Leopard overlooking Mumbai
Leopard on a hill overlooking Mumbai. A man-made water hole attracts one of the estimated 35 leopards living in and around Sanjay Gandhi National Park. © Steve Winter/National Geographic Creative

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Concrete Jungles? Cities Could Swallow 290,000KM2 of Wildlife Habitat by 2030

TNC-led report projects area of habitat larger than New Zealand could be lost to urbanization over next 20 years

An area of natural habitat larger than New Zealand could be swallowed by growing cities between now and 2030, according to projections released today by an international team of scientists. Environmental non-profit The Nature Conservancy (TNC) led the assessment, alongside partners including Future Earth, Stockholm Resilience Center (SRC), ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability (ICLEI) and others.

Published ahead of November’s crucial United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP14) summit in Egypt, where policymakers will debate questions including what proportion of the planet should be set aside to support wildlife, the report – Nature in the Urban Century – draws parallels between unprecedented urban growth and increasing pressure on remaining habitat, farmland and even strictly protected areas like national parks. Analyzing metropolitan areas around the world, the study maps projected growth rates against proximity to protected areas.

Produced in partnership with Future Earth and Stockholm Resilience Center, the report projects that 290,000 km2 of additional land – vital not only for wildlife but also agriculture and mitigating CO2 emissions – could be lost to urbanization by 2030. Equivalent to adding a new metropolis the size of London every seven weeks, this urban growth threatens to encroach within 50km of nearly half the planet’s strictly protected lands – precious sanctuaries including national parks, nature reserves, and wildlife refuges. Habitat loss could be particularly significant in temperate broadleaf forest and humid tropical forest, including regions of Brazil, China, Indonesia, and the United States. 

“We are living in an increasingly urban century, with at least 70% of humans likely to live in cities by 2050 – an additional 2.4 billion people,” comments the report’s coordinating lead author and TNC’s lead scientist for global cities, Dr. Rob McDonald. “If current growth trends continues, by the end of this century we could see an area of habitat larger than New Zealand becoming urbanized, raising obvious questions not only in terms of wildlife biodiversity but also human health and wellbeing. We hope the publication of this report, coming as it does ahead of the important UN CBD Congress of Parties in Sharm El Sheik, will provide an urgent rallying cry to factor these considerations into future land use policy. Cities themselves are not the problem – unsustainable planning very much is.”

The report also highlights how unchecked urban development will also increasingly threaten nature’s potential to protect those 120 million people projected to be living in coastal regions particularly vulnerable to extreme weather events. By 2030, it is projected that urbanization could transform 144,000 km2 of coast – an area larger than Greece.  Slowing the pace of urbanization in these critical areas could help protect communities from threats like flooding and storm surges, while also supporting coastal biodiversity.

While urbanization has been a major driver of habitat loss in recent decades, there is still hope that smarter urban planning, greater adoption of natural climate solutions and enhanced management of protected areas close to cities will enable nature to coexist successfully alongside growing metropolitan areas. To learn more about how TNC is working around the world to encourage healthier cities that enable people and nature to coexist side-by-side, visit: https://www.nature.org/en-us/what-we-do/our-priorities/build-healthy-cities/  

Encouraging the creation of healthier cities is just one of the ways TNC is working towards a world where people get the food, energy and economic growth they need without sacrificing nature. To read about the science underpinning this vision, visit: https://www.nature.org/en-us/what-we-do/our-insights/perspectives/the-science-of-sustainability/

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 72 countries, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.