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As world goes urban, new focus on role of trees in cities

More attention needed to maximize benefits of urban forests

Photo: ©FAO/Rosetta Messori
People enjoying their free time in a park thanks to creation of green spaces in the city of Izmir, Turkey.
3 October 2011, Rome -  Focused policies and investments aimed at protecting and managing forest and trees in and around cities are needed to strengthen urban livelihoods and improve city environments, as the world becomes increasingly urbanized. This was the message offered today on the occasion of World Habitat Day by the international Collaborative Partnership on Forests (CPF), of which FAO is a member.

As an increasing share of the world's population now lives in cities and their surroundings, the CPF called on countries to pay more attention to managing and protecting urban and peri-urban forests.

In addition to improving the quality of urban environments, forests in cities can also mitigate severe weather impacts by shielding buildings from strong winds and flooding and can help cities save energy by acting as a buffer from hot weather.

"The accelerating rate of natural disturbances affecting cities such as storms, droughts, floods and landslides reminds us that resilience to disasters is of critical importance and that trees play an important role in protecting city environments," said FAO Assistant Director-General for Forestry Eduardo Rojas-Briales. "Good practices in urban and peri-urban forestry can contribute to building a resilient city in terms of mitigation and adaptation to the effects of climate change."

Urban forests also improve the well-being and health conditions of citizens by cooling the environment, particularly in arid zones.

Ecosystem services

"Trees and forests in cities provide urban dwellers with much needed recreational and ecological values, and during the International Year of Forests we have seen many examples of community activities in cities from tree plantings to nature hikes," said Ms. Jan McAlpine, Director of the United Nations Forum on Forests Secretariat. "These ‘green belts' also serve as valuable habitats for birds and small animals and create an oasis of biological diversity in urban environments."

Additionally, urban trees afford vital ecosystem services, such as carbon sequestration and carbon storage, and can serve as a source of alternative energy. 

Benefits for food security, environmental education

Urban agriculture and agroforestry, home gardens, and the harvesting of non-wood forest products like mushrooms can supplement household food supplies, but are not common practices, globally.

Urban forests can also serve as a living laboratory for environmental education in urban settings helping to bridge the gap between urbanized populations and forests.

First ever guidelines on urban forestry

FAO is helping develop guidelines for policy and decision-makers on urban and peri-urban forestry to promote sound policies and highlight good practices.

"Often unclear responsibilities for different parts of the urban forests, lack of policies and legislation, as well as lack of comprehensive information, hamper successful integrated approaches to urban forestry," said Cecil Konijnendijk, Deputy Coordinator of a research group on urban forestry initiated by the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO). "Initiatives such as FAO's guidelines for urban forest policy and management are of great importance."

The guidelines, which set to be published in July 2012, will give a comprehensive review of good practices and highlight significant initiatives taken around the world in order to contribute to improved policy development and decision making.