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Making cities greener, healthier, happier places to live – International Day of Forests

FAO urges investments in urban forests to address pollution, climate change, and lack of water supplies

20 March 2018, Rome - Investing in green spaces can help transform cities into more sustainable, resilient, healthy, equitable and pleasant places to live, said FAO ahead of the International Day of Forests (21 March 2018).

If planned and managed well, cities can be great places to live, but many urban developments cause environmental havoc - ultimately leading to problems such as high temperatures, flooding, and air pollution. The cost for citizens is deteriorating well-being. The costs for the planet include increased greenhouse gas emissions, the degradation of soils and waterways, according to the FAO forestry publication Unasylva, the latest issue of which is devoted to urban forestry in celebrating the International Day of Forests.  

"Well managed forests and trees in and around cities provide habitats, food and protection for many plants and animals, helping to maintain and increase biodiversity," said FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva in his video message on the occasion of the Day.  He stressed the need "to join forces to protect forests and trees to make urban environments more sustainable".

Cities need forests and trees

More than half the world's population now lives in cities, and by 2050 almost 70 percent of the world will be urbanized. Although cities occupy only three percent of the Earth's surface, they consume 78 percent of energy and emit 60 percent of carbon dioxide.

Woodlands, forests and trees in a city and on its fringes perform a wide range of vital functions - such as storing carbon, removing air pollutants, assisting in food, energy and water security, restoring degraded soils and preventing drought and floods. In a medium size city, for instance, urban trees can reduce the loss of soil by around 10,000 tons per year.

By shading and cooling the air, forests and trees in urban areas can reduce extreme temperatures and mitigate the effects of climate change. Indeed, trees properly placed around buildings can reduce air conditioning needs by 30 percent.  In cold climates, by shielding homes from the wind, they can help save energy used for heating by 20-50 percent.

Urban and peri-urban forests can increase the resilience and quality of watersheds and water reservoirs by preventing erosion, limiting evapotranspiration and filtering pollutants. And planting fruit-bearing street trees can increase the availability of food within cities.

Inspiring stories from around the world

Many cities are already demonstrating their commitments to a more sustainable future and there are many excellent examples of green urban development, according to a new FAO publication called "Forests and sustainable cities - Inspiring stories from around the world" also launched today on the occasion of the International Day of Forests.

The publication highlights different ways in which cities around the globe have used forests and trees to improve the living conditions of their citizens, which may serve as inspiration for others.

Beijing's afforestation miracle

Beijing is one of the world's most populated and polluted cities. Without large forests and other green areas the city risks becoming concrete jungle with increasingly serious effects on health and wellbeing of urban dwellers.

In 2012, Beijing initiated the largest afforestation programme in its history.  In suburban and peri-urban areas, most lands were afforested after moving low-end industries. Forests, which cover now more than 25 percent of the city plain - an increase of 42 percent - provide neighbourhoods with more space for recreation.

Community involvement in Nairobi

Karura forest in the central north of Kenya's capital Nairobi was once a crime-ridden area. The forest's proximity to the rapidly growing city led to plans to reduce the forest area to make way for property development. But when the local communities became involved in its management, its fortunes turned around.

Conservationists, led by environmental activist Wangari Maathai, launched a highly publicized campaign to save the forest. Collaboration with various stakeholders, including local authorities, private sector, community and resident associations, donors and non-governmental organizations, played a decisive role in improving forest management of the Karura forest.

Local people have benefited considerably from direct participation.  The forest is no longer a place of danger for them but rather a source of opportunities. It employs 46 permanent workers, 36 of whom are from surrounding communities. It has also become a significant tourist attraction: from zero visitors in 2009, the forest now welcomes on average 16 000 visitors per month.

Lima: reducing risk of natural disasters

In Lima/Peru, the municipality launched an afforestation project to reduce the threat of natural disasters, including earthquakes and landslides, in 2015. Local people were taught in afforestation that helps to reduce the risk of disasters because it stabilizes slopes, controls and prevents rock falls, retains mud and sediments, and improves the environment. 

An area of 14 hectares - the size of five football fields - has been designated for a park, which includes trails, viewing points and family recreation spaces. As a result, 3500 native trees have been planted and a drip irrigation system installed using treated wastewater.

FAO's work on urban forests

FAO supports the adoption of urban forest solutions for cities with guidelines as well as technical and communication tools.

In Niger, for example, FAO assisted the Government in elaborating a national policy for the management of green spaces in and around cities to protect the environment and mitigate the effects of climate change. 

In Cape Verde, FAO supported the Government in developing integrated urban forestry plans in Praia and in other major cities through organizing trainings for technicians on planning, design and management of urban green spaces and constructing new nurseries.

International Day of Forests

Given that this year the High-Level Political Forum will be reviewing SDG 11 on making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable, and SDG 15 on protecting terrestrial ecosystems, the choice of the theme for the International Day of Forests this year, which highlights the various benefits of urban forests and trees, could not have been more timely.

On 21 March, FAO will celebrate the Day and its theme "Forests and sustainable cities" at a special ceremony at FAO headquarters in Rome which will be attended by city administrators from Lima, Ljubljana, Philadelphia and Mantova. The event will be webcast here

Photo: ©Héctor Chambi/PREDES
The city managers in Lima launched an afforestation project to reduce the threat of landslides.

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