For thriving cities, people vs. nature is a false choice

For thriving cities, people vs. nature is a false choice


Municipal leaders face hundreds of difficult choices every day. With so many needs and worthy programs, how does one choose where to invest limited funding? In the face of pressing human needs, cities too often decide that funding for environmental programs will have to wait.

But pitting people against nature in this way offers a false choice.

We need not decide between supporting people in cities and protecting the natural systems that we all need to survive. Rather, by bringing more nature to cities and managing our collective resources well, we can help achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals and meet The Nature Conservancy’s ambition to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends.

SDG 11, Sustainable Cities and Communities, aims to “make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.” It is not only engineered solutions urban development that will help the world achieve this goal – natural systems have a critical role to play. In fact, by protecting and enhancing biodiversity, we can actually better serve the needs of the billions of people around the world who live in cities.

Nature has a clear and significant role to play in SDG11, and a path to success is laid out in the New Urban Agenda, a global declaration of “cities for all,” which was codified at the 2016 Habitat III conference in Ecuador. The New Urban Agenda acknowledges and articulates the connections between greener cities and healthier, more resilient cities, and calls for the benefits of nature to be equally accessible to all residents.

This collective vision for “well-planned urbanization” that accounts for how the built and natural environments work in tandem, not in opposition, to make our cities more livable will be key as cities around the world swell to adapt to growing human populations. Creating and protecting safe, inclusive and accessible green spaces can bring myriad benefits to cities.

But nature can do even more. As cities grow and resources are strained, nature can improve human health and well-being by reducing particulate matter in the air we breathe (SDG 3); it can contribute to clean water and sanitation by protecting source water (SDG 6); and when plans incorporate the needs of local residents, access to nature can help address some of the impacts of inequality (SDG 10).

Urban conservation doesn’t have to be a separate goal for city leaders to add on to their already busy agendas. It’s an approach that can help city leaders meet their existing goals across many sectors – economic growth, public health, waste management, thriving neighborhoods that attract residents and businesses.

Cities need nature. And cities can lead the world.

Working collaboratively via networks including ICLEI, 100 Resilient Cities, and C40, mayors and their staff can drive policy on biodiversity protection, climate adaptation and mitigation, and wastewater management to solve national and global challenges.

Together, we can make life in cities better for all of us.
To learn more about how The Nature Conservancy is helping cities invest in nature-based solutions that benefit all residents, visit

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on The World Bank‘s Sustainable Cities blog at 

Joel Paque is Program Director at The Nature Conservancy. He is a senior policy advisor and environmental leader who designs and delivers globally actionable plans to address climate change and other environmental issues. In addition to public policy and communications, Joel’s expertise includes successes in program development and management. At The Nature Conservancy (TNC), Joel has worked on programs related to urban resiliency, international climate change (climate finance), and tropical forest conservation. As a content expert on key environmental issues, Joel has established a strong network that includes policy makers, institutions, and thought leaders. Joel has also shared information on environmental topics by serving as a spokesperson, writing articles, and preparing congressional testimony.

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