Funding cities for conservation and climate resilience by Neeraja Havaligi

Friday, May 22 2015

Neeraja Havaligi[1]

Urban areas take up about three percent of earths land surface, use seventy five percent of natural resources, and are home to growing human population projected reach up to 6.4 billion by 2050 (ICLEI[2] and WHO[3]). Rapid population growth in urban areas is scattered and expansive (Angel et al., 2005), driving local and regional environmental changes (Grimm et al., 2008). Both urbanization and agriculture contribute significantly to climate change, but also present unique opportunities for communities to build resilience to climate change (Bulkeley, 2013) driven by funding opportunities that support innovative locally identified and evolved solutions.

Urbanization is one of the primary causes of land cover change, habitat loss, change in composition of living species and species extinction (Grimm et al., 2008, McDonald et al., 2008). Agriculture is a significant contributor to GHG emissions and climate change (Schill, 2008). Agriculture also contributes to loss of biodiversity (Vandermeer and Perfecto, 1995; Alkemade et al., 2009) challenging the ability of protected areas to preform ecosystem services (McNeely and Scherr 2003) and support ecosystem health (Diaz et al., 2006).

Climate change identified as “water change[4]” impacts water resource management and sustainable economic development (Keur et al., 2008; Wilby and Dessai, 2010). Climate change influences all aspects of hydrological cycle (surface and ground water, precipitation, soil moisture, snowpack, evapotranspiration, etc.) presenting serious challenges in often-unpredictable ways to water resources management (IPCC, 2008) and to agriculture production (Kaiser, 1991; Darwin et al., 1995; Evangelista et al., 2013).

Rapidly urbanizing areas rely mainly on fossil fuel-dependent global food systems (Curtis, 2009) sequestering foodstuffs over large distances often with detrimental environmental impacts (Fraser and Rimas, 2010). Similarly large cities rely on extensive built infrastructure and energy to move potable water into cities and also to remove and process the wastewater generated from these cities, for reuse (Houillon and Jolliet, 2005). The reliance of urban communities on resources from outside their geographical areas renders them vulnerable under intense climatic conditions and peak oil scenarios resulting in sudden severances of vulnerable supply lines (Newman et al., 2009). Projected climate changes poses challenges to agriculture (Müller et al., 2011; Teixeira et al., 2013), water (Vörösmarty et al., 2000) energy and transportation (Naylor, 1996) sectors on which agriculture is heavily dependent to meet its production, processing and transportation needs. Climate change will result in increasing pressure on urban food and water systems.

Creation of “sustainable cities” designed for sustained ability to provide food and shelter and basic services to its residents is a challenge to most of the authorities (Jacobi, et al., 2000) particularly in climate change scenario (Deutsch et al., 2013).


Addressing the Need


Consumption of food and water in urban areas presents opportunities for urban residents, urban planners and other stakeholders to design community-based interventions for climate resilience (Sheppard, 2011). Urban agriculture particularly as practiced in home and community gardens is identified as a viable solution for food provision and buffering urban poverty particularly in climate change scenario (Dubbeling and de Zeeuw, 2011 and others). However, with few exceptions, urban agriculture is typically practiced using freshwater brought into urban areas, at enormous energy costs. Urban agriculture practiced with greywater reuse and rainwater harvesting decreases water, carbon and energy footprints of urban food and water systems (Lancaster, 2012; Birkmann et al., 2010).

Cities are also biodiversity hotspots, particularly for agrobiodiversity. Language plays a fundamental role in biodiversity conservation (UNESCO[5]). Cities are characterized by greater density of human population and diversity in terms of spoken languages, race, ethnicity and culture (Siemund et al., 2003). For example, in Queens, New York approximately 138 languages are spoken. Similarly in Manchester, England, a city of half a million people is home to at least 153 languages including many rare dialects. Urban agriculture is a reflection of its migrant history, social mobility, challenges and opportunities associated with urban cultural diversity and multicultural citizenship. The embedded knowledge of biodiversity in urban community and home gardens could very well be the foundation on which urban agrodiversity can be understood, nurtured and conserved.

GEF’s Sustainable Cities Integrated Program comes in at a critical time to engage urban stakeholders for climate resilience, biodiversity conservation and to envision goals such as zero carbon development by 2100 (Fay et. al, 2015) on a common platform. Its success relies on identification of low-Carbon potentials in all areas particularly in urban food and water sectors to ensure energy consumption in these two major and essential sectors are accounted for, right from the start. Resilient tools discussed here are cross cutting in their eligibility including integrated land use planning, energy efficiency and energy recovery processes. Participating cities could be innovation hubs of low-emission food and water resiliency tools and knowledge bases, yielding innovations for clear and quantified improvements of the global environment through locally enabled change.



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[1] Dr. Neeraja Havaligi is a San Francisco based biodiversity and climate adaptation specialist. She has worked with UNDP and FAO developing projects for GEF funding. She is advisor for sustainability start-ups and board member of Cityslicker Farms, a non-profit for food security and food justice. Her doctoral focused on urban agriculture, greywater reuse and rainwater harvesting for biodiversity conservation and climate resilience. Dr. Havaligi has master’s in agronomy and plant physiology.  She is CFA member since 2011. Neeraja can be reached at: and




[4] UN’s World Water Assessment Programme (2009)




Image: Ibirapuera Park (city of Sao Paulo, Brazil)

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Funding cities for conservation and climate resilience by Neeraja Havaligi
Friday, May 22 2015


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