International Day for Biological Diversity - "We're part of the solution"

Saturday 22 May 2021 is International Day for Biological Diversity - a day of recognition for Biological Diversity. Globally we are reviewing our connection with the natural world and one thing is certain - we are completely dependent on thriving ecosystems - despite technological advances.

The theme for Biodiversity Day 2021 is "We're part of the solution".

In this post, CIBSE Resilient Cities Advisory Member, Derek Clements-Croome emphasises the dependence and importance we have on ecosystems.

“Biodiversity is the backbone of life on earth”

“It's how the planet continues to live”

Comments from the biodiversity survey of respondents in Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham in London 2017-18

In 2017, the Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham set up a Commission on Bio-diversity and I was privileged to be a member of this. This is an adapted and very brief summary of our work.

Biodiversity is extremely complex, dynamic and varied like no other feature of the earth. Its innumerable plants, animals and microbes inhabit land, air and water physically and chemically constituting a global environmental system that underlies our life on earth. The oceans and land act as carbon sinks too, so these play a vital role in the plans to deal with climate change. The vast Amazon forests, for example, make a big impact on world CO2 emissions.

Through biodiversity, we may live healthier and happier lives physically and mentally. Plants give us oxygen to breathe and a vast array of foods and materials. Without a diversity of pollinators, plants and soils, our supermarkets would have far less produce. Parks, woodlands and allotments provide habitat for wildlife, beauty to lift our spirits and invisible support for our immunity through plants’ airborne microbes and volatile oils. Forest bathing has featured in Japanese life for many years but now has become part of many wellness programmes in many western countries.

Ecosystems are a vital part of the urban green infrastructure providing drainage and pollution control, and contribute much to our economy, but the economic value of wetlands absorbing chemicals from water, microbes transforming waste into usable products, trees and plants cleaning the air, or green spaces reducing healthcare costs are often ignored in policy development. We can learn from the photosynthesis process, how to utilise the hydrogen produced in the chemical exchange or how algae can be harvested to produce biogas.

Genetic diversity prevents diseases and helps species adjust to changes in their environment. Many medical discoveries, to cure diseases and lengthen life spans, were made through research into plant and animal biology and genetics. Every time a species becomes extinct or genetic diversity is lost, we lose the potential source of a new vaccine, drug or plant medicine.

If we allow biodiversity to deteriorate this will impact human health besides that of flora and fauna in general. Consider the impact of climate change on the bleaching of the coral reefs for example.

The Importance of Green Space

Only half of people in England live within 300 metres of green space and the amount of green space available is expected to decrease as urban infrastructure expands. The health benefits of green spaces include:
  • spaces for physical activity to offset illnesses associated with sedentary urban lifestyles, which are increasing economic and social costs;
  • better mental and physical health;
  • the risk of mortality caused by cardiovascular disease is lower in residential areas that are surrounded by green space;
  • nature can soften the effects of mental stress and loneliness;
  • crime tends to be less in green space areas;

There are challenges to providing green spaces in urban areas, such as the increasing competition for space to enable parks to be established, and to make them easily accessible to all. Funding for their creation and maintenance is always a problem but their social value is often forgotten. However, we have witnessed during COVID 19 how really important gardens, parks and allotments are in our daily lives. Biodiversity brings so many health benefits and these ultimately relieve pressure on the NHS.

Architects like Vincent Callebaut and Ken Yeang show us that cities new or old can be greener either in plan form or vertically like the DNA tower in Taipei or the Bosco Verticale in Milan for example. Biodiversity needs to be at the top of the climate change and health wellbeing agendas of Governments, Local Authorities, city and town planners worldwide.

Derek Clements-Croome with acknowledgement to fellow commissioners on bio-diversity in Hammersmith and Fulham

The CIBSE Resilient Cities group aims to provide leadership and knowledge on the adaptability, sustainability and resilience of cities. It brings together industry experts interested in developing means and methods for systems thinking for the adaptability of cities in the face of increasing impacts of climate change.


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