Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Urban Biosphere Initiative- post Rio+20

On 14th June, 2012, during the ICLEI Urban Nature Forum in the City of Belo Horizonte, Brazil, a multidisciplinary group of NGOs, research institutions, international organizations and local governments convened to unveil the Urban Biosphere (URBIS) Initiative – an open network fostering knowledge exchange and collaboration in the design and implementation of participatory, integrated, and sustainable urban development solutions. At a signing ceremony overseen by Dr. Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias, Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), Professor Thomas Elmqvist of Stockholm Resilience Center, Cllr David Cadman, President of ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability, over 30 organizations joined the network thereby agreeing to, inter alia, contribute good-practice case studies to a global database and participate in learning exchanges known as URBIS Dialogues.

Figure 1. URBIS Initiative signing ceremony on 14 June 2012. The ceremony followed a series of presentations and interactive discussions exploring the history, current developments, practical applications, and future opportunities for Urban Biospheres. 

Firstly, Josh Cerra (Cornell University) facilitated a panel of renowned scientists including Thomas Elmqvist (Stockholm Resilience Center), Marianne Krasny (Cornell University) and Peleg Kremer (The New School) to unearth the science that should feed into policy. They drew from cutting edge research to outline academic advances and aspects of social-ecological systems theory including education and value profiles in urban landscapes. Thereafter, a panel of URBIS partners facilitated by Russell Galt (ICLEI) shed further light on the URBIS initiative. Keith Tidball (Cornell University) charted the history, milestones and development of URBIS before Yoel Siegel (City of Jerusalem) reported on the outcomes of the 1st international URBIS workshop recently hosted by the City of Jerusalem and outlined some good practices implemented in the city. Similarly, Katrin Hammarlund (Swedish Society for Nature Conservation), presented measures taken in the Stockholm Urban Biosphere to conserve and promote the benefits of green infrastructure.

The aforementioned signing ceremony which followed was graced by additional dignitaries including the Commissioner of Hyderabad, Babu M.T. Krishna, whose city will play host to the next CBD Conference of the Parties.

Kobie Brand (ICLEI) stated: “It is most encouraging that so many organizations appreciate the critical role of cities in the sustainability agenda and also recognize the tremendous utility of learning exchanges in spurring collaborative action. This constitutes a major milestone in our collective efforts to engender urban regions with greater social-ecological resilience in the context of global environmental change.”

 Figure 2. Dignitaries in the URBIS ceremony (from left to right): Kumar Emani, Executive Director, ICLEI South Asia office; Babu M.T. Krishna, Commissioner of Hyderabad; Gino van Begin, Deputy Secretary General, ICLEI; Thomas Elmqvist, Professor, Stockholm Resilience Center; David Cadman, President, ICLEI; Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias, Executive Secretary, CBD Secretariat; Kobie Brand, Global Biodiversity Coordinator, ICLEI; and Oliver Hillel, Programme Officer, CBD Secretariat. Image: R. Galt. 


The concept of urban biosphere (URBIS) emerged amidst increasing awareness that cities are not discrete, self-contained entities, but rather are dynamic nodes of activity, absorbing vast quantities of natural resources, producing massive amounts of waste, interacting profoundly with their encompassing bioregions, and substantially altering both near and distant ecosystems. At the same time, modern cities offer unprecedented and often untapped opportunities for innovation, efficiency-gains, leadership and social organization. The imperative for action to harness such opportunities and render extractive cities more ecologically restorative spurred the birth of an international initiative to address the design and governance of urban regions and surrounding ecosystems. Today, the URBIS initiative comprises a global alliance of partners aspiring to reconcile urban development with the conservation of biodiversity and the sustainable use of natural resources – a quest to engender cities with greater social-ecological resilience in the context of global environmental change. The initiative aligns with broader international efforts to implement the ecosystem approach and build inclusive green urban economies. In particular, the initiative seeks to contribute to the achievement of the CBD Aichi Targets, specifically Decision X/22 and the Plan of Action endorsed therein to promote engagement of local governments in the Convention.

The Cities Biodiversity Center of ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability hosts the URBIS Secretariat, a role which is executed in close partnership with the Stockholm Resilience Centre (SRC) as Scientific Coordinator and the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (SCBD) as a facilitator between local, sub-national and national governments. Partners include local and sub-national governments, ministries, international organizations, non-governmental organizations, research institutions and individuals. At the 10th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP10), in Nagoya, Japan, 2010, a number of additional partners formalized their support for the URBIS initiative by way of a declaration. These partners include Cornell University, the United Nations University (UNU), the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation as well as a number of founding cities. More recently, The New School of New York has become an active URBIS partner and several cities including Jerusalem, Sao Paulo, Montreal and Stockholm, have taken a leading role in developing and promoting the initiative. For more information about the URBIS Initiative, see