Urbanization is one of the key defining mega-trends of our time. Four billion people, about half of the world’s population, currently live in urban areas. This number is expected to dramatically increase with the predicted rise in urbanization rates. According to The Nature in the Urban Century report, authored by The Nature Conservancy, Future Earth and The Stockholm Resilience Centre, by 2050, there will be 2.4 billion more people in cities, a rate of urban growth that is equivalent to building a city the population of London every seven weeks. Humanity will urbanize an additional area of 1.2 million km2, larger than the country of Colombia.
The urbanization trend poses a major threat to several critical ecosystems, including wetlands. Wetlands can play a crucial role in urban biodiversity, and in maintaining ecosystems and the well-being of urban communities. When preserved and sustainably used, urban wetlands can provide cities with multiple economic, social and cultural benefits. During storms, urban wetlands absorb excess rainfall, which reduces flooding in cities and prevents disasters and their subsequent costs. The abundant vegetation found in urban wetlands acts as a filter for domestic and industrial waste and contribute to improving water quality.
As cities grow and the demand for land use increases, the tendency is for development to encroach on wetlands, because they are often perceived as wastelands that can be used as dumping grounds or converted for other land uses.
Urban wetlands are prized assets, not wasteland, and therefore should be proactively conserved and integrated into the development and management plans of cities. The Convention on Wetlands (also known as the Ramsar Convention) is promoting cities that take exceptional steps to protect their wetlands and benefits to people, by giving credit to cities that prioritize their urban wetlands through an accreditation scheme.
The 172 Contracting Parties to the Convention on Wetlands have agreed to the conservation and wise use of wetlands in their territories. Recognizing the importance of cities and urban wetlands, the Convention introduced a Wetland City accreditation scheme in 2015 (Resolution XII.10). This voluntary scheme provides an opportunity for cities that value their natural and/or human-made wetlands to gain international recognition and positive publicity for their efforts. Cities must apply to be accredited and they have to show that they comply with a number of criteria, including exceptional protection, care and wise use of their wetlands through a range of mechanisms such as urban planning and education.
The intention is that The Wetland City Accreditation scheme will encourage cities in close proximity to and dependent on wetlands, especially Wetlands of International Importance, to highlight and strengthen a positive relationship with these valuable ecosystems, for example through increased public awareness of wetlands and participation in municipal planning and decision-making. The Accreditation scheme should further promote the conservation and wise use of urban and peri-urban wetlands, as well as sustainable socio-economic benefits for local people.
During the 59th meeting of the Convention on Wetlands Standing Committee on 26 May 2022, the Co-Chairs of the Convention on Wetlands Independent Advisory Committee on Wetland City Accreditation announced that 25 applicant cities had been accepted in recognition of their exceptional efforts to safeguard urban wetlands for people and nature.
Congratulations to the cities that have been accredited! One of the cities, Cape Town, is one of the pioneer CitiesWithNature – a global partnership initiative that recognizes and enhances the value of nature in and around cities across the world. The 2022 accredited cities are: