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Cities4Forests: A City-Led Call to Action

Henry Prillaman

On September 22nd, I had the pleasure of attending the World Resources Institute Cities4Forests declaration. City leaders from around the world came together to discuss their current methods of forest conservation and more than 50 mayors pledged to work for greater restoration of forests in the future. 

The main panel of our leaders for the discussion consisted of Mayor Bruno Reis, of Salvador, Brazil; Mayor Yvonne Aki Sawyerr, of Freetown, Sierra Leone; Mayor Anil Kumar, of Kochi,  India; and Councillor Susan Aitken, Leader of Glasgow City Council. 

Deforestation and degradation of the world’s forests have proved to be a serious problem in efforts to alleviate the stress on the climate and the world’s population. We are in need of actionable effort to stop this loss of forests, and cities around the world are taking that action. They are working to create urban forests, whether this be planting trees around the city or even creating mini forests in previously abandoned lots. Forests directly within the vicinity of the city aren’t the only important areas to conserve, as forests upstream have great importance for water regulation and purification. This implies the need for cities, policymakers, and citizens to work together to not only create new “urban forests,” but also help restore and conserve forests everywhere. 

Mayor Bruno Reis is working with other mayors in Brazil to help protect the nation’s forests. He represents Brazil’s National Front of Mayors (FNP), an association of over 400 mayors who are working to create more sustainable cities and engage in projects to address the issue of deforestation. Reis made a statement on the future of his city, that Salvador is committed to reaching carbon neutrality in 2049, and tree planting efforts are an important part of achieving this goal. He wants Salvador’s projects for urban trees to be inclusive, sustainable and just for all citizens in the city. Mayor Reis wants Salvador to become the premier Atlantic forest of Brazil, and he has a vision for how to accomplish this. He finishes his opening remarks with a promise: “You can always count on Salvador to protect our forests. We are available to Brazil and around the world to raise this issue.”

Mayor Yvonne Aki Sawyerr, of Freetown, Sierra Leone, has advocated for increased tree planting and monitoring all across her city. Freetown has recently experienced mudslides, so citizens have been planting on slopes to combat the problem. Planting trees around Freetown and the surrounding areas not only mitigates disaster but also increases biodiversity. As the trees mature, their growth is monitored and payments are made to the cultivators. Mayor Sawyerr wants Freetown to become “Freetown the Tree Town,” and she’s accomplishing this through citywide projects and initiatives to have citizens take more of an active role in planting trees. 

Mayor Anil Kumar, of Kochi, India, has observed a worrisome trend around his city. Kochi is surrounded by ancient temples, which are full of trees. But these trees have been starting to dwindle as the city has expanded. Mayor Kumar wants to work to save the forests through initiatives for education and city projects. He called these forests the “Lungs of the City” and is pledging to protect, conserve and replant trees to keep these lungs intact. 

Last on our main panel was Councillor Susan Aitken, Leader of The Glasgow City Council, Scotland. Councillor Aitken acknowledges a couple of difficulties for Glasgow in their tree planting efforts, namely that urban reforestation is an expensive process. In addition, Glasgow is still living with a heavy physical, social and economic industrial past. Despite these obstacles, Glasgow has pledged to plant 18 million trees over the next 10 years. She views this as more important than ever after the pandemic, as green space helps to improve the physical and mental health of a city’s people. There is high inequity of green space available to citizens in Glasgow, but a UK-wide program is aiming to solve this. TinyForests is working to make very small-scale forests the size of tennis courts in small, unused parking lots around cities. These previously unused portions of property will allow Glasgow to become a much greener and climate-conscious city. 

The need for reforestation is more important than ever, and The High Atlas Foundation (HAF), of Morocco, is working to answer the call. Many of the leaders that spoke in this discussion realized the importance of everyone working together to effectively make change across the Earth. This is where foundations such as HAF can be imperative. HAF can fill in the gaps between jurisdictions, working across the land to plant trees and impact citizens. They have pledged to plant 10 million fruit trees by 2025, impacting 50,000 farming families in Morocco. The world needs a unified effort to help our forests, through local and national governments, foundations like HAF, and public initiatives large and small. We can all work together to save our forests and trees to keep them thriving for years to come.

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