by Michelle Djong Hui Ing

In September 2021, the European Parliament approved a European Platform for Urban Greening, alongside binding targets on urban biodiversity to be reached by 2030. At the same time, the EU Biodiversity Strategy aims for the world’s ecosystems to be restored, resilient, and adequately protected by 2050. Sustainable mobility planning should incorporate protection of biodiversity in urban areas, thereby restoring the world’s ecosystem.

We have all heard talk about sustainability. But what does it mean in the context of mobility? Does sustainable mobility include the protection of biodiversity? How can we ensure that biodiversity is a part of sustainable mobility? We shed some light on these issues, so that we can situate biodiversity protection in our efforts to achieve sustainable mobility.

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Principles of sustainable mobility

Sustainable mobility was defined by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development in 2001 as “the ability to meet the needs of society to move freely, gain access, communicate, trade, and establish relationships without sacrificing other essential human or ecological values today or in the future.” However, the importance of protecting biodiversity, such as the protection of habitat through zoning or regulations, is not sufficiently emphasised.

A 2019 study of sustainable urban mobility policies conducted a literature review on academic and policy documents since the 1980s on problems of sustainable urban mobility, and the consequences for healthy cities. It identified 13 intervention axes in sustainable urban mobility for healthy cities, as mentioned in the table below. However, the protection of biodiversity is not one of the main axes,  showing how this issue is often overlooked by policy makers.

Intervention Areas

1.        Healthy and clean behaviours in transport8. Land use planning
2.        Integrated transport information supported by ICT9. Data collection
3.        Inclusive, safe and barrier-free transport system10. Legislation
4.        Transport speed11. Agents and competences
5.        Networks, intermodality and connectivity12. Instruments and studies
6.        Infrastructure for active modes13. Awareness of benefits for health, environment and economy sectors
7.        Transport education



Source: Sustainable Urban Mobility Policies as a Path to Healthy Cities—The Case Study of LMA, Portugal

Principles for protecting biodiversity while ensuring mobility

We can better protect biodiversity by ensuring that local planning documents follow national laws. For example, under the Urban Solidarity and Renewal Law, France requires a territorial coherence scheme (SCoT); a local planning document used by the central government to incorporate land use, housing, transport, and commerce into a single sustainable urban planning meant to prevent sprawl. Safeguarding biodiversity and conserving the ecosystem is a part of these indicators, integrated through local sustainable development under the SCoT. Following these guidelines, Lyon constructed a city of short distances to ensure economic and population growth while protecting the environment through land-use and transport planning.

Priority: Understand the Web of Factors Affecting Mobility and Biodiversity

These days, most plans for inter-region or inter-city transport through motorised highways would take into consideration animal crossings specially built for large wildlife species to ensure ecological continuity across motorways.

However, while such solutions seem simple enough at face value, if one examines the problems closely, urban mobility is complex. A solution to one problem can cause new problems or amplify existing ones. While Tesla is lauded for its production of electric vehicles which reduces carbon emissions, advancing one sustainability goal may cause other environmental problems. A German court in 2020 ordered Tesla to stop cutting down trees surrounding the site of its planned factory near Berlin, over concerns that clearing the forest would threaten protected wildlife.

To understand the interconnectedness of factors contributing to sustainable mobility, we can do the following:

  1. Conduct community surveys to make policies and interventions that are in line with local needs.
  2. Rather than looking at issues in a silo, we can look at mobility systems as a whole. Systems thinking assumes that the component parts of a system will act differently when isolated from the system’s environment or other parts of the system. An independent monitoring system can be used by various agents on different scales (from the local to the metropolitan/regional) to have an assessment of the dynamics in the long term, so that common objectives of different departments are in tune with one another.
  3. National and international benchmarking studies can enrich the performance of municipalities, especially if we pay closer attention to biodiversity.

Mandate the Protection of Biodiversity

Biodiversity is an essential part of the solution to climate change. In 2017, a group of researchers discovered that nature can deliver at least 30 percent of the emissions reductions needed by 2030 to prevent climate catastrophe. Hence, by attaching more importance protecting biodiversity in our sustainable mobility efforts, we could contribute to keeping the promise to future generations to mitigate climate change, without compromising on the need for urban mobility for our current population.