Breaking down barriers, making the connection – Cities need to use nature-based solutions to help combat the effects of climate change

The European Week of Regions and Cities conference is the biggest local government gathering in the world. Over 6000 delegates attend, with 600 speakers presenting and showcasing work on a complex and challenging variety of themes over five days of events and activities.

Manchester City Council was invited by the European Commission to be part of an expert panel discussion looking at the importance of forests and biodiversity. We were asked to reflect, from an urban perspective, on the broader value of green and blue infrastructure, the benefits that they can provide, and the challenges that cities face in relation to climate change and the natural environment.

We were also keen to talk about the importance of collaboration, and to showcase flagship partnership projects that Manchester City Council is involved in, including Grow Green, Ignition (which looks at innovative financing for delivery of natural climate solutions), and EnRoute (which aimed to enhance the resilience of urban ecosystems through green infrastructure). This would help us highlight the various funding streams available, including Horizon 2020, LIFE and Urban Innovative Actions (UIA), for example.

It was super to meet up with lots of different practitioners, as well as a stellar panel, including Peter Moore, Forest Officer from the UN FAO, Giorgio Matteucci, Director of the Institute for Agricultural and Forest Systems in the Mediterranean at the National Research Council of Italy, and Leena Kopperoinen, Head of Unit for the Land Use and Urbanisation Unit at the Finnish Environment Institute.

Opening remarks by Mark Weinmeister, Member of the Committee of the Regions and vice-chair of the Commission for Natural Resources (NAT), set the scene for an interesting and stimulating debate.

Leena provided an overview of the concept of ecosystem services, and I stated the importance of being able to clearly articulate the function and value of green infrastructure to citizens. In Manchester we’ve used the i-tree assessment tool and citizen science to understand the benefits our trees provide, which are worth 35 million euros per year. It would cost 5 billion euros to replace these same services without the trees. Making sure that citizens and decision makers understand the importance of all these services, especially those that aren’t well known, is crucial.

The challenges were made clear to all, as Peter highlighted the fact that 5% of forest fires in Europe caused 95% of the damage. It was interesting for me to see Peter look at woodlands and forests as potential fuel (for fires) and that species mix was a big factor – something that we in Manchester consider, but from a completely different perspective, i.e. for biodiversity and amenity value.

Questions were asked about the importance of top-down/bottom-up policy development for green infrastructure. I felt that both approaches were needed – we need strong leadership, but citizen-led initiatives, participation and support are essential.

The importance of education about and in forests was also highlighted. Forests can be a training ground for arts, film-making, storytelling. They are also great classrooms and offer lots of business opportunities. I had extensive conversations with Dr Vitalija Povilaityte-Petri and Katriina Kilpi from Nature Minded, part of the International Forest Therapy network, who helped reinforce the fact that the value of our trees and forests can be illustrated in many ways, so it’s important to tailor the message to your audience.

It was a great event, and a privilege to represent my city and our projects. It was exciting that people from around the world are keen to learn about our experiences in Manchester.

Hopefully, as our Grow Green, Ignition and Natural Course projects evolve, the dialogue and shared learning about the importance of using nature-based solutions to help us combat the effects of climate change will continue.

By Dave Barlow

Senior Policy Officer 

Lead – Green infrastructure and Biodiversity

Manchester City Council