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Urban Forestry: The panacea to all problems and needs of urban society

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By Nithin Sridhar

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The Union Government has decided to start an “urban forest” program and through the program, it will plant trees in those areas that have been marked as forest lands but do not contain any trees.

Previously, on June 6th, Union Environment and Forest Minister, Prakash Javadekar had inaugurated Urban Forest Garden project at Warje, near Pune. The project was one of the initiatives of the Union Government under its urban afforestation programme that intends to increase tree cover around the cities.

These measures will go a long way in countering the hazardous effects of rapid urbanization.

What is Urban Forestry?

An urban forest is a forest or a group of trees that grow around any human settlement, be it a city, a town or a village and management of such forests constitutes “Urban Forestry”.

Urban Forestry can be defined as: “the art, science, and technology of managing trees and forest resources in and around urban community ecosystems for physiological, sociological, economic, and aesthetic benefits that trees provide for society.” 

The urban forests play a very vital role in improving the quality of life in those areas. They provide various benefits to the ecosystem- like removal of pollutants, biodiversity conservation, and heat reduction. They provide tangible and intangible economic outputs as well. Hence, they are inevitable for the overall development of an urban center.

What is the need for Urban Forestry?

Rapid urbanization has led to severe depletion of forest cover in the last few centuries. The depletion of forest cover has in-turn adversely affected the ecological balance and the economic stability of the society. The health of the people has been affected as well.

In 1900, 10% of the global population was living in urban centers. But it is now more than 50% and is expected to rise up to 67% in another 50 years.

The urban population of India has increased from 17% in 1951 to 31% in 2011 and is expected to reach 55% by the year 2015.

This concentration of human population in various urban centers results in various environmental concerns- like increased air and water pollution, increased temperature, destruction of natural habitat, increased emission of greenhouse gases, and an overall ecological imbalance.

But these harmful effects of urbanization can be mitigated by adopting urban forestry.

Urban forests outside India

Many countries have successfully employed the concept of Urban forest in their cities. Although there is a difference in opinion among experts regarding the ideal per capita tree cover area that is required for a city, it can be observed that many cities which are famous for their green cover have maintained a green coverage of 20 to 40% of geographical area and a per capita green space of 25 to 100 sq. metres. 

The International minimum standard as suggested by World Health Organization (WHO) is 9 sq. metres of green open space per city dweller.

A study conducted in 386 cities of Europe revealed the green space coverage as ranging from 1.9% to 46% with an average of 18.6%. The urban green space per capita varied from as low as 3 sq. metres to as high as 300 sq. metres. The average tree canopy area over urban areas in United States is 27%. In 2006, China had an urban green cover of 32.54%.

China is one of the best examples of successful implementation of Urban Forestry

Though it went through rapid urbanization in last few decades, its urban green cover has not decreased. In 1986, it had a green space coverage of 16.9% which increased to 20.1% in 1991. It further increased to 23% in 2000 and 32.54% in 2006.

By such sustained efforts at urban forestry, China made sure that the harmful effects of its industrialization and urbanization were mitigated to some extent.

Urban forests within India

The situation of Urban forests across various Indian urban centers is not very encouraging except in few areas. Delhi has a forest cover around 20%. Chandigarh stands at 14.9%. Gandhinagar, municipal areas of Ahmedabad and Vadodara stand at 53.9%, 4.6%, and 16.29% respectively.

According to this report, the green cover in Bengaluru Urban district and Bengaluru Rural is estimated at 6.85% and 13.96% respectively. The figures for Chennai, Hyderabad, and Jaipur are 6.25%, 5%, and 4.49% respectively, and Mumbai City and Mumbai Suburban stand at 1.21% and 26.91% respectively.

According to India State of Forest Report, 2013, urban tree cover exists on 12,790 sq.km out of the total 77,997 sq.km of urban area. That is, only around 16.4% of urban area is covered by trees. This is quite below the global standards of 20-40% forest coverage.

Further, the situation is very worrisome in places like Hyderabad and Jaipur which have very low percent of tree cover.

Challenges to implement Urban Forestry:

There are significant challenges that need to be addressed before urban forestry programmes can be successfully implemented. The very first challenge is to change the attitude of all stakeholders; be it general public or politicians.

The issues of environment are often put forward as being obstacles to growth and development.

This mindset needs to change.

People must be made to realize that development and environment are not contradictory. Instead, true development is not possible without taking into account the environmental impact of every activity.

Therefore, the planning and developing of a city with all its buildings and amenities should go hand in hand with the conservation of ecological balance.

The Union government appears to be aware of these challenges. In its “Draft Guidelines for conservation, development and management of Urban Greens”, it lists down various issues related to the conservation of urban greenery:

  1. Absence of long term planning resulting in frequent changes in land use. As a result there is lack of integration of trees/ greens with planned development process and trees are often planted as an afterthought.
  2. Land covered with trees is viewed as loss when compared to the land put to commercial and infrastructural uses.
  3. Limited space available for tree planting. Trees are often viewed as obstructions to development and therefore become the first casualty in the process.
  4. Water scarcity, refractory soil and stressful growth conditions impact proper growth and health of the trees, leading to high cost of development and maintenance. Lack of trained manpower for the management of greens poses a serious problem.
  5. High public pressure on urban greens due to high floating population. Urban poverty and homelessness encourage squatting in open areas reserved for trees.
  6. Lack of respect, sensitivity and care from different sections of the society. Green spaces, young plantations, and saplings are prone to vandalism.

