Urban Agenda | In Maps: Your city's flora, fauna and much more - Hindustan Times

Urban Agenda | In Maps: Your city's flora, fauna and much more

May 23, 2024 02:30 AM IST

For a city to be liveable, uncontrolled expansion of grey infrastructure is unsustainable especially as the effects of climate change come to the fore

City maps, used for navigating grey buildings and tarred streets, can also showcase the myriad colours of nature. That's exactly what some Indian cities have done by mapping their natural assets, including water bodies, green patches, animals, and birds.

Jammu and Kashmir Natural Asset Map (Credit - ICLEI South Asia) PREMIUM
Jammu and Kashmir Natural Asset Map (Credit - ICLEI South Asia)

On the International Day for Biological Diversity, observed annually on May 22 by the United Nations, we present to you the maps prepared by ICLEI — Local Governments for Sustainability, South Asia which worked with more than 10 Indian cities to prepare their City Biodiversity Index (CBI) in India.

As part of their work, ICLEI has prepared illustrated natural asset maps for cities such as Hyderabad, Gangtok, Panjim, Kochi, Jammu, Srinagar, and Nagpur—showcasing diverse ecosystems, from lakes, water bodies, rock formations, green lungs, and flora and fauna.

Over the last few decades, cities have been synonymous with large blocks of paved streets with high-rise buildings, flyovers, and dense traffic. The dense concrete conglomeration is a reflection of the importance of the cities as a place of work and home to a large population compared to their less urbanised counterparts.

With the advancement of the economy and the rise in non-farm jobs, cities attracted more people. To cater to the rising population, much of the green cover and water bodies have been swallowed by these ever-expanding cities across the world, especially in the global South. Indian cities are no exception.

But for a city to be liveable, this uncontrolled expansion of grey infrastructure is unsustainable especially as effects of climate change come to the fore with ever-rising temperatures and increased frequency of extreme weather events.

Origins of CBI

Noting the importance of restoring natural elements in cities, the city-state of Singapore along with the United Nations introduced the City Biodiversity Index or the Singapore Index on Cities Biodiversity in 2008 at the Conference of Parties (COP or UN Climate Change Conference) held in Germany in 2008. Two years later in 2010 the COP held in Canada was formally endorsed by the COP as a self-assessment tool to promote the management of natural resources and conserve biodiversity in cities.

Kochi Natural Asset Map( ICLEI South Asia)
Kochi Natural Asset Map( ICLEI South Asia)

Adoption in India

Taking a cue from this, Hyderabad was the first city to adopt this system in 2012 as it hosted COP 11. Incidentally, it is also the only other city to do its assessment based on the city biodiversity index (CBI) to do it again.

At present, close to 30 Indian cities have now adopted this self-assessment following the Singapore model. These include big cities like the capital Delhi, and Pune and smaller cities like Bhagalpur and Itanagar. Some of these cities have adopted the CBI as part of their Smart City programmes.

What constitutes CBI

Primarily developed by the National Parks Board of Singapore in collaboration with experts around the globe and the UN measures 23 equally weighed indicators like native biodiversity, ecosystem services provided by biodiversity, and governance and management of biodiversity with a maximum possible score of 92. Some of the markers are the proportion of natural areas, the budget allocated to biodiversity, and participation and partnership with the public, civil society, and academia.

Srinagar Natural Asset Map( ICLEI South Asia)
Srinagar Natural Asset Map( ICLEI South Asia)

Need for CBI

Experts working in the sector note that the CBI by itself acts as a guideline for cities to take measures that restore and expand their blue and green cover which in turn also leads to the conservation of animal habitats.

Faiyaz Khudsar, senior scientist at the Biodiversity Parks Programme at the Centre of Environmental Management of Degraded Ecosystems (CEMDE) Delhi said, “The index is a wonderful idea and the framework itself can work as a guideline to improve biodiversity. After conducting a thorough assessment, cities can decide on which measures need to be worked on priority.” He said in the case of Delhi the exercise found that even though Delhi has good avian and butterfly diversity there is a dearth of protected areas.

He added in the future the score of Delhi will improve from its score of 39 out of 92 due to the good conservation work at the city’s biodiversity parks although they are not technically protected.

Studies have shown access to green spaces and diverse natural habitats in cities has been linked to improved mental and physical health outcomes for residents. Further natural elements contribute to the cultural richness of cities by providing opportunities for recreation, education, and inspiration.

Asad R Rahmani, member of Governing Body of Wetlands International South Asia and former director at Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) said the data on bird species which is one of the indicators for the CBI itself is a very good indicator. He explained, “The presence of several bird species are a marker of good biodiversity. Further, birds like grey hornbills are seed dispersers. So, a city which has more hornbills obviously will mean that the city is better than a city which has a lesser number of such birds.”

The first score of the CBI can act as a baseline for subsequent efforts over the year to check the progress of the policies and actions geared toward restoring natural assets.

Like in the case of Hyderabad the biodiversity index score improved from 36 to 57 over a span of a decade.

The HT Urban Affairs team brings to you each week a story about where we live and how it affects the way we live

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