THE immediate picture that comes up when people talk about reforestation programmes is that of the outdoors, especially in deforested rural communities.
In rural areas, trees are an essential commodity, a resource for wood fuel, fencing poles, building, provision of fruits, source of medicine and livestock fodder, but nowadays, trees are under threat from agricultural expansion, human settlements, overgrazing, among others.
Rarely do communities factor in the benefits of growing trees in urban settings.
There is generally lack of intrinsic value bestowed upon planned urban forestry growth or taking care of the trees that already exist as municipalities plan and design urban settlements.
Of course, many trees have to make way for urban infrastructure such as roads, pipes, housing, industries, shops, schools and factories, among a host of others.
For these reasons, the general public ends up seeing urban forestry growth as a distraction rather than an essential ingredient in urban development and green revolution.
The traditional view and practice is that urban settings require trees only on road and street ways, for decorations and flowering especially in summer, where mostly the jacaranda is the common sight.
This set makes trees suitable for combinations of urban physical infrastructure and vegetation, thereby providing immediate and local cover for locally generated carbon emissions.
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These are generated from factories, industries, dump sites, transport fumes, e-waste and litter burning activities.
The significance of urban forestry is that it reinforces the natural touch in constructed infrastructure, strategically situated to fight environmental, social and economic challenges in urban areas.
Trees and an assortment of other vegetation are an ingredient and a co-benefit towards resilient building in urban areas, thereby contributing to a combination of built environment and natural dividends.
Urban forestry contributes to urban resilience, which is an integrated approach, positioned to provide multifunctional dividends, in which climate change is the point of focus.
As part of urban infrastructure, trees and other vegetation contribute to biodiversity transformation, including the health and well-being of urban residents through their regular interactions and contact with nature.
These contribute to the bigger picture of how the integration of buildings and vegetation can be effective tools for urban development, delivering sustainable development goals (SDGs) and resilience building.
As such, SDG 9 (industry, innovation and infrastructure), SDG 15 (life on the land) and SDG 13 (climate action) including SDG 11 (sustainable cities and communities) are key drivers.
The development of rural afforestation programmes should be complemented by the urban greening programme as ways of stimulating integrated climate adaptation, as a way of realising nature-based solutions.
Besides fighting carbon emissions, urban forestry programmes provide diverse ecosystem services which play important roles in strategies for tackling climate change mitigation and adaptation.
These ecosystem services come in diverse forms such as provision of food and timber, regulating services in water and natural soil management, recreation, aesthetic benefits, among others. All these are important for ecological resilience.
Urban forests and trees regulate temperatures, through shade and evaporation cooling including water, through infiltration, playing critical roles in urban adaptation to climate variability and change.
Because of their hard surfaces, urban areas are prone to flooding but through urban trees, run-off can be reduced through infiltration. Extreme urban heat, which impact on the health wellbeing of people through heatwaves can be moderated by green cover.
In this regard, the green infrastructure is instrumental in improving the wellbeing of urban vulnerable communities. Urban parks and green corridors are significant dividends for driving green infrastructure growth.
Water related infrastructure in the form of wetlands, streams, ponds, parks, green belts, among others, provide a wide range of connected networks of green spaces.
Urban forests help to stabilise land and absorb run-off and flood water which lead to soil erosion. In this regard, surface erosion is generally low where there is forest and vegetation cover.
The role of forests and trees in regulating water evaporation is key and should guide the need to grow more trees and regulate the impacts of climate-induced weather events.
Urban forests are essential in maintaining carbon stocks.
Therefore, urban forests should be part of a broad network of many projects and programmes that contribute to effective mitigation and adaptation practices through biodiversity conservation and ecosystem services.
Urban resilience building can also be achieved through connected and integrated efforts of all stakeholders involved in city planning, designing, built environment, ecosystems and biodiversity management.
- Peter Makwanya is a climate change communicator. He writes in his personal capacity and can be contacted on: [email protected].