In our all-too-hectic urban lives, a city park is a great place to unwind. Trees and green spaces have mental health and well-being benefits, on top of being great for relaxation and recreation.
Trees also help reduce air pollution. According to the study Tree and forest effects on air quality and human health in the United States, particulate matter, which is particularly damaging to lungs, is retained on tree surfaces, while leaves act as filters, absorbing polluting gases.
But the study also warns that while trees can mitigate the effect of air pollution, deposits of air pollutants on leaves can also affect photosynthesis “and therefore potentially affect pollution removal by trees”. As with everything, balance is key.
The cooling effect of trees
Trees can also significantly cool temperatures in cities. In hot climates, tree cover can reduce energy expenditure on air conditioning, while driving down the consumption of air polluting fossil fuels that power these cooling systems. Experimental investigations and modelling studies in the United States have shown that shade from trees can reduce the air conditioning costs of detached houses by 20–30 per cent.
“Trees could reduce temperatures in cities up to 8°C, lowering use of air conditioning and related emissions by up to 40 per cent,” says Simone Borelli, an Agroforestry and Urban/Periurban Forestry Officer with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
“When part of a wider landscape mosaic, large green patches within and around cities would also reduce emissions through avoided sprawl and excess mobility requirements,” he adds.
Urban tree-planting has to be done right. Species planted should be ones that are most effective at trapping pollution, typically those with large leaves. Officials also need to account for things like wind patterns and tree spacing. If water is scarce, they’ll want to consider drought-tolerant varieties, and avoid trees that increase pollen and allergies.
Action is all the more important given that urbanization is accelerating—the proportion of people living in cities will be 60 per cent in 2030 and 66 per cent in 2050. Nearly 90 per cent of this increase will occur in Africa and Asia. To address the impacts of this rapid growth and the related challenges, a large-scale effort is needed.
Building the Great Green Wall of Cities
Nearly 8,000 km long and 15 km wide, the Great Green Wall is an African-led movement of epic proportions initiated in 2007 to green the entire width of northern Africa, a semi-arid region extending from Senegal to Djibouti. A decade in and roughly 15 per cent under way, the initiative is slowly bringing life back to some of Africa’s degraded landscapes, providing food security, jobs and a reason to stay for the millions who live along its path.
An initiative of this nature in urban areas is being developed by the Food and Agriculture Organization and other partners in preparation for the UN Climate Summit in September 2019. It aims to create up to 500,000 hectares of new urban forests and restore or maintain up to 300,000 ha of existing natural forests in and around 90 cities of the Sahel and Central Asia by 2030. Once established, this “Great Green Wall of Cities” would capture 0.5–5 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide per year and stock carbon for centuries.
On 1 March 2019 the UN General Assembly established the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030, which should give further impetus to tree-planting efforts.
“UN Environment promotes the planting of trees as a key way to mitigate climate change and boost land-based biodiversity, 80 per cent of which is in forests,” says Tim Christophersen, head of UN Environment’s Freshwater, Land and Climate Branch, and Chair of the Global Partnership on Forest and Landscape Restoration. “We are working with partners across the planet to boost tree planting for ecosystem restoration. There is scope for planting one trillion more trees, in addition to the 3 trillion that already exist on Earth. But it has to be done right; planting indigenous trees, supported by local communities, is a good way to go.”
Let the stones gather some moss
In those forest ecosystems, trees are not alone in cleaning the air. An ambitious project by Greencity Solutions in Berlin, Germany, seeks to marry high-tech applications with another natural air purifier: moss.
“The ability of certain moss cultures to filter pollutants such as particulate matter and nitrogen oxides from the air makes them ideal natural air purifiers,” says Greencity Solutions.
“But in cities, where air purification is a great challenge, mosses are barely able to survive due to their need for water and shade. This problem can be solved by connecting different mosses with fully automated water and nutrient provision based on unique Internet of things technology,” it explains.
Or by planting more trees that will provide the cover and humidity, that will help moss take hold and grow.
