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International Day of Forests: Highlighting role of forests in storing carbon

On Wednesday, March 21, 2018, the world celebrates the International Day of Forests. It marks an occasion to shine the spotlight on the importance of sustaining and protecting woodlands and trees, which are vital to economies, livelihoods and environment.

Forest Day

View of a tree-lined street in Barcelona, Spain. Photo credit: FAO/Yujuan Chen

This year’s theme, “Forests and Sustainable Cities”, provides the platform to increase awareness on the role of forests in storing carbon, which helps mitigate the impacts of climate change in urban areas.

By 2035, about half of Africa’s population will be living in urban areas. This population trend presents considerable demands for employment, services and infrastructure, of which forest resources will play a key role.

To mark the International Day of Forests, the African Natural Resources Centre of the African Development Bank (AfDB) is launching two new reports – “Assessing forestry law enforcement, governance and trade in Africa” and “How forestry contributes to the African Development Bank High 5s: Challenges and Opportunities”.

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The reports reinforce the important role of forest and trade in driving social and economic transformation in Africa.

Africa’s forests cover about 21-23% of the continent’s total land mass, driving economic growth and sustaining local livelihoods. Forests form an integral part of the High 5 priorities of the African Development Bank.

This year’s campaign aims to raise awareness of the contributions of forests in building sustainable cities and communities. Urban forests, trees and parks provide multi-faceted benefits to urban communities, from cooling the environment and saving energy, to providing health benefits, drinking water and building resilience against climate change. The theme is of particular relevance to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and SDG15 and SDG11 in particular.

The global celebration of forests also provides a platform to raise awareness of the importance of all types of woodlands and trees, and celebrate the ways in which they sustain and protect mankind.

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The key messages, according to the UN, are:

  • 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 percent.
  • Strategic placement of trees in urban areas can cool the air by up to 8 degrees Celsius, reducing air conditioning needs by 30 percent.
  • 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.
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