Victoria pledges to plant 5,000 trees in UN challenge

The City of Victoria has pledged to plant 5,000 trees by the end of 2020 as part of a United Nations challenge, becoming the first Canadian city to sign on to the initiative.

Mayor Lisa Helps participated in the launch of the United Nations Trees in Cities Challenge in New York City on Saturday. She was joined by the mayors of Tirana, Albania; Bonn, Germany; and Helsingborg, Sweden.

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Helps is in New York to attend the UN Climate Summit, which started Saturday and ends Monday. She was also invited to speak on two panels, one on cities and climate change and the other on solutions to the climate emergency. The funds for Helps’s trip came from the council travel budget.

“I was getting ready to address 500 delegates and I just thought: ‘Oh my goodness. Here is Victoria at the UN,’ ” Helps said. “It’s very humbling.”

Helps said she was contacted in the summer by UN Economic Commission for Europe executive secretary Olga Algayerova, who praised the city for its climate action and asked Helps to participate in the initiative.

“I know that Victorians love trees. And I know that trees and nature-based solutions are one answer to climate change. And so I said, ‘Yes,’ ” Helps said.

The city intends to plant 500 trees on public land, and work with residents to encourage the planting of 4,500 more on private property. “That’s the exciting part. I think our residents are going to embrace this challenge,” Helps said.

Urban areas are responsible for an estimated 75 per cent of carbon-dioxide emissions worldwide, making climate action at the local level essential, according to a UN press release.

“We need concrete, realistic plans for climate action at all levels — the message is clear. Critically, this includes action in urban areas, which are at the forefront of the battle against climate change,” Algayerova said.

Helps said city staff are already working on ways to meet the tree-planting goal, although planning is in early stages. The city’s urban forest master plan identifies 26 recommendations to improve the management of trees on public and private land over the next 50 years. The city committed $1 million in the 2019 budget to the urban forest, and in 2019 a total of nearly $3 million will go toward maintaining and enhancing the urban forest.

Helps said the goal of the initiative is to encourage cities around the world to plant as many trees as possible.

“They’re good for the environment, they’re good for mental health, they’re good for joy. They’re good for carbon sequestration. They’re good for just about everything,” she said.

Frances Litman of the Community Trees Matter Network, a local tree-advocacy group, said she was delighted the city accepted the UN’s challenge.

“Since three-quarters of our urban forest is on private land, we will certainly do all we can to spread the word and encourage homeowners to plant trees. Planting season is coming up soon — late fall is a great time to plant trees in Victoria.”

Helps said 5,000 trees is just the start.

“I think we can do better.”

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