Benefits of Urban Forestry

Urban Forestry has innumerable benefits ranging from economic to ecological. Its ecological benefits include reduction in temperature, rise in urban areas due to heat island effect, reduction in CO2 emissions through photosynthesis, removal of other air pollutants, prevention of soil erosion, recharge of groundwater, and stabilization of soil. They act as home to many animals and birds and hence help in conservation of biodiversity.

For example, it has been reported that urban trees store around 700 million tons of carbon in the border areas of USA. A total of 711,000 metric tons of air pollution removal has been achieved by US urban trees.

A study showed that the forest ecosystems of Beijing could intercept approximately 1.43 billion cubic metres of annual rainfall and 277.82 million cubic metres of soil water under ideal conditions, and supply 286.67 million cubic metres of fresh water.

Further, reduced pollution and increased biodiversity will improve the quality of human life.

Many of the diseases that are caused due to water and air pollution can be reduced as well. People will have a place to relax and de-stress which will in turn improve their emotional health.

Apart from this, the urban forests provide various intangible benefits.

Urban shade trees can help in reduction of building air conditioning demand and the savings may be as high as US$ 200 per tree. A 2010 study revealed that the total economic value of water conservation provided by Beijing’s forests was US$ 0.63 Billion.

In a study conducted in China, the value of intangible forest environmental services was six times that of forest material goods.

Hence, urban trees play a very vital role in maintaining ecological balance and improving human life. Furthermore, they impart various economic benefits. They provide tangible economic items like firewood, timber, fruits, medicinal products etc. They further act as places for recreational activity. Therefore, forest tourism can be made a source of wealth generation.

Therefore, Urban forestry is a necessity and not a necessary evil. It is not an economically unprofitable initiative. Instead, it can provide enormous economic benefits and at the same time help conserve environment and improve human life. Therefore, the measures being taken by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forest is in the right direction.

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UN Wildfire Conference To Focus On Ecological Connectivity

The theme of the UN wildlife conference will be 'Migratory species connect the planet and together we welcome them home'

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UN wildfire conference will focus on ecological connectivity. Pixabay

The theme of a major UN wildlife conference dedicated to migratory species in India early next year will be ‘Migratory species connect the planet and together we welcome them home’, it was announced in Bonn on Tuesday.

Under this theme, governments, scientists, conservation groups and wildlife experts will gather at the 13th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS COP13) due to take place in Gandhinagar in Gujarat from February 15 to 22.

The theme was announced by CMS Acting Executive Secretary Amy Fraenkel and Inspector General of Forest at the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change Soumitra Dasgupta during COP13 preparatory meetings currently underway in Bonn.

Throughout their life cycles and migration ranges, migratory animals depend on a functioning network of connected habitats across countries and continents to breed, feed and rest.

The COP13 theme highlights the importance of ecological connectivity to better protect migratory wildlife and their habitats.

Ecological connectivity is the unimpeded movement of species and the flow of natural processes that sustain life on earth.

The loss and fragmentation of habitat are the key threats to migratory animals across the world. They are also considered to be the greatest threats to biodiversity worldwide with climate change exacerbating these effects.

UN Wildfire Conference
This UN conference will focus on migratory species. Pixabay

In a world that faces a continuous decline in biodiversity with migratory animals being a key component, ecological connectivity is essential to halt and reverse this trend.

The CMS has called for the concept of connectivity to be integrated into the new Global Biodiversity Framework, which will be adopted at the end of next year in China.

Fraenkel said: “The CMS COP13 is expected to be a milestone for future conservation policy. To save nature in an increasingly fragmented world, the core concept of connectivity needs to be incorporated in global conservation efforts and should be embedded in the new deal for nature.”

Dasgupta said the CMS COP13 would be an important opportunity for India to showcase and demonstrate its leading work and commitment to global wildlife conservation.

“We look forward to welcoming the international delegates to India and to working with them to make the planet a more hospitable place for both migratory animals and people.”

The human footprint has left lasting marks on the planet. Roads, railways, fences and urbanization are increasingly cutting through landscapes and dividing nature.

They interrupt the web of life and prevent migratory animals from completing their essential journeys.

Nevertheless, the world is expected to invest around $90 tn in infrastructure in the next 15 years alone, resulting in more new roads and railways. These obstacles to migration interrupt the natural life cycle of migratory wildlife and pose a lethal danger.

The UN global assessment on biodiversity and ecosystem services, released by IPBES in May, documented the dramatic decline of biodiversity in all parts of the world.

Without increased action, over 1 million species could face extinction in our lifetimes.

As environmental changes grow, countries around the world need to save and restore natural connections across land and water. These connections enhance resilience to environmental changes such as climate change and support nature and people.

UN conventions
The UN convention is the only convention that conserves migratory species and their habitats across national boundaries. Pixabay

The CMS brings countries together to shape transboundary policies that ensure the long-term survival of migratory animals across countries and continents.

It is the only convention that conserves migratory species and their habitats across national boundaries.

To be successful, large-scale conservation must consider entire migration systems and the functioning of the migration process itself. The geographic scope goes beyond protected areas or sites subject to other conservation measures, to include an ecological network of areas important for the survival of species.

Preserving large landscapes and seascapes affects many people and requires international collaboration. There is a rapidly growing community of organizations working on large-scale conservation initiatives in landscapes and seascapes built on connectivity.

They connect people and nature across cultures, jurisdictions, and geography.

Also Read- Number of Indians Studying in the U.S. Surpassed 2 Lakh

The Convention on Migratory Species is working closely with governments, international organizations, conservation groups, and wildlife experts to ensure that connectivity. Conservation will be a central part of future global conservation policy and that the unimpeded movement of species and the flow of natural processes will continue to sustain life on earth for generations to come. (IANS)