BRIDGE for Cities 4.0: Connecting Cities through the New Industrial Revolution
Organized jointly by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and the Finance Center for South-South Cooperation (FCSSC), “BRIDGE for Cities 4.0 – Connecting Cities through the New Industrial Revolution” took place in Vienna from 3 to 4 September.
An annual event devoted to encourage knowledge sharing and connectivity among cities, this year’s edition of the event explored the impact of the 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR) and how technology-driven innovation can facilitate the transition towards smart city development.
The two-day event attracted around 800 Participants from over 100 countries. Besides high-level plenaries on particular aspects of the 4IR (urban innovation hubs, circular economy, smart mobility), a Mayors Roundtable led to the adoption of a Declaration of Intent by 15 Cities expressing strong interest to work with UNIDO. A Business Roundtable resulted in the formulation of a Resilience Framework for Projects along the Belt and Road.
To enrich the event, two specific sessions were designed to match regions and cities with similar development challenges. One focused on Metropolis GZM, Poland; Sverdlovsk region, Russia and the Ruhr region in Germany. All three region share a common past linked to mining and heavy industry and now are transitioning to an economic model based on knowledge and innovation. The second matched Shenzhen, China and Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on the basis of the existing sister city agreement. Shenzhen is nowadays a model for cities in the developing world and Phnom Penh is taking advantage of the expertise available in China while developing its city master plan. This cooperation was sealed through an exchange of letters between the two cities’ representatives.
In parallel, the innovations presented by exhibitors visualized practical solutions, and City-Business workshops facilitated partnerships among previous case cities and other stakeholders. The interaction with the famous humanoid Sophia Robot provided participants with an opportunity to obtain first-hand insights regarding the possibilities and opportunities of artificial intelligence (AI) today.
The event has been the first of UNIDO at the Vienna International Centre to receive the Austrian Ecolabel for Green Meetings and Green Events.
São Paulo to Host International Conference on Sustainable Cities
The city of São Paulo will host the conference “Catalyzing Sustainable Urban Futures” from September 16 to 20, 2019 at Ibirapuera Park, bringing together mayors, public managers, and urban practitioners from across Brazil and abroad. Made possible by a partnership between the Global Platform for Sustainable Cities (GPSC) led by the World Bank, São Paulo City Hall, and the Sustainable Cities Program, the event will host the 3rd Global Meeting of the Global Platform for Sustainable Cities and the 2nd International Conference on Sustainable Cities.
Press are invited to sessions on September 17 afternoon, opening day (September 18) and throughout the rest of the week. Register by September 6:
The event will feature a Mayors’ Roundtable on the opening day (September 18) chaired by São Paulo Mayor Bruno Covas, where Brazilian and international city leaders will discuss their unique approaches to sustainable urban development.
“São Paulo is moving towards an increasingly sustainable future by enacting strategic measures to benefit our population. Hosting the 3rd Global Meeting of the Global Platform for Sustainable Cities to discuss the topic with domestic and international experts and officials helps us achieve our goal of further contributing to the sustainable urban development of our city,” stated Mr. Covas.
“Cities are where the future is being built. Rapid urbanization brings opportunities – but also unprecedented challenges such as increasing disaster risks exacerbated by climate change – to cities and their residents, especially the poor and vulnerable,” says Sameh Wahba, Global Director, Urban, Disaster Risk Management, Resilience and Land Global Practice, World Bank.“The 3rd Global Meeting of the Global Platform for Sustainable Cities will bring together cities around the world to share innovative and integrated solutions to address those challenges. We look forward to working with our partners in Brazil and worldwide to link knowledge to investment in building low-carbon and sustainable cities for all.”
In the span of one week, nine thematic sessions will focus on topics central to city planning and management, including: biodiversity; financing sustainable urban development; gender and race inequalities; generating opportunities, work, and income for residents; geospatial data; inclusiveness and affordable housing; social participation; transit-oriented development; and urban regeneration. These topics are closely aligned with the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations 2030 Agenda and the GPSC’s three knowledge pillars: sustainability, integrated urban planning and management, and municipal finance.
