Finding the optimal balance between the often conflicting needs of rapid urbanisation while, at the same time, protecting biodiversity is a major challenge facing the City, says the Executive Mayor of Cape Town, Helen Zille. She was speaking at a Kirstenbosch media briefing on the Local Action for Biodiversity Project.
The LAB Project, run by the international organisation, ICLEI - Local Governments for Sustainability, has become one of the world's leading urban biodiversity projects, and is endorsed by a range of local, national, and international agencies, organisations and institutions.
The project aims to profile urban biodiversity and promote its importance by coordinating the inputs from a diverse group of participating local governments from around the world. Partners of the LAB Project include ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability, the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), the World Conservation Union (IUCN) and its initiatives Countdown 2010, as well as Roma Natura.
Mayor Zille said that innovative thinking from City officials was required to ensure the optimal integration of biodiversity into the urban fabric of the City.
She said the need to accommodate an increasing number of rural job-seekers and a growing housing backlog of up to 460 000 units placed a difficult onus on a City that was obligated to conserving some of the world's most critically endangered species.
"Did you know that there is a bulbous plant called Ixia versicolor growing in only two patches on road verges in the City and that these are the last populations of this species on the planet", asked Zille.
At the same time the City took cognizance of the fact that people are also part of biodiversity and their legitimate needs had to be compassionately recognised and responded to.
Zille also announced one of the City's five new biodiversity projects to be implemented prior to June 2009 as part of its LAB commitment - the development and conservation of a fynbos corridor connecting the Diep River Corridor near Milnerton with the Blaauwberg Conservation Area, one of the City's most important biodiversity areas.
Among the representatives from LAB partner organisations attending the function were Jane Akumu of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and Dr Jenitha Badul of the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEAT), who both indicated their organisations' strong support for the LAB project.
Dr George Davis, representing the SA National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), which hosted the Kirstenbosch event, said that the participation of poorer communities living adjacent to remnant areas of nature conservation value is essential. Referring to Cape Flats Nature - a joint project run by the City of Cape Town and SANBI - he pointed out that biodiversity would only win community endorsement if it was seen to enhance both service delivery and the overall quality of life.
The City was instrumental in the conception and development of LAB, which had its genesis at the ICLEI World Congress in Cape Town in March 2006. The City proposed that a three-year project be launched supporting local authorities in their quest to enhance biodiversity planning and management in cities.
Following an inaugural planning meeting in Rome, several world organisations joined with the Cities of Cape Town and eThekwini as the founding partners of LAB. LAB is an ICLEI project being managed from the ICLEI Africa Secretariat which is hosted by the City of Cape Town.
Twenty cities around the world and from all continents, including Sao Paolo, Seattle, Edmonton, Barcelona, Paris, Amsterdam, Bonn, Seoul, Nagoya, Sydney, Auckland and Johannesburg have now joined LAB, which is coordinated and run from a Cape Town office by four full-time biodiversity experts.
The City is regarded as a world leader in urban biodiversity and the Mayor confirmed that she will lead a City delegation to the high level Biodiversity Conference in Bonn, Germany in May. At the conference she will seek more support for the City from international biodiversity organisations and national governments.