Cities occupy only three per cent of the Earth’s land surface, but they are home to more than half its people. As they grow, cities transform the natural world around them and can have devastating impacts on natural ecosystems, if left unchecked. Today, urban areas consume 75 per cent of global resource and energy use, produce more than half of the planet’s waste and at least 60 per cent of its greenhouse gas emissions. 

Although they have become hotspots of ecological disruption, cities are also vital hubs of innovation. By virtue of concentration, cities are where solutions can reach millions. Nature and climate action in cities can have a far-reaching impact.   

To mark World Environment Day, which this year focuses on restoring land, halting desertification and building drought resilience, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) announces six new pilot projects that joined the Generation Restoration Cities cohort of 22 cities. They are in Mendoza in Argentina, Curitiba in Brazil, Barranquilla in Colombia, Kisumu in Kenya, Overstrand in South Africa, Istanbul in Türkiye. 

The Generation Restoration cities project (2023-25), conceived as a contribution to the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, the Global Biodiversity Framework and the Paris Agreement, aim to empower urban stakeholders across the globe to replicate and scale-up ecosystem restoration initiatives through Nature-based Solutions (NbS). 

Drought and desertification threaten ecosystems worldwide, including freshwater ecosystems and soil, the connective tissue that makes all life on Earth possible. Over 40 percent of the world's land is degraded, affecting half the population and exacerbating extreme temperatures resulting from climate change. However, the six new “Pilot cities” aim to combat this decline.

Building Ecological Corridors and Empowering Communities in Mendoza, Argentina 

City of Mendoza
Image: City of Mendoza

The city of Mendoza stands at the forefront of environmental stewardship in Argentina. Conscious of the urgent need to combat the effects of climate change, Mendoza has declared a state of climate emergency, paving the way for a transformation of public policies. By restoring native forests and investing in dynamic biological corridors, the city intends to demonstrate its commitment to preserving its natural heritage. Mendoza is not only restoring ecosystems but also empowering local communities to become champions of change. 

"As a local government, we have a historic opportunity to advance ecological restoration policies to address climate change impacts. Ecosystem restoration improves urban ecosystems’ health, contributes to improving air and water quality, provides natural resources, and enhances the overall well-being of local communities. Mendoza in Argentina is leading environmental stewardship by restoring native arid ecosystems and empowering communities through ecological corridors. Through this, we wish to promote biodiversity and align with the Mendoza Resilient City 2030 Plan's goals", proudly shared Ulpiano Suárez, Mayor of Mendoza, Argentina. 

Climate and Biodiversity Planning in Curitiba, Brazil

Curitiba, in Brazil is developing an integrated urban plan designed to seamlessly link biodiversity preservation with climate action. This plan includes initiatives to protect and restore natural habitats, enhance urban green spaces, and promote the use of native plant species to support local wildlife. It also incorporates sustainable infrastructure solutions such as green roofs, rain gardens, and permeable pavements to manage stormwater and reduce urban heat islands. By aligning nature goals with climate resilience strategies, Curitiba aims to create a more sustainable, resilient urban environment that can serve as a model for other cities in Brazil and beyond.

Sustainable Stream Restoration in Barranquilla, Colombia 

Image by:  Freddy Gutierrez/City of Barranquilla 
Image by:  Freddy Gutierrez/City of Barranquilla   

In the heart of Barranquilla, the Leon Creek, once a lifeline for the city, now stands as a symbol of neglect amidst urban expansion. However, thanks to the city’s ambitious Leon Creek Restoration project, hopes emerge that the creek can be preserved, recovered, and integrated and preserved in the city's landscape. Beyond that, the initiative aims to trigger broader urban renewal by improving water quality, promoting biodiversity, protecting natural resources, and fostering community well-being. 

Restoring the Auji River in Kisumu County, Kenya 

Kisumu
Image by Evans Dimms on Unsplash

Kisumu County, nestled between rural and urban landscapes in Kenya, is experiencing the degradation of its vital ecosystems, particularly the Auji River, a lifeline for both formal and informal settlements in this part of the County. Faced with the threats of pollution, displacement, and biodiversity loss, the project aims to restore two biodiversity hotspots along the river. By joining UNEP’s Generation Restoration cities, Kisumu County aims not only to restore nature but also to improve livelihoods and safeguard the well-being of its people.

