What do the rejection of the Keystone XL Pipeline, development and implementation of the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan (CPP), and the Paris Climate Negotiations all have in common? Each of these marks a bold step forward in addressing fossil fuel emissions and slowing the pace of climate change. They were accomplished through ambitious leadership by mayors, community leaders, and concerned citizens and through complex organizational and political processes. However, while such climate actions are critical components of the overall long term plan, there are more simple steps that mayors in cities large and small can take now. And the potency of these steps rival some of the greatest climate accomplishments.
The solution: plant more trees. One of the most under appreciated elements of addressing climate change is the ability to naturally sequester CO2 emissions. At present, America’s forests are able to annually capture up to 15% of the country’s emissions—a number that rivals what can be accomplished by the Paris agreement and the CPP. By planting more trees, more CO2 can be sequestered, not to mention a host of secondary benefits that are tremendously important to climate solutions.
Cities are subject to higher temperatures due to heat energy that is stored in concrete, buildings, and infrastructure. This effect requires greater energy use to regulate temperatures, and more resources to increase building efficiency to mitigate such effects. Urban forests offer a simple, natural solution. By investing in urban forest programs, mayors and city leaders can help drive down the energy bills for businesses, industry, and residents by providing more shade canopy and decreasing the “urban heat island effect.” More city trees increase property values, and drive up wages for residents. There is also evidence to suggest that more trees lead to greater mental health, a higher quality of life, and even better performing students.
Planting more trees and investing in urban forests is a political and climate winner for mayors. Residents, businesses, industry, and the climate all benefit when mayors take action and make urban forest programs a prioritized role in their climate action plan. For more information on how to collaborate on climate solutions in your city, visit Path to Positive Communities.
Quick, name a climate solution for cities which helps lower carbon emissions, protects vulnerable people who live there, and even helps students get better grades.
Give up? The answer is urban forests and you're not alone if you didn't come up with the answer. After all, most of us see the trees woven into our city streets and parks as just a pretty, cinematic backdrop for urban life. Nice to look at, certainly, but not profoundly important when compared to better mass transit and other steps cities can take to help fight climate change.
The strong recognition in the final Paris climate agreement or trees and forests of every kind, from cities to wilderness, is starting to change this perception.
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