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Thursday, September 28, 2023

International Day of Forests: Forests and sustainable cities

The global celebration of forests provides an opportunity to raise awareness of the importance of all types of woodlands and trees, and celebrate the ways in which they sustain and protect us.

There is an under-appreciation of forests by governments at all levels in Nigeria . Photo credit: UNDP Cambodia/Chansok Lay/Oddar Meanchey

In Nigeria, less than 5% of the total land area is afforested, yet, even the sparse forest remainders are under threat with land use pressures (agriculture, infrastructure, housing and resources-harvesting) a critical driver of deforestation.

Unfortunately, there is an under-appreciation of forests by governments at all levels in Nigeria not just for their important ecosystem functions but even for human survival and sustainability as carbon sinks and oxygen pool, together with the numerous other benefits they offer.

Key Messages for the society:

  • Forests and trees store carbon, which helps mitigate the impacts of climate change in and around urban areas.
  • Trees also improve the local climate, helping to save energy used for heating by 20-50%.
  • Strategic placement of trees in urban areas can cool the air by up to 8 degrees Celsius, reducing air conditioning needs by 30%.
  • Urban trees are excellent air filters, removing harmful pollutants in the air and fine particulates.
  • Trees reduce noise pollution, as they shield homes from nearby roads and industrial areas.
  • Local populations use the fruits, nuts, leaves and insects found in urban trees to produce food and medicines for use in the home, or as a source of income.
  • Wood fuel sourced from urban trees and planted forests on the outskirts of cities provides renewable energy for cooking and heating, which reduces pressures on natural forests and our reliance on fossil fuels.
  • Forests in and around urban areas help to filter and regulate water, contributing to high-quality freshwater supplies for hundreds of millions of people. Forests also protect watersheds and prevent flooding as they store water in their branches and soil.
  • Well-managed forests and trees in and around cities provide habitats, food and protection for many plants and animals, helping to maintain and increase biodiversity.
  • Forests in cities and surrounding areas generate tourism, create tens of thousands of jobs and encourage city beautification schemes, building dynamic, energetic and prosperous green economies.
  • Urban green spaces, including forests, encourage active and healthy lifestyles, improve mental health, prevent disease, and provide a place for people to socialise.

Governments at all level therefore, must ensure that urban planning incorporates green and woodland spaces at all stages of development. While developing a comprehensive reforestation strategy, we must however develop a national database of tree species indigenous to Nigeria, understand the status and plan a wholesome intervention.

By Dr Joseph Onoja (Acting Director General, Nigerian Conservation Foundation)

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