Urban Sustainability Planning and the Ecosystem Services Approach in select Canadian cities and Ontario watersheds
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Fifteen years ago, the 2005 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, a global assessment of the world’s ecosystems, found that 60% of global Ecosystem Services (ES) examined were being degraded or used unsustainably. Net economic and human well-being gains in the last half century have placed significant pressure on the earth’s natural resources, caused irreversible biodiversity loss, and reduced vital ecosystem functions, services, values and benefits (MA, 2005). This is particularly concerning in an era of climate change as ecosystem services offer natural climate resilience. Sustainable development has been instrumental in driving responses to improve ecosystems at all scales, including inter alia, the SDGs and Paris Agreement (internationally), resource management and conservation strategies (regionally), and sustainability planning (locally). The focus of this thesis is the local scale, using select Canadian cities and Ontario watersheds, to assess the applications, gaps and opportunities for integrating the ecosystem services approach to strengthen urban sustainability and climate change planning. The research presented here shows that despite progress in planning for sustainable development, ecosystem services are neither a planning priority nor fully accounted for in land use decisions. Therefore, ecosystem services are either completely left out of urban sustainability planning decisions or appear in an ad hoc fashion. A review of Canadian city sustainability plans, survey to planners and interviews with watershed managers support this finding. If vital constituents of human well-being are directly linked to the integrity of ecosystem provisioning, regulating, supporting and cultural services, why are ecosystem services not fully integrated into decisions? This thesis discovers answers to this question by investigating the literature and conducting evidence-based research. The thesis also provides advice for action. In cities, a shift in environmental-ecological thinking and doing has to occur, starting with a formal recognition of the Ecosystem Services Approach (ESA) in city planning. By doing so, cities can build ES capacity and talent to commit to full cost accounting of ES. Cities must bridge the science-policy gap using a multiscale and interdisciplinary approach to allow for ES in decisions. Similarly, in Ontario watersheds, Conservation Authorities (CAs) must integrate consistent and long-term ES monitoring across all watersheds and raise their profiles. Regional authorities must make ES explicit in policies and plans. This will drive the environmental-ecological shift that must occur. This thesis contributes to the literature by uncovering from a planning perspective, current perspectives and applications of the ecosystem services approach within Canadian cities and Ontario watersheds. Evidence shows that cities such as Vancouver, Toronto and Edmonton have made some progress to advance the science and integration of ES in city planning. It also shows that CAs, while generally conscious of the value of ES in land-use planning, face a number of challenges integrating ES into decision making. This thesis raises the profile of ecosystem services in urban sustainability planning more broadly, demonstrating its utility and applicability for all cities. It does this by identifying what is possible (i.e. best practices from the literature on how ecosystem services can be applied in planning, such as in trade-off analysis and scenario planning); what the gaps are (i.e. where Canadian cities and Ontario watersheds lag); and what the opportunities are for planning theory and practice (i.e. through a series of recommendations, a governance framework and emerging models in urban planning).
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Natasha Tang Kai (2020). Urban Sustainability Planning and the Ecosystem Services Approach in select Canadian cities and Ontario watersheds. UWSpace. http://hdl.handle.net/10012/15825
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