Towards Green Cities: The Values of Urban Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services in China and Germany

Project description

Problem statement
Since 2008, more than half of the world's population has been living in cities, and by 2050 two thirds of all people are expected to live in cities. In the last three decades a rapid urbanization process has taken place in China. It is likely to continue and even accelerate with government support, so that already in 2025 around 70 % of the Chinese population is expected to live in growing or new cities. That would be 900 million people, nearly 250 million more than today. In Germany, too, a renewed urbanization process could be observed in recent years.

This urbanization is globally causing increased land consumption in the urban fringes and leads to concentration and compaction processes in the city cores – including in China and Germany. While cities only occupy about 2 % of the Earth’s surface, the activities and needs of the population that lives and works there are responsible for nearly 80 % of carbon emissions, 60 % of water consumption and the use of three quarters of wood resources. The urban ecosystems and the natural and near-natural surroundings of the population centers are being subjected to sometimes massive pressure through changed land use claims and emissions into air, water and soil, leading to impairment of the ecosystem functions and corresponding services.

Modern, urban living, a growing infrastructure and attractive work and leisure options are to be brought into harmony with the protection of nature and the environment. Many municipalities and initiatives worldwide are pursuing “green” urban development. The concepts and indicators that serve as a basis for this are diverse. Transparent, indicator-based evaluation systems need to ensure that planning and action do indeed lead to increased sustainability and to a higher quality of life of the population in cities.

The project aims to capture, describe and convey to various target groups the current significance, the values and potentials of urban biodiversity and ecosystem services – in the context of sustainable urban development and ongoing urbanization processes. In particular, the current developments and different approaches in China and in Germany are to be studied. The strategic goal is a long-term appreciation of the potentials and increased consideration of urban green spaces in city planning and development.

Research questions
How is the topic of urban ecosystem services embedded in international, European and national (in China and Germany) regulations, processes, initiatives and practices of urban development and nature protection?

Which services of urban ecosystems are important for the quality of life in cities? Which ecosystem services are relevant to policies and society in Germany and China? Which examples of cities can be identified with respect to distribution, significance and values of urban biodiversity and urban green in China and Germany (here mainly large growing cities)?

Which options can be pointed out and recommended for including green spaces in urban planning and development while taking into account established urban open space systems, target values, planning instruments, procedures and current constraints on implementing measures for enhancing green spaces – despite increasing scarcity of land?

Which challenges and knowledge gaps can be identified in the implementation and enhancement of green spaces from a nature-protection perspective in the context of urban ecosystem services and urbanization (urban climate, urban nature and climate change, nature consumption of cities, urban nature and health/well-being, financing of ecosystem maintenance, etc.)

The team of researchers contributes its specific preparatory work in Germany, in China and internationally on the keywords of urban ecosystem services, urban design and urban planning, open space systems and green spaces as well as urban biodiversity and nature-protection requirements, both generally/conceptually and specifically based on selected case studies. This creates a framework for the scientific study to be prepared, which will be discussed and verified in two German-Chinese workshops and in expert discussions. A proposal will be presented both regarding the specific issues that are to be the subject of a policy paper and a scientific article, and regarding where and how these products are to be placed. This will occur in close coordination with the client (BfN) and the advisers.

The core of the project lies in preparing an exploratory study on biodiversity in cities and on urban ecosystem services in the context of sustainable urban development in times of ongoing urbanization in Germany and China. The study will discuss all research questions (see above) and illustrate them with examples. Besides this comprehensive study, a policy paper will be prepared that sets forth essential aspects of particular relevance to environmental and nature-protection policies for media representatives and political decision makers. Further, at least one scientific article is to be developed, realized and published in a high-ranking journal.

The Leibniz Institute of Ecological Urban and Regional Development is jointly funded by the federal government and the federal states.

FS Sachsen

This institute is co-financed by tax funds on the basis of the budget approved by the Saxon State Parliament.