Who We Are


David Maddox

Founder & Editor-in-Chief, The Nature of Cities Principal, Urban Oikos Partners LLC and URBIS Advisory Board Chair, New York, NY USA

Thomas Elmqvist

Professor in Natural Resource Management at the Stockholm University and Theme Leader at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm, Sweden

Chantal van Ham

EU Programme Manager: Nature Based Solutions in the IUCN EU Representative Office, Brussels

Oliver Hillel

Programme Officer at the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (SCBD, administered by the United Nations Environment Programme) in Montreal, Canada

Lena Chan

Director of the National Biodiversity Centre (NBC), National Parks Board of Singapore

Cecilia Herzog

Researcher and Associate Professor of Landscape Planning and Design at Pontifícia Universidade Católica of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Jose A. Puppim de Oliveria

Senior Research Fellow at the United Nations University Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability (UNI - IAS) in Tokyo, Japan

Paul Downton

Architect, Writer, Urban Evolutionary

Harini Nagendra

Professor in Sustainability at Azim Premji University, Bangalore, India

Fleur Timmer

Independent Eco-urbanism Consultant, Academic at the Academy of Urbanism


ICLEI Cities Biodiversity Center hosts the URBIS Secretariat; a role which is executed in close partnership with the Stockholm Resilience Centre (SRC) as Scientific Coordinator and the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (SCBD), as a facilitator between local, sub-national and national governments. The Initiative is chaired by Dr David Maddox, founder of the Nature of Cities. Partners include local and sub-national governments, ministries, international organisations, non-governmental organisations, research institutions and individuals. 

At the 10th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP10), in Nagoya, Japan, 2010, at which a Plan of Action was adopted for the engagement of local authorities in the Convention, a number of partners formalized their support for the URBIS initiative by way of a declaration. In addition to ICLEI, SCBD and SRC, the signatories include Cornell University, the United Nations University (UNU), the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation, as well as a number of founding cities. More recently, The New School of New York has become an active URBIS partner and several cities including Jerusalem, Sao Paulo, Montreal and Stockholm, have taken a leading role in developing and promoting the initiative.


All are concerned with the loss of biodiversity, the plight of natural capital and the degradation of ecosystem services that underpin human wellbeing; all share a common recognition of the pivotal role that cities play in the pursuit of a greener, safer and more prosperous future; and all are committed to paving pathways to that future through the collaborative design and implementation of participatory, integrated and sustainable urban development solutions, diverging from historical extractive approaches that undervalue ecosystem goods and services.


The URBIS initiative enables partners to address the challenges and opportunities that occur when governing and managing urban biospheres, in a concerted, synergistic manner. It connects acclaimed scientific researchers, foresighted policy-makers, visionary planners, and environmental practitioners from across the world. It transcends the science-policy interface; accelerates the exchange of knowledge, ideas, and good practices; galvanises collaborative action; and ultimately forges harmony between cities and the ecosystems of which they are part. The URBIS initiative comprises several components:

i. LEARNING COMMUNITY: An online resource hub provides access to guidelines, publications, and tools, as well as case studies and research papers prepared by the URBIS partners. A dedicated newsletter showcasing partners’ achievements is issued on a biannual basis.

ii. URBIS DIALOGUES: The partners meet periodically at international conferences, dedicated workshops and in webinars. At these gatherings, known as the URBIS Dialogues, partners share experiences, address specific urban challenges, consider new developments, explore collaborative opportunities and strategize on ways forward, with a special focus on city-regions. The URBIS Dialogues are facilitated in a highly interactive and participatory manner conducive to constructive discourse and candid debate. Activities undertaken include long-term visioning exercises, ecosystem service mapping and appraisal, needs assessments, strategic regional planning, and the development of demand-driven project proposals.  The URBIS Dialogues also present an opportunity for cities to engage in the CBD, in coordination with their national governments.

iii. DESIGNATION AND RECOGNITION PROCESS: The international partners of URBIS will formally recognise and promote the achievements of local and sub-national governments that follow a step-wise procedure entailing participatory, inclusive and comprehensive approaches to planning for urban sustainability. The designation process is designed to: consolidate political commitment to sustainable development and in particular, the ecosystem approach to planning; improve understanding of local ecosystems through assessment and ongoing monitoring and evaluation; and essentially enhance the governance and management of cities as urban biospheres. Through this process, good practices will be developed and catalogued for sharing amongst the learning community. The process can also support the establishment and maintenance of Biosphere Reserves under the auspices of the UNESCO Man and Biosphere (MAB) Program.

iv. APERTURE TO EXCELLENCE: The URBIS initiative is a gateway to numerous other programs, projects and networks to which ambitious partners can additionally subscribe. These include ICLEI’s flagship biodiversity initiative, Local Action for Biodiversity (LAB) Pioneer Project, which elevates local governments to become international leaders in the field of biodiversity and ecosystem management. The initiative also facilitates access and contributions to groundbreaking research undertaken by leading universities.

This website was funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) through SwedBio at Stockholm Resilience Centre


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