BUSINESS

Experts discuss role of urban forests as protector from climate change

By Cho Chung-un

Seoul suggests street trees, small parks as remedy for fine dust, heat waves

  • Published : Sept 13, 2017 - 16:09
  • Updated : Sept 13, 2017 - 18:07
Seeking global partnerships to fight climate change, representatives from 17 countries gathered in Seoul on Wednesday to make city lives safe and sustainable by sharing ideas and policies on urban forests.

Around 200 scholars, representatives from governments and nongovernmental organizations participated the second Asia-Pacific Urban Forestry Meeting, hosted by Korea’s state-run forest agency, to seek ways to resolve urban pollution by expanding greener spaces in the cities.

Under the slogan, “Acting Together for Greener and Cooler cities,” the annual meeting was designed to share data, information and experiences of urban forest development in contribution to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals initiative.

Among 17 sectors focused on by the project, the forestry meeting has been launched to create a regional platform to discuss ways to make cities and human settlements safe, resilient and sustainable. The meeting runs through Friday. The Seoul Metropolitan Government and Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN are also the joint hosts of the event. The members of the meeting are expected to adopt the Seoul Action Plan on Friday.
 
Kim Jae-hyun, minister of the Korea Forest Service, speaks at an opening ceremony of the second Asia-Pacific Urban Forestry Meeting held in Seoul no Wednesday. (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)

Raising concerns over the deteriorating environment and worsening pollution, Kim Jae-hyun, minister of the Korea Forest Service, urged participants to take environmentally friendly policies to fight climate change. Expanding forest spaces within urban areas has proved effective, he explained.

“Environmental problems around the world have come from cities, and that should be resolved by adopting environmentally friendly policies, including urban forests,” Kim said at the opening ceremony of the three-day meeting. 

“Each country has set a goal to reduce carbon emissions after the Paris agreement on climate change, and the South Korean government has also been making efforts (to reach the goal by enlarging) urban forests, (a policy) that has no side effect.”

Pollutants and other problems started to arise because of overflowing population in the cities.

As of 2014, more than half of the global population, or 54 percent, inhabit cities, consuming 70 percent of all energy, which is mostly generated by fossil fuels that emit greenhouse gases. According to the 2016 data from the World Health Organization, more than 80 percent of urban population is exposed to air pollution. In particular, 91 percent of the Korean population has settled in urban areas in what has become an aged society

Since 2013, South Korea has spent 1.54 trillion won ($1.37 billion) to create 4,200 hectares of urban forest in 3,400 locations across the country as part of its urban forest policy and the law on legislation of forest welfare.

The forest coverage rate of South Korea is 63.2 percent, more than double the average of member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development at 31.1 percent. Korea ranks fourth, following Finland, Japan and Sweden. The public value of forests here is estimated at 126 trillion won, equivalent to 8.4 percent of the total gross domestic product, the agency said

To protect citizens from the constant attacks of fine dust and reduce the heat island effect, the government also plans to expand the second stage of its urban forest policy, the minister said. Not only creating greener spaces, the government also plans to implement policies to turn forests into spaces for education, healing and leisure.

During the meeting, researchers from Korea and China are to discuss ways to reduce fine dust in cities and exchange ideas on what trees are most suitable for the projects, the agency said.

In the field of urban forest research, experts have highlighted the importance of trees along streets for filtering fine dust and reducing city temperatures, which are increased due to concrete roads and buildings.

According to the National Institute of Forest Science, street trees contribute to lowering air temperatures. Areas under street trees were 4.5 degrees Celsius lower on average when measured by thermographic cameras. The level of fine dust in Hongreung Forest near the forest institute was 40 percent less than typical urban areas, the institute said, describing a study conducted in spring.

“Not just single lines of street trees, a change in public perception on street trees is needed that they are no longer adjuncts of urban development, but a critical part that functions like the lungs and reduces damage from fine dust and heat waves,” said an official at the institute.

Urban forests can provide rich food resources and keep the ecological system sound. Quality of life can be improved for residents near green areas, as well as saving energy, as parks serve as “natural air conditioners” in the city, he added.

The idea of creating urban forests is something new to emerging nations in the Asia-Pacific region. And this is why it is important to share ideas and information on utilizing urban forests to improve quality of life and environments, to enable effective choices in the course of urban planning, according to an official at the forest agency.

The event invited distinguished experts to share their research and insights on urban forests.

Chi Yung Jim, a professor at University of Hong Kong, spoke as the keynote speaker to highlight the significance of urban heritage trees from ecological and cultural aspects, the agency said.

By Cho Chung-un (christory@heraldcorp.com)