Turning grey to green: Urban forests answer sustainable development challenges

16 October 2016, Quito – Urban forests can make cities healthier, safer, and wealthier, but their potential is not being fully realized, according to a new FAO publication launched today on the sidelines of Habitat III in Quito, Ecuador.

Guidelines on Urban and Peri-urban Forestry explains how cities can maximize the contribution of urban forests to addressing local and global sustainable development challenges, including climate change mitigation and adaptation, food security, and human health and well-being.

Increasing urbanization will see 70 percent of the world’s population living in cities and towns by 2050, exacerbating existing problems such as urban poverty, greenhouse gas emissions and pollution, and their potential impacts on public health.

But the FAO publication argues that urban forests are a vital part of the solution to many of these challenges and sets out guidelines on how to plan, design and manage this key resource.

“City planners and other urban decision-makers are often unaware of the crucial economic, social and environmental benefits that urban forests can provide, which means they are spending their budgets elsewhere,” said FAO Forestry Officer Simone Borelli, one of the authors of the book. “In this publication we show them why making urban forests a priority and ‘turning grey to green’ is a wise investment that will improve many aspects of citizens’ lives.”

Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals

The publication outlines the ways in which urban forests can contribute to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, from making cities more sustainable, to reducing poverty and hunger, enhancing natural habitat, improving human health and wellbeing, mitigating climate change, and fostering a more sustainable economic growth.

Although cities occupy only 2 percent of the planet’s surface, their inhabitants produce more than 70 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions. In addition, cities – and particularly the urban poor living in low-lying areas – are highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, such as rising sea levels and inland floods.

But urban forests can counteract some of these effects, by reducing the impacts of extreme weather and floods, improving air and water quality, storing carbon, decreasing urban energy consumption by providing shade and lowering temperatures.

The publication also sets out ways that urban forests can improve well-being, prevent non-communicable disease and promote recovery from illness, with green spaces encouraging more active lifestyles and reducing urban stressors such as ultraviolet radiation and air and noise pollution. The publication explains that a 10 percent increase in urban green space in a community can postpone the average onset of health problems by up to five years.

“These guidelines will also help increase community awareness of the contributions that trees and forests can make to improving quality of life, and of their essential role in global sustainability,” Borelli said.

The publication also presents an overview of how to develop an enabling environment for urban forestry through appropriate governance, policies, and legal frameworks, and sets out measures required for successful urban forestry programmes and how to implement them.

last updated:  Monday, May 29, 2017