits”, i.e. the emphasis is on managing ecosystems. We are witnessing the expansion of the concept to include all actions for societal change inspired by, and built on, scientific evidence on the functions, services, benefits and dependencies between nature and people.

The scientific evidence goes beyond just managing nature for everyone’s benefit. We already speak about sponge cities and urban metabolism: now we need to speak more about coral reef and rainforest cities. For the IKI project and its successors, NbS will come to mean putting nature, the preconditions and opportunities as well as limitations it puts to our development and well-being, into the very texture of the City. From design to development, management and the monitoring its infrastructure and budgets,; into every urban and rural blueprint and standard, and into every project engineering critical path analysis, landscape plan and financial flowchart.

Who are the key stakeholders, how should they be involved and what are the necessary instruments to ensure sustainable financing for biodiversity-friendly measures in cities

Oliver Hillel

From the perspective of the Convention, governments are the key players as they have legislative, executive and judiciary mandates and their central role is to articulate all the others. The CBD’s 196 Parties have already had 10 years of experience in implementing what was then a visionary Plan of Action for the Engagement of Cities, Subnational Governments and other Local Authorities, adopted in decision X/22, in its work, and urbanization has been recognized as a leading “nexus” in the assessments of the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). Now, the Edinburgh Process, again blazing a trail among the Multilateral Environmental Agreements, will ensure that all levels of government cooperate for the post-2020 framework.

The Convention has also identified the finance sector as a key player. Ranging from multilateral to central banks and from investors to reinsurance agents, it has the capacity to guide and constrain operations of all other sectors. Other two critical groups of actors, business and civil society as a whole, decisively interact with finance in creating conditions for green approaches to expand. The Secretariat continues to work with experts, including ICLEI’s, in the Resource Mobilization initiative of the CBD and other global expert networks to identify and upscale solutions, such as green bonds, blended finance and tax reform issues.

National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans (NBSAP) define the biodiversity goals of a country.  A successful cooperation between national and sub-national levels of government is necessary for implementation. How can projects like INTERACT-Bio contribute to this and promote implementation at sub-national and local level?

A “whole of government” view, including the careful application of the decentralization principles in the ecosystem approach as the framework of the Convention, is behind the long-term approach to mainstreaming, currently being developed in the CBD in cooperation with ICLEI.

INTERACT-Bio was already born of the lessons learned with ICLEI’s Local Action for Biodiversity project since 2006, and of the endorsement of the Plan of Action in 2010. Now we need to expand this. Project partners will exchange experiences in ICLEI’s CitiesWithNature Commitment Platform, being developed to support the CBD “Sharm to Kunming Action Agenda”, to mobilize all Parties and their local and subnational governments. One of the reasons the Secretariat sits in the Board of this project is to ensure that lessons will be taken to the regular summits held in parallel to CBD COP. Examples and lessons from IKI will be shared at the Summit in Kunming.

What is of particular importance in the development of Local Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans?

Conditions will include political will, awareness levels of citizens, the institutional capacity, and the legal, policy and programme framework in which cities, subnational government and other local authorities function. In the context of the CBD, the most essential is that strategies and plans be developed and implemented in “whole of government” approaches. Local plans need to be anchored in landscape plans well-articulated with NBSAPs aligned with the post-2020 framework and the SDGs, as well as with other global commitments such as on climate and land management. Now is the time to ensure that the Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF), as the blueprint for the next 30 years, has been designed, and will be implemented, with the full participation of all levels of governance, formal (i.e. articulated in legal procedure), semi-formal (e.g. municipalities) and informal (e.g. People’s and/or Talanoa Dialogues, etc).

What are the critical factors to transfer the experience gained from projects like INTERACT-Bio to other regions and cities, and to anchor it more firmly in international processes?

It is critical to identify most replicable best practices in their “enabling environments” to implement the Post 2020 GBF so that lessons learned can be adjusted and replicated. How can lessons within the ICLEI and IKI community be exchanged with similar experiences in the World Bank and the Global Environment Facility? Those approaches can be leveraged by keeping a longer-term presence in its current three project countries, while expanding to other biodiversity champions such as China, Colombia and South Africa for example and among many others. More specifically, the next steps could include bridging gaps between NBSAP commitments and local biodiversity actions through multilevel collaboration; creating financial mechanisms specifically for local implementation of NBSAPs; strengthening global exchange and knowledge-generation platforms such as the CitiesWithNature partnership initiative, and fostering peer learning and partnerships through online interactions, exchange visits, and events.