We are entering the most extensive and rapid phase of urban growth ever experienced. Not only are urban populations expected to double in just a few decades, physical urban space is expected to increase at an even faster pace. Estimates suggest that by 2050 a land area the size of South Africa, more than 1.2 million square kilometers, will be engulfed by cities, straining natural resources and ecosystems. And much of this development will occur adjacent to biodiversity-rich areas.

While continuing urbanization will pose challenges, it can also provide opportunities. Reconciling biodiversity and urban areas through conscious choices and innovative development has proven to be beneficial for human and environmental health. When done right, harm to the environment is minimized, cities become more resilient to severe weather, and the effects of climate change may even be mitigated. The potential of cities is vast.

The Cities and Biodiversity Outlook project seeks to draw attention to that potential and to successful examples of cities capitalizing on it. Based on scientific work from the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity, the Stockholm Resilience Centre and Local Governments for Sustainability, the CBO developed a list of 10 key messages about biodiversity and urbanization and produced the short film above, An Urbanizing Planet.

The film is “the story about how the world will look in 2030 and beyond,” narrator Edward Norton tells us. It takes viewers on a tour of the world, through sweeping graphics and animation, to show just how urbanization is expected to change our planet in the coming decades — and why we want to make sure we do it right. View Ensia homepage