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Sustainable cities - can we imagine and create them?

Last Updated on 12 March 2012

We know that there is a strong global trend towards urbanisation. Two hundred years ago the world's urban population was around 3 per cent. One hundred years ago, it was 14 per cent. According to a UN report (Global Environmental Outlook 2: Past, Present and Future Perspective, 2002), about half of the world's population now lives in urban areas; every week, over a million people leave their rural lives behind for the uncertain promise of the city.

Now more than half of the world's population live - or want to live  - in an urban environment. And here in South East Queensland the state and some local councils are encouraging people to come - for a perceived economic prosperity.

Climate change and urbanisation are two major drivers of change in the 21st century. A third is the rapidly growing population - wth China being the only country with the politcal will to atempt to manage that growth. The ways in which these trends interact and how we respond to them will be of great consequence to the wellbeing of human populations and all life.

We can now say with considerable certainty that as the 21st century unfolds, climate change will have an increasing impact on the environment and human society worldwide. As much as we might like to avoid thinking about it, most prudent people now understand that we must plan and prepare for a carbon-constrained future.

There are plenty of reasons for concern.

Urban populations consume more energy and other resources and export more carbon and waste per person, causing disproportionate harm to natural ecosystems. In many cases, cities are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change such as rising sea levels, increased storm surges, and temperature extremes. Large cities create their own 'urban heat island' - the heat given off from the city itself can make it warmer than the surrounding countryside. The health of many other vital environmental resources, including forests, oceans, rivers, and wetlands, that provide essential ecosystem services - such as stormwater management, air purification, and reduced heating and cooling - are also in jeopardy.

However, there are also solid reasons for hope.

Cities facilitate the peaceful exchange of ideas that drive social and economic innovation. Urban communities provide concentrations of human talent to envision and redesign sustainable and resilient cities, and the financial and technical resources to support these changes. When viewed as nested systems, central cities, the greater metropolitan communities that surround them, and the natural bioregions in which they are located, may prove to be the most effective forms and levels of organisation for creating, testing, refining and replicating innovative and ecologically appropriate solutions.

Innovations that emerge from one urban community can be adapted by different communities in ways that reflect the opportunities and needs of their particular bioregions. Through this process the original idea may becomes stronger and more robust, encouraging the next cycle of innovation. To a large extent, we can choose whether our cities become ecological sinks that suck up the resources of the countryside, or ecological arks where humanity gathers to sort out how best to respond to climate change and other environmental challenges.

A number of cities around the world are already demonstrating impressive leadership as they seek to become more sustainable. They include Amsterdam, the Netherlands; Bogotá, Columbia; Copenhagen; Denmark; Curitiba, Brazil, Reykjavik, Iceland; and Vancouver, Canada. Several cities in the United States have also accepted the challenge of becoming sustainable cities.

Portland with a population slightly over 568,000, while the greater Portland-Vancouver metro area approached 2.2 million people has performed well in a competition to determine the 'greenest' or 'most sustainable' city in USA.

Some of the key sustainability features of Portland include:
An extensive light rail network, bio-diesel powered buses and an aerial tram as part of a multi-modal transit system;Close to 450km of on-street bike lanes, bike boulevards and paved trails - bike commuting has experienced three straight years of double-digit growth;
Neighbourhoods consciously-designed to be pedestrian-friendly; A strong commitment by Portland State University to research and implement sustainability practices;City Repair, an organisation that helps neighbourhoods move their plans through city bureaucracy, coordinates meetings, provides experienced natural designers and builders, and helps find materials and funds; Portland's watershed management plan, including: a proliferation of 'eco-roofs' on houses and buildings, featuring a waterproof membrane, drainage material, a layer of soil and a cover of plants; permeable streets and parking lots that allow rain to soak into the ground; rain gardens and green streets with curbside bioswales to remove silt and pollution from run-off; and The conversion of a waterfront freeway into a three kilometre 'greenway' park



The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity TEEB

Last Updated on 12 March 2012

We measure our economies in terms of trade, production and services - but one vital component is missing: the environment. Pavan Sukhdev is the study leader for a UN-run program on the economics of ecosystems and biodiversity, and he wants to see these resources accounted for. Kerri Smith talks to him and Nature.com provide a podcast of this interview. Podcast Extra - Pavan Sukhdev. Access the podcast from this page http://www.nature.com/nature/podcast/index-sukhdev-2009-11-19.html

Pavan Sukhdev also has an article Costing the Earth available. He is study leader of the Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) project, United Nations

Clean air, fresh water, the flood protection provided by wetlands, the carbon-storage capacity of forests: these are examples of natural systems and processes that we largely take for granted. We consider them 'public goods': they are available to everyone; there is enough to go round; and one person's enjoyment of them does not impede another's. They are not traded in markets, not priced and they are mostly available for free.


