Keynote Speakers

Introduction Keynote -

Cities and the Convention on Biological Diversity – from Rio via Curitiba to Erfurt - facing the main challenges of this century for life on earth

Prof. Dr. Norbert Müller (Presenting author)

University of Applied Sciences Erfurt, Conference Office Urbio 2008, Erfurt, Germany

 

David Knight

Natural England, Bull Ring House, Northgate, Wakefield, United Kingdom

Peter Werner

Institute Housing and Environment, Darmstadt, Germany

 

Climate change, loss of biodiversity and the growth of an increasingly urban world population - the main challenges of this century - are all strongly connected. With two-thirds of a considerably larger world population predicted to be living in urban areas by 2050, the battle for life on Earth will be lost or won in cities.

The role of cities in the loss and degradation of global biodiversity is described in the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) from 1992 and has been discussed in the following eight Conferences of the Parties. Whilst cities pose major challenges for protecting biodiversity, the opportunities they offer have, so far, been little considered.

Cities are centers of economic, social, and political power, of culture and innovation. They are also the places where most people have contact with nature. In this sense cities are not only the problem but also the solution to the global challenges we face such as the 2010 biodiversity target of halting biodiversity loss. A major step toward recognizing the potential of cities for biodiversity was made in Curitiba in March 2007, when 34 mayors and numerous high level officials from cities across all continents initiated a global partnership on “cities and biodiversity” to engage local authorities in implementing the Convention on Biological Diversity in towns and cities.

There are two complementary ways for cities to play their part in halting biodiversity loss: 

  1. the sustainable use of ecosystem goods and services;

  2. the sustainable design of all urban areas to maximize their ability to support biodiversity.

This second function is the focus of our congress. The introduction keynote presents the main challenges in achieving this objective in support of the aims of the CBD.

A major outcome of the congress will be to initiate and support a new work program within the Convention on Biological Diversity and to promote applied research and education on urban ecology, biodiversity and sustainable design.

Keynote 1 - Biodiversity of urban-industrial areas and its evaluation

Prof. Dr. Rüdiger Wittig

J.W. Goethe University Frankfurt, Germany

 

Without any doubt urban industrial areas are rich in species, in particular of vascular plants, but also of at least some groups of animals, e.g. birds. Therefore, at first glance it seems that urban industrial areas strongly contribute to biodiversity. However, in contrast urban industrial areas are regarded as main drivers for biological invasions and biotic homogenisation at a global scale.

From a general point of view it, at least, has to be questioned where and to what degree urban industrial areas contribute to biodiversity.

As a basis for evaluation this presentation will focus on some general aspects and characteristics of urban biodiversity. This will be done by the example of plants and their habitats in Central European cities. The main topics are:

  1. Distinctive characteristics of urban biodiversity in contrast to biodiversity of natural and cultural landscapes.
  2. Origin and history of urban biodiversity.
  3. Trends and dynamics of the urban flora and vegetation.

Keynote 2 - Cultural aspects and urban biodiversity

Dr. Andy Millard

Leeds Metropolitan University, United Kingdom

Culture, sometimes defined as the collective manifestation of human intellectual achievement, is what most distinguishes our species from other biodiversity. From a relatively light environmental impact when it first emerged, human culture now has profound effects on biodiversity world-wide. Rapid global urbanisation means that this effect is increasingly mediated through the city and its demands on the natural environment. Interactions between culture and urban biodiversity constitute a two-way complex of influences and drivers. Cultural processes, directed principally at human well-being, affect the composition and distribution of urban biodiversity, both as the result of deliberate decisions taken on how to manage biodiversity in urban environments but also as unintended side-effects of other social and economic phenomena. At the same time, urban biodiversity is the first and main contact that an increasingly large proportion of the world population has with biodiversity generally and is therefore key in shaping perceptions and attitudes to the natural world. This key note presentation will explore these issues, particularly within the context of how future urbanisation and associated cultural developments might influence, not only urban biodiversity and its management, but also human perceptions of biodiversity.

Keynote 3 - Social aspects of urban biodiversity

Prof. Dr. Sarel Cilliers

North-West University - Potchefstroom Campus, South Africa

Urban ecosystems are complex social-ecological systems with important functions. The role of cities in functions such as provision of ecosystem services will largely be determined by patterns of biodiversity within the city. Several studies have indicated that these patterns are driven by socioeconomic characteristics as human cultural and social aspects influence the types of ecological features people desire while their economic status influences the ability to realize those desires. Biodiversity may, however, also act as an agent for reconnecting people to their living environment and the creation of awareness of their social responsibilities towards the environment. Integration of social and biogeophysical processes are important in any attempt to understand the ecology of human-dominated ecosystems, and theoretical frameworks to integrate humans into ecosystem studies have been constructed in the past. In this presentation these issues will be explored using case studies from developing countries. Issues such as poverty, equity, health, redistribution of wealth and wealth creation are bigger concerns in developing countries than “green” issues such as conservation, biodiversity, energy efficiency and rehabilitation. It is therefore an ongoing challenge to bridge gaps in understanding, and to drive the empowerment of local government and communities to commit towards sustainable management and use of urban nature.

Keynote 4 - Urban biodiversity and climate change

Dr. David J. Nowak

USDA Forest Service, Northern Research Station, Syracuse, United States of America

Urban areas are typically warmer than rural areas due to the urban heat island effect and thus urban areas can potentially be used to help understand future impacts of global warming on urban plant composition and diversity. In addition, existing urban species structure and composition can help mitigate urban heat islands, and thereby reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However, as climates change, the species composition and structure of urban forests may also change. This presentation will explore existing urban tree composition, species richness, and diversity in several cities; how trees affect urban heat islands; the potential to alter vegetation structure and composition in cities to cool air temperatures and provide other ecosystem services; and the potential effect of climate change on future species tree composition and diversity in urban areas.

Keynote 5 - Design and future of urban biodiversity


Prof. Dr. Maria Ignatieva

Lincoln University Christchurch, New Zealand

The beginning of the 21st century can be characterised by tremendous growth of urban areas and associated process of globalisation and unification of urban environments.  Today the process of globalisation associated with using similar urban design and planning structures, landscape architecture styles, similar plant material and construction materials.  Urban biodiversity today can play an important role for ecological and cultural identity of cities around the world.  Because of the origin of Western Civilisation in Europe, European understanding of urban biodiversity and way of reinforcing, reintroducing and designing of nature in urban environment is different from the view for example in the Southern Hemisphere where native biota was lost or dramatically suppressed by introducing thousands of 'familiar', "mother-land" species from the Northern Hemisphere.  This presentation will explore existing approaches (case studies) in dealing with design of urban biodiversity in different countries (Germany, United Kingdom, Russia, USA, Australia and New Zealand).  Approaches such as "go native", "plant signature", "spontaneous vegetation", pictorial meadows, xeroscaping, low impact urban design and development will be discussed.  Evaluation of their ecological, design and social potentials will also be provided.

 

Image: Logo Erfurt 2008 Biodiversity ConferenceImage: CBD Logo
Image: Erfurt 2008 Urban Biodiversity Conference