5 July 2021, Accra – The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the United Nations Human Settlement Programme (UN-Habitat) have warned that urban forests are under threat in Africa and action must be taken now, at the 1st African Forum on Urban Forests which opened today. The week-long online forum brings together leading experts on urban and peri-urban forestry, public space and green space in Africa with mayors and other local voices from across the continent to share concrete experiences and lessons learned.

The benefits of urban forests are huge. Trees store carbon and filter harmful pollutants from the air. They cool the air and filter water too. Trees reduce noise pollution and support healthy outdoor lifestyles for people and animals, maintaining the biodiversity of our Earth.

Yet urban forests are under threat as more than half of humanity already lives in cities and almost 70 percent will by 2050.

“The environmental, social and economic consequences of unplanned urbanization make it increasingly difficult to provide basic services to a rising population. This calls for more sustainable models of urban growth,” FAO Regional Office for Africa’s Regional Programme Leader Ade Freeman said, speaking on behalf of FAO’s Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Africa Abebe Haile-Gabriel. “It is our sincere hope that through this Forum, we will come up with a roadmap on how to further promote urban forestry and urban greening in the African region. We also hope that the forum will identify concrete actions that could be implemented to support the efforts of member countries towards making our cities greener, healthier and happier places to live.”

“As we battle the dual crises of climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic, this Forum presents an opportunity to ensure that we integrate agriculture, food systems, natural resources, and green spaces in our urban areas, said UN-Habitat Director Global Solutions Division, Raf Tuts. “We call on local and national governments to protect green areas in Africa’s cities, and engage communities in their design and management, as well as fostering environmental sustainability while reducing air pollution and carbon emissions.”

The Forum is a response to an urgent call for action from the 22nd Session of the African Forestry and Wildlife Commission, held in South Africa in March 2020.  Sessions at the Forum will cover pioneering initiatives right across Africa while speakers from Europe, India, Latin America and the United States of America will bring their experiences and technical expertise. University departments will also have a strong presence at the Forum, as will government departments, city planners and mayors. A roadmap will be developed to follow-up on the conclusions of the event.

Urban forests supporting the Sustainable Development Goals

Urban forests and green spaces are increasingly recognized as key components of sustainable and resilient urban development for the wide range of socio-economic and environmental ecosystem goods and services they can provide. In fact, they can play an important role toward the implementation of the New Urban Agenda and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, in particular SDG11, which focuses on making cities safe, resilient and sustainable. In most countries, however, the potential contribution of urban forests and trees to the livelihood and well-being of urban communities is still far from being recognized and valued.

Urban forestry is one of the pillars of the Green Cities Initiative which FAO launched in September 2020 and which includes the Regional Action Programme for Africa. The Initiative is a cross-sectoral effort which focuses on rural-urban synergies, social inclusion, resilience and sustainability.

UN-Habitat’s Global Public Space Programme was launched in 2012 with the objective to support local governments in creating and promoting socially inclusive, integrated, connected, environmentally sustainable and safe networks of green and public spaces, especially for the most vulnerable, promoting a better quality of life for all. An integrated, multi-sectoral and iterative approach to support local governments to create vibrant and inclusive public space networks, long-term strategies and national policies has been adopted.

The 1st African Forum on Urban Forests is working in line with the Call for Action and the five standards proposed by Tree Cities of the World which was launched at the 1st World Forum of Urban Forests.