Nature’s contribution to urban resilience

Cities are in the front line of climate change. At the end of May, the city of Bonn welcomed the participants of the Resilient Cities Conference 2014, for the 5th Forum on Urban Resilience and Adaptation organized by ICLEI. This annual get-together of scientists, governments, cities, business and NGOs, is the place for a lively exchange on the latest scientific findings and action areas relevant to addressing climate change at the local level.

I attended the conference on behalf of IUCN, and of the URBES – Urban Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services project that IUCN is a partner of. The URBES project bridges the knowledge gap on the role of urban biodiversity and ecosystem services for human well-being. It further aims to inform urban management and decision-makers on how to best integrate the natural environment and human needs. URBES had a strong presence at this year’s forum and organized an interactive training session on urban resilience, as well as two panel sessions to share knowledge and experiences on the role of nature-based solutions in climate adaptation. The training provided participants with knowledge, tools and methodologies to model urban ecosystems in resilience assessment, and how this can support decision-making.

Ecosystem-based adaptation to climate change relies on the services provided by nature and the URBES project has found evidence of the wide potential of urban ecosystem services to support local adaptation efforts.

I was particularly impressed with some of the very practical examples of ecosystem services in the urban environment that were presented at the URBES sessions. One interesting presentation, for example, was given by Sebastian Marcel Witte, Climate Protection Manager of the city of Arnsberg in Germany, who showed how restoring nature in urban areas can support flood protection. In response to extreme rainfall in 2007, the city decided to enhance the river capacity to take up water by renaturing more than 30 km of riverbed areas of the Ruhr and smaller streams in and near the city, instead of choosing for traditional solutions, like dams or dikes. This solution has paid off in multiple ways, as not only the flooding risk has been substantially decreased, but it also increased biodiversity, created jobs and is of high value for tourism. Arnsberg is also one of the 1st German cities to fulfill the ecological conditions of the European Water Framework Directive.

In one of the URBES practitioner workshops, a new toolkit for local governments was launched by ICLEI. This toolkit is called “The Nature of Mainstreaming: a local integrated planning toolkit for biodiversity and ecosystem services”, and was designed to improve the ability of local governments to incorporate biodiversity protection across departments, and is the culmination of input from practitioners. Another tool that was presented by post-doctoral researcher Sophie Schetke from the University of Bonn, used multi criteria analysis to help city planners to understand links between urban design, ecosystem services and quality of life. This tool includes the development of an indicator framework to assist planners to measure the benefits of urban ecosystem services. Both toolkits are outputs of the URBES project to combine researcher and practitioner knowledge to translate science into action.

For me, the Resilient Cities conference has once again demonstrated the urgency of making a transition towards an economic model that is in balance with nature. This requires solid knowledge and understanding as well as continuous monitoring of biodiversity and ecosystems and their services at all levels, within and around cities, but also at regional and national level.

At IUCN, we are well equipped to drive forward this discussion and I look forward to continuing our dialogue with ICLEI, governments at all levels and other key partners who joined the Resilient Cities conference to help shape the cities of the future by building on nature’s solutions : cities that are resilient, liveable and provide a high quality of life to their inhabitants.


Chantal van Ham

EU Programme Officer
Focal point for local and regional authorities

IUCN EU Representative Office