We are living in a time of some of the greatest environmental change events in human history. Part of that change involves global warming as well as increasing migration of human populations to cities. It is predicted that by 2050 just under 70% of the world’s population of 9. 8 billion will live in urban centres (from the current figure of about 57% of 7.8 billion). At this point there will be over 50 mega cities with a minimum of 10 million inhabitants each. Most of the growth of these mega cities in the next 20 years will take place in developing countries such as our own.
We need to pause and ask ourselves what does this mean. Are we ready for this increased urbanisation, will our infrastructure and systems cope, and what does this mean for our environment and sustainability?
If I ask the question “what do you believe is the Greenest City in the world today – what would your answer be?”
The answer is Copenhagen, Denmark. It gets this status through a global survey that measures a city’s ability to reduce water use, manage waste, lower emissions and increase housing density. What then do we think the most Sustainable City in the world is today? Well, firstly, what is sustainability? The World Economic Forum uses a matrix of measuring People (social – quality of life), Planet (environmental) and Profit (economic). A list of the top 20 cities is produced each year and Zurich in Switzerland is currently rated as the world’s most sustainable city.
It should be noted that other cities that appear amongst the top five of the green and/or sustainable city indicies include Singapore, Hamburg, Frankfurt and Stockholm. It is interesting to also note that four of the top five cities are in the northern hemisphere developed world and mainly in Europe.
So continuing along this theme, where then are the regions of the world’s greatest biodiversity? There are numerous lists from UNEP and various other forums that one can look at, and they do vary a little as they reflect different metrics such as species diversity or endemism. Which is the best? I think both together is the fairest. As such, the top five mega-bio-diverse countries in the world would then be Brazil; China; Australia; Columbia and South Africa. Interestingly enough, all of these countries are in the Global South and there is just one that is not classified as a developing/emerging country.
What then is the world’s most Biodiverse City?
Sao Paulo and Mexico City are up there in terms of location. Singapore, as well as Barcelona and Melbourne, are notable precisely for their leadership in recognising and exploiting biodiversity as a policy- making tool and an integral part of urban wellbeing.
Cape Town toped the United Nations list as the most biodiverse city in the world in (2017). With more than 83 species of mammals, 3 000 species of plants and 361 species of birds found on this Southern tip of Africa. I would like to suggest that there is another city that is a strong contender for ranking in the top three most biodiversity capital cities globally, and that is Nelson Mandela Bay.
Consider this, Nelson Mandela Bay is:
• The only city in South Africa containing elements of 5 BIOMES - this means that out of the eight biomes that make up our vegetation types in South Africa, 5 are represented within this metro.
• The only city in the world that borders on a Big Seven wildlife mega reserve. In fact, within a 70 km circumference of Port Elizabeth there are over one million hectares of protected area (including the Baviaanskloof Mega Reserve and World Heritage Site) and within that area over 65% of SA’s bird species and 70% of SA’s mammal species can be found.
• Algoa Bay is a proclaimed marine biodiversity hotspot. The islands in the Bay host half of the global population of African penguins and 70% of Cape Gannets, various species of whales, four species of dolphin and the list goes on.
• The Alexandria Coastal Dune field bordering on this metro is the largest coastal dune field in the Southern Hemisphere - hopefully soon to become a (mixed use) World Heritage Site.
Nelson Mandela Bay and surroundings has an extraordinary wealth of biodiversity resources and these form the cornerstone of a booming eco and nature based tourism industry, which has not yet reached its full potential. In addition, there are many other synergistic industries such as the ocean economy and ocean safaris that can benefit and grow off this biodiversity base. One can also include the interdependant and booming Renewable Energy sector and other Green job opportunites. As a collective, we call this the biodiversity economy and Nelson Mandela Bay and the EC region are the unrecognised leaders in this economy.
However, as is the lesson from Singapore and Melbourne, who are leading as sustainable cities of the world, this sector can only grow and boom with supportive government policies in place at municipal and regional level, enforcement of environmental law and political will and leadership.
Right now there is a lot of talk of green jobs and sustainability in Nelson Mandela Bay. It seems to many that it is just talk and very little action. This is a pity as we are oozing with potential. Just take the Baakens valley as an example - our green lung running through large sections of our city. A lot of our unique biodiversity and biomes are represented within this system, and it therefore has the potential to become our (New York) Central Park of Africa.
In reality the river system acts more like a storm water drain and dumping ground for exotic species that are clogging up our precious water system and depleting our ground water table. It has also become crime ridden and not safe for the huge recreation and related job creation opportunites and potential to the local ecconomy. This can all change with the right leadership in our city, with the foresight to adapt and mitgate the very real impacts of climate change on our city and all its inhabitants.
There is enormous potential for South Africa as the leading biodiversity country in Africa and Nelson Mandela Bay as a leading biodiversity city to develop biodiversity as one of our greatest assets and for it to be a key instrument in growing our economy at both a local and national level. This will benefit our cities in becoming more sustainable and providing a quality of life and wellbeing for all our citizens, whilst acting as a natural buffer against the very real threats of climate change, including water scarcity.