Forests 4 Cities
By 2050, two-thirds of humanity will live in urban areas. As cities grow, so too will climate and food-related challenges. Urban and peri-urban trees and forests are part of the solutions.
Key areas of work
While cities are responsible for an estimated 75% of all carbon dioxide emissions globally, they are also particularly vulnerable to climate change, which is driving an increase in stress, floods, droughts and other impacts in and around cities.
Urban nature can simultaneously reduce the carbon footprint of cities and increase their resilience. Urban nature-based solutions can solve multiple local, national and global challenges while delivering conserving biodiversity, advancing climate action and supporting sustainable development.
Since 2019, UNECE’s Joint ECE/FAO Section on Forestry and Timber has been working with cities on high-impact nature-based solutions and launched the Trees in Cities Challenge. It invites mayors and local governments to make a tree planting pledge to support greener, more sustainable, healthier, food secure and climate resilient cities.
UNECE’s Informal Expert Network on Urban Nature was established in 2021 to provide a forum for knowledge exchange, coaching and capacity building as well as peer-to-peer learning to strengthen management of urban nature, particularly trees and forests.
These and other activities promote urban nature as a high-impact, cost effective solution for cities facing the multifaceted challenges of climate change.
Cities are experiencing increased food insecurity and nutritional challenges. Urban food production is expected to increase by 50% to help meet this increased demand (source: WEForum). There is a need for comprehensive and nature-based solutions to enable the sustainable production and availability of wholesome, fresh food in urban areas. There is also a need to ensure the food produced in cities is eaten.
Food forests, urban farming, fruit tree planting, roof-top and vertical farming not only allow for food to be grown locally, but expand urban green spaces. Together these enhance a host of ecosystem benefits contributing to climate change mitigation, reduced environmental footprint from food production and increased biodiversity in cities. UNECE is working to support cities across the region with initiatives related to connecting their residents to local food.
Cities are hotspots of the global carbon cycle, with considerable fossil fuel-related CO₂ emissions from electricity consumption, transportation, residential and commercial buildings. In fact, global GHG emissions from buildings amount to the equivalent of 21% of global GHG emissions. Of this, 18% are embodied emissions from the production of cement and steel used in buildings. Globally, cement and steel used in buildings emitted 2.2 GtCO2-eq, more than twice the amount that was reported for aviation (1.04 GtCO2- eq) in 2018. Over the period 1990- 2019, global CO2 emissions from buildings increased by 50%.
An available and sustainable alternative is wood. a proven solution which will be key for low carbon construction in the future. Trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere which is stored during the entire lifespan of the wood, including when it is used for buildings. Plenty of sustainably grown wood is available for construction in the UNECE region. It is one of the best performing materials in terms of carbon footprint at all stages of the building phases and beyond, as the carbon is only released when the wood is burned or rots. Cities have an important role to play in reducing global carbon emissions. In fact, buildings could become important carbon sinks with the increased use of low carbon or carbon negative materials in favour of energy intensive options.
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