9 April 2019 | Reading 7 mins.

Urban forests make cities more sustainable

Michela Conigliaro
Consultant, Agroforestry/Urban and peri-urban forestry, Forestry Policy and Resources Division, FAO
Simone Borelli
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations | FAO · Forestry Department

Michela Conigliaro, Consultant, Agroforestry/Urban and peri-urban forestry, Forestry Policy and Resources Division, FAO

Simone Borelli, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations | FAO · Forestry Department

By 2050, it is estimated that cities will host an additional 2.5 billion urban dwellers. Such rapid urbanization is likely to have a tremendous impact on the health of inhabitants, surrounding resources and the environment. Urban forests offer an effective solution for making cities healthier, safer, and more sustainable places for all.

Cities consume around 80% of total energy produced in the world, emitting 75% of global carbon emissions and producing 70% of global waste. These figures are substantial considering cities only cover 3% of the Earth’s surface. But by 2050, it is estimated that cities will host additional 2.5 billion people with most urbanization occurring in mid-sized cities of less developed regions, notably in Africa and Asia. While trees and forests are typically among the first resources affected by urbanization, their preservation and management are key to mitigating the costly effects of urbanization.

Trees improve quality of life

Urban forests are invaluable for sustainable urban development, increasing the overall well-being of urban communities. A green city where trees and forests are grown and managed in harmony with the urban environment is a healthier and safer place to live. Trees act as natural filters, absorbing harmful air pollutants released from the burning of fossil fuels from both traffic and industry. In 2002, the 2.4 million trees in the center of Beijing, China, removed 1261.4 tons of pollutants from the air. Such pollutants—including gases and particulates—are the leading cause of the increasing prevalence of respiratory diseases among children and adults living in urban areas. According to the World Health Organization, these pollutants also cause the premature death of 3 million people every year, proving that trees are essential to the health of urban inhabitants.

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