Study: Global urban footprint will triple by 2030

If you think cities are big and numerous now, just wait another 15 years.

Our new normal?  (photo by William Laurance)

Our new normal? (photo by William Laurance)

By 2030, some 5 billion people will be living in cities -- many of them mega-cities that each sustain over 10 million residents.  And the total area affected globally by urban sprawl will triple, compared to that in the year 2000.

Those are just a few of the alarming predictions of a recent study by Karen Seto and colleagues, published in the leading journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA.

Seto and her team also estimate that, by 2030, an additional 120 million hectares of land will be engulfed by cities -- an area the size of South Africa. 

Notably, some of the most dramatic urban expansion will occur in certain biodiversity hotspots -- regions with high biodiversity and large concentrations of locally endemic species that have already suffered severe habitat loss.

In fact, the most explosive urban expansion will occur in hotspots that have been relatively undisturbed so far by urban development.  These include the Eastern Afromontane hotspot, the Guinean Forests of West Africa hotspot, and the Western Ghats and Sri Lanka hotspot.

In each of these biodiversity hotspots, the expansion in urban lands from 2000 to 2030 is expected to range from 900 to 1900 percent, according to the study.

Such changes reflect the dramatic growth in human populations still occurring in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, as well as increasing urbanization trends globally.

Other places slated for sharp increases in urban area include eastern China, Turkey, the Himalayas, and parts of Mexico.

The world that Seto and colleagues project is not a distant, dystopian future.  This is our near-term tomorrow. 

This will be our reality if we fail to address unbridled population growth in those regions of the Earth most at risk.

As Seto and colleagues show, our new reality will be a planet increasingly dominated by sprawling cities.  Whether those will be polluted, stressful cities or innovative, well-designed cities remains to be seen.

 

The hottest of the biodiversity hotspots?

Where's the planet's most biologically endangered real estate?  The answer might surprise you.

Can you guess what kind of cat this is?

Can you guess what kind of cat this is?

According to ALERT member Çağan Şekercioğlu, the answer is Turkey.  Çağan is an outstanding researcher and also directs the Turkish environmental organization KuzeyDoğa.  He shares his experience with us:

Turkey is the only country covered almost entirely by three of the world’s global biodiversity hotspots: the Caucasus, Irano-Anatolian, and the Mediterranean

At the nexus of Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia, and Africa, Turkey’s location, mountains, and encirclement by three seas have resulted in spectacular biodiversity, making it ‘the biodiversity superpower of Europe’.

Of nearly 10,000 native vascular plant species, a third are endemic.  Large carnivores such as brown bear, wolf, Caucasian lynx, caracal -- pictured above -- striped hyena, and possibly even leopard, still roam the wild corners of this diverse country -- along with 78 million people.

Two papers I published in 2011 highlight Turkey’s growing conservation crisis, the worst in the country’s long and fascinating history.

Turkey’s globally important biodiversity in crisis” is a comprehensive overview of Turkey’s natural wealth and environmental problems.

Turkey’s rich natural heritage under assault”, published in Science, highlights the scale and extent of these threats -- in particular all the environmental laws that were weakened the past two years to make it easier to replace Turkey’s crucial habitats and protected areas with mines, dams, tourist resorts, and other types of “development”.

Not many places left for nature...

Not many places left for nature...

Turkey’s astonishingly rich biodiversity, especially for a temperate country of its size, is being destroyed rapidly.  

Unfortunately, Turkey lacks the biological ‘‘charisma’’ of many tropical countries and suffers from the international misconception that, as a nation that wants to enter the European Union, it must have adequate funds and priorities to support conservation.

These factors, combined with the Turkish public’s general disinterest in conservation and the government’s unrelenting pro-development obsession, have created a conservation crisis.

With Turkey’s biodiversity facing severe and growing threats, the country is now entirely covered by crisis ecoregions, most of them critically endangered.