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Asia-Pacific action plan to promote urban forests’ role in achieving the world’s Sustainable Development Goals

13/09/2017 Seoul, Republic of Korea

Urbanforests — the trees and woodlands in urban areas — are key to making Asia-Pacific cities greener, healthier, happier and more resilient to climate change, an FAO co-sponsored regional meeting heard today.

The contributions that urban forests across the Asia-Pacific region are making towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), is high on the agenda of the Second Asia-Pacific Urban Forestry Meeting (APUFM) co-convened by FAO, in Seoul, Republic of Korea.

The three-day meeting has attracted 120 participants from 12 Asia-Pacific countries along with experts from other regions and is expected to culminate in the launch of the Seoul Action Plan, laying out seven goals and providing a set of solid urban forestry actions to be implemented by countries to increase sustainability and resilience of urban development in the region.

Benefits of urban forests in the Asia-Pacific region

The Asia-Pacific region is home to over four billion people — roughly 60 percent of the world’s population — and half of them live in cities. The population is expected to swell by another billion by 2040.

Depletion of natural resources, limited availability of clean water, increased air pollution, and a worsening of adverse effects from climate change are critical issues facing the region’s cities due to rapid urbanization.

However, research shows that urban forests increase the quality of urban living.Urban forests and green spaces also increase cities’ resilience to severe weather events. For example, thanks to their canopies, trees remove pollutants from the air and cool the urban environment, while preventing risks associated with extreme climatic events.

Urban forests and trees can increase soil stability and improve the availability of water, thus contributing to increased food security and in some cases, indirectly adding to livelihoods. In Delhi, for example, roadside Jamun trees can produce as much as 500 tons of fruit per year, which is often harvested and sold to pedestrians and motorists.

A ten percent increase in urban green space can postpone onset of health problems by up to five years. As well, the prevalence of obesity among children living in areas with good access to green spaces is reduced by roughly 10 – 20 percent, compared to urban areas where children have limited or no access to green spaces.

Seoul Action Plan and the Sustainable Development Goals

The Seoul Action Plan will guide Asia-Pacific countries in realizing the global vision of the New Urban Agenda, agreed at the UN Habitat III summit in Ecuador in 2016, and enable them to contribute through urban forestry to achieving the SDGs, particularly SDG 11 focusing on making cities safe, resilient and sustainable.

The Action Plan is backed by a broad range of partners and it is expected that dedicated funding for its implementation will be made available from both the private and public sectors.

“There is a lot of excitement surrounding this new Action Plan and the partnerships behind it,” said Hiroto Mitsugi, FAO Assistant Director-General, Forestry. “We have a real chance here to enhance the quality of billions of people’s lives, and make a genuine difference to the vast urban communities in the region.”

Maximizing impact on the ground

“In our frantic urban environments, it is easy to forget about the importance of our silent forests in our cities and suburban areas. But they literally breathe life into our often overcrowded habitats,” said Jong-Jin Kim, FAO Deputy Regional Representative in Asia and the Pacific during the opening session. “Well-managed urban and peri-urban forests (UPF) provide ecosystem goods and services and other public benefits in and around cities and can help local administrations respond to the needs of growing urban populations.”

The APUFM, under the theme ‘Acting together for greener and cooler cities’, is organized by FAO, the Korean Forest Service, the Korean National Institute of Forest Science and the city of Seoul.

Experts and practitioners from different countries are sharing local and national experiences on how urban forests and trees can help address global and local challenges and improve the liveability of their cities. Case studies from various countries, including Australia, China, India, Japan, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand will be presented.

This year’s meeting will update countries on the current status of urban forestry in the region and facilitate long-term collaboration between countries and cities to maximize the impact of the Seoul Action Plan on the ground.

The event builds on the first Asia-Pacific Urban Forestry Meeting in 2016 in Zhuhai, China, where the Zhuhai Declaration was issued, recommending future partnerships around urban forestry in the Asia-Pacific region.

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