The emergence of environmental degradation and its life-threatening impacts in many domains make global commitments a necessity. The Millennium Development Goals, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Sustainable Cities Program, the Local Agenda 21, the Convention on Combating Desertification, the Convention on Wetlands, the World Heritage Convention and many other global programmes oblige governments to adopt meaningful measures in pursuit of sustainability. Whatever the indicators of sustainable development chosen, biodiversity - according to the Water, Energy, Health Agricultural Production and Biodiversity Initiative - is the basis for sustainable development. According to United Nations forecasts, population and its concentration in urban areas will continue to increase at escalating rates in the 21st century. Mega-cities in the developing world will attract in their hinterlands much of this urbanizing trend (UN-HABITAT, 2003). There is an urgent need for immediate collaboration among natural scientists, planners, economists and social scientists to work towards more sustainable practices for urban development.
While the Statutory Framework of the World Network of Biosphere Reserves (BRs) establishes no definite distinction with regard to type (urban, non-urban, rural, countryside, etc.), size, locality and the extent of human involvement, the majority of BRs are tenuously related to urban areas. The applicability of the BR concept to urban areas has been discussed in UNESCO forums, conferences and workshops. While there is currently no formally designated “Urban Biosphere Reserves” in the world, there are some examples of cities and metropolitan areas such as Canberra, Cape Town, Istanbul and Rome where the applicability of UNESCO’s MAB Programme to urban areas has been studied. Today, the fundamental challenges faced by BRs are leading to the creation of new sites to improve the world’s coverage of protected areas, including the addition of an “urban” dimension to foster sustainable development. The present research aims to assess the discussion process and the criteria adduced before going on to evaluate the possibility of applying this approach to the case of Istanbul.
Comprehensive assessments in the MAB Urban Group reports point to the compatibility of “Urban BRs” with the Statutory Framework and the Seville Strategy. Other global programmes, including those relating to sustainable development, healthy cities, urban resilience and world heritage, can make a valuable contribution to the process of assessing Urban BRs. However, this process has to be instructive and clear in its goals. Furthermore, the conservation function of Urban BRs can be broadened in terms of degraded ecosystems and habitats to improve biodiversity conservation. In other words, the major goal of BRs “to protect unique habitats and ecosystems” can be expanded to include Urban BRs - seen as ecosystems degraded or at risk of degradation - for urban biodiversity enhancement and more sustainable practices. Today, one of the most important global commitments on environment and sustainable development is to provide better training programmes at all levels. UNESCO’s Education for All and Education for Sustainable Development programmes have to clarify resource channels and ensure improved partnerships among global and national knowledge networking initiatives. Finally, “planning discipline” has to play a critical role in this process to advance a dialogue on the sustainable use of urban biodiversity.
16 August 2005