"The County Government of Kisumu in Kenya is proud to have been chosen by UNEP as a Pilot City for the Generation Restoration Project, to showcase our commitment to sustainability. Through legislation and partnerships with local communities, we strive to prevent ecosystem degradation and promote restoration. Our efforts include afforestation projects in schools and public spaces, the establishment of botanical gardens, and the implementation of green corridors. We are also committed to improving livelihoods, by promoting agro-ecological practices for sustainable farming", shared Prof. Peter Anyang’ Nyong’o, Governor, County Government of Kisumu. 

Protecting Watersheds and Peatlands for Water Security in Overstrand, South Africa 

image
Image: South Africa by Pixabay

In Overstrand, South Africa, the health of the Onrus River catchment is vital to the well-being of the local population and ecosystems. With peatlands and wetlands facing extensive degradation, the city aims to adopt a holistic approach to watershed management. By rehabilitating the entire catchment corridor, it will safeguard water resources, prevent land degradation, preserve biodiversity, and mitigate the effects of climate change to ensure the long-term resilience and sustainability of its people and nature. 

"The Onrus Catchment2Coast River Rehabilitation and Restoration Project launched as part of UNEP's Generation Restoration project, is part of the Overstrand Municipality's 2022-2027 Integrated Development Plan, aimed at addressing climate issues. Environmental conservation is crucial as disasters, emergencies, and socio-economic circumstances depend on a functioning natural environment and ecological corridors—the living, green lungs between catchments and coastal systems. It is therefore essential that these activities are adequately funded to prevent natural disasters and consequent socio-economic emergencies”, highlighted Dr. Anelie Rabie, Executive Mayor, Overstrand Municipality, Hermanus, South Africa.

Enhancing biodiversity through native species reintroduction and habitat creation in Istanbul, Türkiye 

Image by Engin Yapici on Unsplash

Istanbul in Türkiye aims to position itself as a model for sustainable urban development, by establishing ecological corridors to connect green spaces and support pollinators, fostering community engagement through public participation and volunteer programs, and raising awareness through community events and collaborations. This project will involve research, community involvement, and communication and awareness campaigns for ecosystem restoration.

14 Generation Restoration cities harnessing the power of Nature-based Solutions for ecosystems restoration

With these additions, UNEP’s Generation Restoration Cities now counts 14 pilot projects. The eight initial pilots are: Sirajganj in Bangladesh, Manaus in Brazil, Douala IV in Cameroon, Samborondón in Ecuador, Kochi in India, Mexico City in Mexico, Quezon City in the Philippines, and Dakar in Senegal.

As we come close to the milestone of submission of new Nationally Determined Contributions in February 2025, cities and sub-national governments play a critical role in raising ambition and implementing actions”, said Mirey Atallah, Chief, Adaptation & Resilience Branch, UNEP. “Generation Restoration cities demonstrate that in the real world, solutions for climate, nature, and pollution come together. We welcome these courageous cities which showcase that we can thrive in a restored environment”.

The benefits of Nature-based Solutions to urban ecosystems include enhancing biodiversity, reducing local temperatures, building resilience to erosion and sea level rise, improving air and water quality, strengthening community cohesion and life quality, improving food supply and security, creating green jobs and economic opportunities. 

From revitalizing urban rivers, watersheds and other freshwater ecosystems in Brazil, Colombia, India, and Kenya, giving new life to mangrove forests in Cameroon and Ecuador, to designing greenbelts and corridors in Argentina and Senegal, each of these “pilot cities” is undertaking unique restoration projects tailored to their local context. They demonstrate the value of “ordinary” nature, so critical to ecoservices we rely on. They are also being mentored by a growing number of “Role Model cities”, acting as restoration champions with successful track-records in implementing nature-based solutions.