21 September 2019: In parallel to the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Action Summit, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) and the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) announced initiatives to support nature-based solutions to climate change in urban areas. Both endeavors will support the expansion of urban forests as a way to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and improve the health, well-being and resiliency of urban dwellers.
Much like the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) Great Green Wall of Africa and the Sahel project, the FAO initiative will foster a ‘Great Green Wall for Cities.’ It will aim to green urban areas, integrating them into a continuum of restored landscapes. FAO, with partners, will provide support to three cities in each of 30 countries across Africa and Asia to commence the initiative. According to a FAO press release, the goal is to, “by 2030, create 500,000 hectares of new urban forests and restore or maintain 300,000 hectares of existing natural forests in the Sahel and Central Asia.”
It is envisioned that the wall will capture 0.5-5 gigatons of carbon dioxide (CO2) annually, and that the introduction of more green infrastructure will help urban areas reduce and prepare for the impacts of climate change. More forests will also diminish heat traps and improve ambient air quality, providing ancillary benefits for people’s overall health and well-being – benefits that will be important given that the proportion of the world’s populations living in cities is projected to reach 70% by 2050. [FAO Press Release]
The UNECE also launched a tree-centric campaign to address climate change in urban areas. The Trees in Cities Challenge calls on mayors to make tree planting pledges towards reducing GHGs and improving their cities’ health and well-being.
In launching the campaign, the UNECE highlighted the benefits of trees, namely that they can; reduce pollutants; limit the urban “heat island effect” and reduce air conditioning needs; control erosion, landslides, surface water and floods; boost biodiversity; improve well-being; and elevate property values. A single tree can store up to 150 kg of CO2 per year, an important benefit given that urban areas produce an estimated 75% of CO2 emissions globally.
Per the UNECE, the Mayors of Tirana (Albania), Victoria (Canada), Bonn (Germany) and Helsingborg (Sweden) have announced their intentions to join the Challenge, which will factor into their cities’ climate action agendas. The City of Bonn announced that it will plant approximately 25,000 trees in the city forest by the end of 2020. Peter Danielsson, Mayor of Helsingborg welcomed the initiative and pledged to plant 8,000 trees, also by 2020.
The Trees in Cities Campaign will run through 2020. Mayors can pledge, track their progress, and share their experiences on the Trees in Cities Challenge platform.
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