Developing a method to assess interactions between urban systems and biodiversity

Representation of the results of a study on including biodiversity as a criterion in urban projects, on the scale of a building and a neighborhood. The type of representation is a question tackled by the research as part of the project

Measures to protect biodiversity have been reinforced in the regulations on urban development, particularly with the Law on the Protection of Biodiversity adopted in 2016. The objective is to provide the stakeholders of development and construction with indicators and tools to assess what impacts buildings and neighborhoods have on biodiversity. At the end of 2016, the CSTB signed a 3-year partnership with the National Museum of Natural History and EPA Marne. The aim of the partnership is to develop a reliable method to assess interactions between urban systems and biodiversity.

Biodiversity: a criterion of environmental assessment

For several years, the CSTB has been developing its expertise in Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) and multi-criteria environmental assessment tools. Although the impacts of projects on energy consumption, climate change, waste production, etc. are properly taken into account by this approach, the effects on biodiversity have been difficult to integrate until now.

In late 2016, as part of a thesis, the CSTB joined forces with two partners to develop a method for assessing interactions between urban systems and biodiversity. The National Museum of Natural History (MNHN Paris) is providing its expertise on living organisms, which complements the competencies of the CSTB in the areas of Life Cycle Analysis, buildings and cities. In its capacity as a public developer, EPA Marne, which is co-funding the thesis, hopes to obtain decision-making tools to prioritize construction scenarios that are the most favorable to biodiversity.

An original approach to research

The unique feature of this research project is its hybrid nature, aiming for a convergence between:

  • the ex situ approach based on LCA, which, for now, is not precisely localized in time and space;
  • and the in situ approach of ecological analysis, which is associated with a given space.

This involves formally establishing and integrating information based on complementary areas of expertise.

To include biodiversity in LCA-based tools, the scientific hurdles to be cleared include the consideration of the causes behind biodiversity loss (loss of habitat for wildlife and plants, pollution, invasive species, climate change, etc.) as well as the positive impacts of an urban project on biodiversity, i.e. through the creation of wetlands, green corridors, etc.

For each type of interaction between urban systems and biodiversity, the aim will be to develop models adapted to the different scenarios.

These models will be tested as part of ongoing projects in Marne-la-Vallée. The CSTB will use an urban digital model and geographic information systems (GIS). It will work on developments to integrate biodiversity into the selection criteria. Biodiversity will thus be included in the general process of the design of a project using BIM, as are other criteria, such as structure, energy, etc.

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