Efforts to sustain biodiversity fall short

Last Updated on 12 March 2012

IYB_2010_logoAlthough efforts to sustain biodiversity fall short, the issue is gaining attention as nations prepare for next year's 2010 International Year of Biodiversity summit. With nations admitting that they will fail to achieve their goal of significantly cutting biodiversity loss by 2010, a flurry of work is under way to develop new, more robust targets and ways of monitoring progress. These must be ready by next October, when the 193 parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) meet in Nagoya, Japan.

The article is available online though there is a cost for premium content from Nature 462, 263 (2009) | doi:10.1038/462263a http://www.nature.com/news/2009/091118/full/462263a.html. In addition to the highly visible components there are the unseen microbial biodiversity which is often neglected in most of biodiversity conservation programme. These are very essential for sustaining life on planet earth.  


Congratulations Noosa - UNESCO Biosphere!

Last Updated on 12 March 2012

UNESCOThis week, the Noosa Biosphere is launching their new web site, described as an active place for community, special interests and visitors to connect with a broad range of biosphere reserve activity, with Michael Donovan, the Inaugural Chair of the Noosa Biosphere describing the web site as, "Punk in nature but logical in delivery and a striking example of creativity, commitment and practical outcomes from a locally based business".

The Noosa Biosphere Reserve is also hosting a visit this week from Dr Natarajan Ishwaran, the UNESCO Secretary to the Man and the Biosphere Programme and Director of Earth Sciences, with over the two days of Dr Ish's visit, the hosting a Biosphere Q&A session and today the official launch of the Noosa Biosphere Reserve website www.noosabiosphere.org.au  launch and a short film produced in Noosa.

Noosa, as Queensland's first UNESCO Biosphere is all about promoting harmony between people and nature through education, conservation and sustainable activities - all of which have a direct impact on the quality of Noosa as a tourism destination.


Rate of biodiversity loss

Last Updated on 12 March 2012

Beyond the boundary

Species extinction is a natural process and would occur without human actions. However, biodiversity loss has accelerated massively in recent years. Species are becoming extinct at a rate that has not been seen since the last global mass-extinction event.
The fossil record shows that the background extinction rate for marine life is 0.1-1 extinctions per million species per year; for mammals it is 0.2-0.5 extinctions per million species per year16. Today, the rate of extinction of species is estimated to be 100 to 1,000 times more than what could be considered natural. As with climate change, human activities are the main cause of the acceleration. Changes in land use exert the most significant effect. These changes include the conversion of natural ecosystems into agriculture or into urban areas; changes in frequency, duration or magnitude of wildfires and similar disturbances; and the introduction of new species into land and freshwater environments. The speed of climate change will become a more important driver of change in biodiversity this century, leading to an accelerating rate of species loss. Up to 30% of all mammal, bird and amphibian species will be threatened with extinction this century.

Biodiversity loss occurs at the local to regional level, but it can have pervasive effects on how the Earth system functions, and it interacts with several other planetary boundaries. For example, loss of biodiversity can increase the vulnerability of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems to changes in climate and ocean acidity, thus reducing the safe boundary levels of these processes.



Last Updated on 12 March 2012

JanetHauser-exhibitionYou are cordially invited to view



 18 - 20th September, 10am - 4pm


Brisbane Botanic Gardens

Mt Coot-tha Road, Toowong



 by Botanical artist

Janet Hauser and the Qld Herbarium


This exhibition highlights the botanical discoveries and the contributions made by Father Benedict Scortechini (1845 - 1886),  to the knowledge of the  flora of S.E.Queensland


For more information contact the Queensland Herbarium on 38969326 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


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