Nature-based climate action in cities: a no-brainer to bolster urban climate resilience

Nathalie Pettorelli

ZSL’s Dr Nathalie Pettorelli on what still needs to be done as COP27 heads into its final days…

As climate change accelerates, cities, and the people that live in them, are going to feel most of the consequences. Rising global average temperatures cause sea levels to soar, increases the number of extreme weather events and the spread of diseases, all with costly impacts on cities' basic services, infrastructure, housing, human livelihoods and health. Nature-based solutions offer a way to buffer against this. 

As part of COP27 Biodiversity Day, I co-created and spoke at a side event highlighting how rewilding, an important nature-based solution, can help cities across the world build resilience against the direct and indirect impacts of climate change. Side events are a vital part of the conference, giving a voice to experts so they can collaboratively explore ways to meet climate challenges, and offering attending organisations the opportunity to share important work on key climate issues. 

Together with the German Institute of Development and Sustainability (IDOS), York University, SPVS - Wildlife Research and Environmental Education Institute, and Fundação Grupo Boticário de Proteção à Natureza, we discussed the health, climate and nature benefits that nature-based climate action could bring to cities

Nathalie Pettorelli presents at COP27 on the benefits of urban rewilding

Our message was straightforward: nature recovery in cities is a no-brainer when it comes to climate change adaptation, and this should happen now. For example, urban nature recovery can help increase the rate of water infiltration, slow water flows and reduces risk of riverbank collapse and erosion, all very relevant benefits when faced with increased frequency of floodings, as are many parts of the UK. Bringing back nature can also help cool cities and reduce the enhanced impacts of air pollution during heatwaves. Urban rewilding can promote the establishment of drought and heatwave resistant species and the creation of microhabitat creation by ecosystem engineer species, thereby helping buffer urban biodiversity against extreme climatic events. 

Bringing back nature in cities is of course only part of the way forward to address the intertwined climate and biodiversity crises we face. COP27 in Egypt must deliver the solid governmental commitments we need to drastically reduce global greenhouse gas emissions and support nature recovery everywhere, at scale. We have already seen calls for the setting of science-based mangrove restoration targets and $350 million pledged to nature-based solutions at COP27, but because limiting global temperature rise to 1.5C is impossible without protecting and restoring ecosystems, and because climate change poses increasing levels of threats to biodiversity, world leaders also have to reach an ambitious sister deal for nature at the upcoming Cop15 biodiversity conference. 


Mangrove rehabilitation in the Philippines

We know what we need to do; we have known what to do for quite a while. Right now, we are running out of time to secure a future we all want to live in. As the climate and ecological emergencies intensify due to continued governmental inertia for the past decades, they require an urgent escalation of action on all fronts. Yet what we have seen so far are fears of backsliding on Glasgow pledge dominating climate talks, with some countries attempting to unpick agreements and water down commitments.

As we enter the final days of COP27, we simply can’t afford more failures to act. The ball is now with rich countries, which are predominantly responsible for the climate crisis; slow to transition to renewable energy and enabling fossil fuel giants to prosper; failing to acknowledge and address increased methane emissions from agriculture; and dragging their feet to pay for the "loss and damage" poorer nations have endured because of climate change, so that they can adapt and mitigate. Let’s hope these countries will get their act together and start acting responsibly in the coming days. Doing anything else will undermine UN processes credibility, and drastically reduce our chances to avoid a global environmental disaster.

An urban fox outside terraced housing

COP 27, followed by COP 19 in Panama in November and COP15 in Montreal in December, will together put a much-needed spotlight on the decline in global biodiversity. 

But without coordinated nature-based policies in place across the world, animals will continue to go extinct, ecosystems will continue to break down and climate change will continue to change life on earth as we know it. 

It is vital that governments commit to using nature-based solutions - rooted in science from ZSL and organisations like it - to tackle the combined threats of climate change, biodiversity loss and public health crises.

It is with science that those in power must start: throughout conference season, ZSL is calling for world leaders to put nature at the heart of all global decision-making to better protect ecosystems, wildlife and the communities who rely on them.


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Nature at the heart of global decision making

At ZSL, a key area of our work is the employment of Nature-based Solutions – an approach which both adapt to and mitigates the impacts of climate change. These Solutions, which include habitat protection and restoration, are low-cost yet high-impact, and provide multiple benefits to people and wildlife. We ensure that biodiversity recovery is at the heart of nature-based solutions. 

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