“For us who work with a focus on municipal management, the opportunity to bring together cities that are taking action and creating policies toward the 2030 Agenda in different parts of the world has a unique meaning. We strive to share the most modern initiatives to improve the sustainability of our urban development processes and residents’ quality of life in Brazilian cities. We believe these practices can also be inspiring elsewhere in the world and we look forward to sharing this knowledge at the conference,” said Jorge Abrahão, General Coordinator of the Sustainable Cities Program.
In addition to participants from Brazil, the event will gather representatives from GPSC’s 28 cities in 11 countries, along with its knowledge and investment partners. The estimated audience is 800 people, including urban leaders, civil servants, urban practitioners, academic researchers, journalists, experts from financial institutions, international organizations, the UN, private sector leaders, and civil society organizations. The conference “Catalyzing Sustainable Urban Futures” is supported by the Global Environment Facility (GEF).
Catalyzing Sustainable Urban Futures:
3rd Global Meeting of the Global Platform for Sustainable Cities and
2nd International Conference on Sustainable Cities
- Bruno Covas, Mayor of São Paulo
- Jorge Abrahão, General Coordinator of the Sustainable Cities Program
- Sameh Wahba, Global Director, World Bank Group
See a full list of speakers here.
WHEN: September 16–20, 2019
Open to press starting Sept 17 afternoon; official opening on Sept 18.
WHERE: Ibirapuera Park, São Paulo, Brazil
- Sept 17 afternoon – UMAPAZ (Av. Quarto Centenário, 1268 – Vila Mariana, São Paulo – SP, 04030-000)
- Sept 18 morning – Auditorium Oscar Niemeyer
- Sept 18 afternoon – Auditorium Oscar Niemeyer and Bienal Foundation
- Sept 19 – Bienal Foundation
- Sept 20 – Site visits by registration
UN and civil society team up to make cities more sustainable and inclusive
How can we make sure that cities become more inclusive, with a smaller environmental footprint, and leave no-one behind? These questions will be tackled at the UN Civil Society Conference, which is due to take place in the capital of Utah, Salt Lake City, at the end of August.
Representatives of civil society will have the opportunity to meet with senior UN officials, and discuss a wide range of solutions to the challenges of urban life.
The theme of this year’s conference, “building sustainale and inclusive cities and communities”, reflects the fact that over half of the world’s population, some 55 per cent, now live in urban areas, with that figure expected to rise to 68 per cent by 2050.
Conference sessions will discuss topics connected to the main theme, including climate change; opportunities for youth; and emerging technologies and innovation.
Leaders of large urban centres, such as Salt Lake City in the state of Utah, the communities that live in them, as well as the private sector, are at the forefront of finding sustainable solutions to poverty; climate change; clean water and energy; and many of the other challenges connected to urban living.
Salt Lake City’s sustainability credentials include the development of a Climate Positive Plan, laying out a path for a transition to 100 per cent clean energy by 2032, and an 80 per cent reduction in carbon emissions by 2024. In addition, the nearby Utah Valley University, works to educate the campus and larger community on the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and has been an affiliate member of the UN’s Department of Global Communications (DGC) since 2017.
“As a city committed to being inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable, it is an honor to be the first US host city of the UN Civil Society Conference outside of New York,” said Mayor Jackie Biskupski in a statement. “I can think of no better time and no better place than Salt Lake City, for the UN and the world’s NGOs to expand awareness in this country of sustainable development goals and the value of global unity.”
Highlights include interactive thematic sessions, NGO-sponsored workshops, exhibits and a youth hub. Speakers and attendees will include leaders and other representatives from NGOs, UN agencies, academia, faith traditions, the public and private sectors and youth from around the world.
The UN Civil Society Conference is described by the UN as the Organization’s “premier event in the civil society calendar”, focusing on UN topics of interest to civil society and NGOs, where issues of global concern can be discussed.
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