INTERACT-Bio uses natural asset mapping and ecosystem services to locate and protect nature’s benefits in cities

The concept of ecosystem services or ‘nature’s benefits’ recognizes that the natural environment provides many critical and free services that contribute directly to human wellbeing and livelihoods. However, defining the spatial location of the areas that generate these benefits in order to mainstream them into planning frameworks remains a challenge in many cities of the global south.

The INTERACT-Bio project team used ‘natural asset mapping’ to identify and define the location of key ecosystem services in the nine project cities across Brazil, India and Tanzania. As a common baseline, high-resolution remotely sensed spatial data from the European Space Agency’s Sentinel 2 mission was captured during 2017 for each of the nine project cities. The project team worked closely with service providers GeoTerraImage to develop landcover classes that highlight areas which provide ecosystem services, such as wetlands, mangroves, grasslands and woody vegetation. This analysis resulted in a detailed spatial dataset that defines 12 different classes of landcover and can be used to generate a variety of mapping outputs and analytics for all three project countries.

In Tanzania, the ICLEI Africa INTERACT-Bio project team and UFZ technical support team worked closely with city partners to identify desired project outcomes as part of the project scoping exercise in 2017. A priority voiced by the Dar es Salaam city leadership was the need to identify and protect dwindling green open spaces within the city, to offset overexploitation of natural resources such as indigenous trees, and to mitigate some of the impacts of climate change such as the urban heat island effect.

To address this need, the INTERACT-Bio project team utilized a ‘thematic atlas’ approach to combine data and information generated from the remote natural asset mapping process with local spatial data, scientific studies and input from Tanzanian experts and city officials. The result, which is in the final stages of development, is a compendium of thematic maps and explanatory text that ‘make the case’ for the importance of green open space in Dar es Salaam. In addition to highlighting the status quo of ecosystem services in the city, the atlas provides good-practice policy responses and management interventions, towards aiding decision-makers in prolonging and maximising the benefits to citizens of green open spaces.

In line with their diverse contexts, the Brazilian and Indian INTERACT-Bio teams have adopted different spatial methodologies to mainstream biodiversity into planning and decision-making. These are however based on the same baseline methodology that was procured for natural asset mapping. This demonstrates the potential of combining customized earth observation data and information with input from local partners to aid city regions to make sustainable planning decisions.

Through co-production the thematic atlas on nature’s benefits, the INTERACT Bio project has produced a value-adding methodology and tool that can help cities make informed decisions about managing and investing in green open space and green and blue infrastructure. It can also help guide land use and development planning in a way that will enhance resilience and nature-based development. And it supports cities in building the case for investment in green space based on nature’s benefits (ecosystem services) and urban resilience considerations.

The INTERACT-Bio project is supported by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU) through the International Climate Initiative (IKI).

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