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College Station, Texas — By 2050, a city the size of London could be created every seven weeks if current trends in urban expansion continue, according to a study co-led by a Texas A&M University faculty-researcher.

Burak Güneralp, assistant professor in the Department of Geography, College of Geosciences and colleagues published their work as a report in The Nature Conservancy. The report will be presented to the national delegates at the 14th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity in Egypt. The findings in the report largely rely on the urban expansion forecasts Güneralp developed earlier.

The study shows that urban growth presents extreme challenges to biodiversity and ecosystem services due to the ongoing loss and fragmentation of habitats from the expansion of cities.

“The message is clear: We have to take action and we must do it quickly,” Güneralp says of the team’s findings. “The challenges presented by urban expansion for conservation of biodiversity and ecosystem services we all depend on are only going to get more intense as the world continues to urbanize.”

The report’s findings show that by 2050, there will be 2.4 billion more people in cities. This means:

  • Humanity will urbanize an area of over 460,000 additional square miles, larger than the entire country of Colombia.
  • Over 70,000 square miles of natural habitat could be destroyed by 2030.
  • Natural habitats likely to be lost to urban growth store an estimated 4.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide. This would be the equivalent of the annual carbon dioxide emissions from 931 million cars on the road.
  • Coastal areas could be especially affected by urban expansion and by 2030 urban areas are projected to more than double, increasing the number of those urban dwellers who depend on protection from natural ecosystems to more than 330 million people.

Countries expected to lose the most natural habitat due to urban growth include the United States, Brazil, Nigeria and China, the study finds.

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