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Asia-Pacific looks at greening cities to improve lives and livelihoods

06/04/2016 Zhuhai, China

There is huge potential for an increase in urban forests, trees and green areas to counteract the negative effects of rapid urbanization and improve livelihoods in the major cities of Asia and the Pacific, a regional meeting on urban forestry heard today.

The First Asia-Pacific Urban Forestry Meeting is co-convened by FAO in Zhuhai, China, where experts from 20 countries have gathered to consider ways to improve the lives and livelihoods of millions of urban inhabitants through the greening of cities.

The Asia-Pacific region is home to 53 percent of the world’s urban population and is projected to have one of the largest urban growth rates during the next 20 years, especially in developing countries.

“Urban forestry can be a powerful means of addressing problems associated with spiraling urbanization, including food insecurity, poverty, air pollution, soil degradation, water shortages and other public health issues – yet it is frequently overlooked,” said FAO Forestry Officer Simone Borelli.

In developing countries in particular, planting trees in and around cities can help fight hunger and malnutrition among the urban poor by providing a source of food, wood fuel and other non-wood products including leaves for livestock fodder.

Urban forests and green spaces can also alleviate poverty by creating job opportunities in nurseries, gardening, food and furniture production and street vending.

Forests for food security

In India, jamun (Syzhigum cumini) trees planted along avenues in Delhi contribute to both food security and livelihoods, yielding about 500 metric tonnes of highly nutritious fruit per year and providing employment opportunities for harvesting, preparing and selling the fruit. At the same time, they shade and cool urban roads with their wide canopies, alleviating the urban ‘heat island’ effect whereby cities heat up more than the surrounding rural countryside.

Forests, trees and green spaces in cities provide a wide range of other benefits, from increasing cities’ resilience to severe weather events by stabilizing urban soils and moderating storm water runoff to removing air pollutants, preserving biodiversity and providing opportunities for recreation.

In China, studies have shown that forests and trees planted in the city of Beijing remove over 1 260 tonnes of pollutants from the air each year and store 200 000 tonnes of carbon dioxide in their biomass. In addition, they filter and provide over 286 million cubic metres of fresh water to the city’s inhabitants annually.

Urban forestry for the Sustainable Development Goals

The First Asia-Pacific Urban Forestry Meeting is co-organized by FAO, the Urban Forestry Research Center of the State Forestry Administration of the People's Republic of China, and the host city of Zhuhai.

The participants will explore the role of urban forestry in helping to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly SDG 11, which focuses on making cities safe, resilient and sustainable.

Among the targets of SDG 11 are increasing resource efficiency, mitigation and adaptation to climate change, resilience to disasters in cities, and providing universal access to safe and accessible green and public spaces by 2030.

“As poverty and related problems increasingly shift from rural to urban areas, the Asia-Pacific region will need to benefit from greater investments by communities and governments to protect and restore its urban forests, trees and parks, both to help achieve the SDGs and for a greener, healthier and happier future,” Borelli said.

Case studies from various countries, including Australia, India, Republic of Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand, will be presented at the meeting.

Based on the results of their discussions, the experts will agree on a final statement, the Zhuhai Declaration, which will include recommendations for future collaboration on urban forestry strategies in the Asia-Pacific region.

For more information on the event and on FAO’s work with urban and peri-urban forestry, please visit: www.fao.org/forestry/urbanforestry.

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