Improving Urban Health, Biodiversity, and the Environment: HEART Contributions to the EU 2030 Biodiversity Strategy
We, as humans, depend on biodiversity for many of our resources. Nature is not only important for our physical and mental wellbeing, but it is also a significant component for society’s ability to cope with global change, health threats and disasters, as well as economic growth. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light the close links between human health and ecological systems. Therefore, as a result of the crisis nature is facing, the European Commission has launched in May 2020 the Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 which is a comprehensive, ambitious, and long-term plan to protect nature and reverse the degradation of ecosystems. It ultimately aims to ensure that by 2050 Europe’s ecosystems are restored, resilient, and adequately protected. This article explains how the HEART objectives are aligned with the Strategy ambitions. .
Protecting biodiversity is a global challenge, and the next decade will be decisive in that matter. The biodiversity crisis and the climate crisis are tightly linked. Climate change fast-tracks the destruction of the natural world as a result of droughts, floods, and wildfires, and in parallel, the unsustainable use of nature is a driving factor of climate change. But just as the crises are linked, so are the solutions.
The EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 includes multiples commitments and actions aimed at putting Europe’s biodiversity on a path to recovery by 2030. This Strategy aims to tackle the five main drivers of biodiversity loss, which are changing use of sea and land, direct exploitation of organisms, climate change, pollution, and invasive non-native species. It also aims to put in place an improved governance framework, fill in existing policy gaps, while consolidating existing efforts and ensuring the implementation of existing EU legislation.
The EU Biodiversity Strategy recognises the important link between urban health, biodiversity, and the environment. The Strategy is based on four pillars, which are “Protect Nature”, “Restore Nature”, “Enable Transformative Change” and “EU action to support biodiversity globally”. The second pillar aims not only at restoring nature, but at ensuring its sustainable management across all sectors and ecosystems. One of its key commitments is to adopt ambitious Urban Green Plans for cities with at least 20,000 inhabitants and to bring nature back to urban spaces by promoting the systematic incorporation of healthy ecosystems, green infrastructure, and nature-based solutions into all forms of urban planning.
An Urban Greening Plan is a long-term framework and strategy that ensures that towns and cities become greener in the future. It includes “measures to create biodiverse and accessible urban forests, parks and gardens; urban farms; green roofs and walls; treelined streets; urban meadows; and urban hedges”. It should also improve connections between green areas, and limit practices that are harmful for biodiversity. The existence of green spaces not only improves air quality and reduces urban health, but also promotes physical activity, reduces stress, and provides opportunities for social interactions. Incorporating green spaces in cities thus leads to numerous physical and mental health benefits for citizens. The Urban Greening Plan is formed of a 10-steps cycle shown in the image below:
This objective to encourage and trigger the deployment of Blue-Green urban infrastructure on a large scale is mirrored in the HEART project, whose aim is to provide evidence on the factors influencing Public Health and Wellbeing, including access to green and blue spaces as well as living conditions. This evidence will also be integrated into a tool, providing guidelines to policy-makers, architects and designers, and therefore facilitating the applications of HEART’s findings in urban planning projects. The HEART project aims to ensure that Blue-Green solutions are implemented in cities, and that public health, wellbeing, and environmental considerations are intrinsically integrated in all the phases of urban planning and implementation. HEART also puts a strong focus on community participation to create a sense of ownership and facilitate the adoption of novel health-centred urban planning approaches.
Both these initiatives share a common goal of protecting and conserving biodiversity in the EU, with the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 setting out the overarching framework and the HEART project contributing to its implementation through the creation of regenerating and rehabilitating plans for urban ecosystems that not only improve public health and wellbeing, but also address key challenges such as low environmental quality, low biodiversity, and resilience of cities to climate change. By working together, these initiatives aim to help the EU achieve its long-term goals for biodiversity conservation and sustainable use of natural resources.