Climate Change Promises Profound Impacts on Southern Ontario’s Forests and Communities
Greenbelt Foundation’s Report Identifies Significant Impacts on Forests and Unequal Access to Natural Spaces
TORONTO, September 17, 2020 - With extreme weather events like heat waves projected to increase in frequency, nearby nature remains critical for Ontarians. More than eight million residents benefit from the opportunity for natural cooling provided by the trees throughout their communities and Ontario’s Greenbelt. These trees in and around communities including the forests of the Greenbelt, collectively referred to as urban forests, make Ontario more resilient. But how are urban forests, themselves, affected by climate change?
Large forested areas moderate local temperatures, reduce reliance on air conditioning, encourage healthy outdoor activity & store carbon—a City of Toronto finding estimates that Toronto’s urban forest stores over 1.1. million metric tonnes of carbon.
Urban Forests in a Changing Climate is the latest in a series of highly visual reports that ask how climate change is impacting our daily lives. The Greenbelt Foundation launched this series to help individuals and families understand climate change, as well as how they can contribute to climate solutions in their community. For this issue, the Foundation collaborated with two researchers—University of Toronto professor, Tenley Conway, and University of Toronto PhD Student and Founder of Black Outdoors, Jacqueline L. Scott—to understand how forests are impacted by climate change and how access to these important spaces is not equitable along racial lines.
As is explained in the report, urban forests play an integral role in helping Ontario communities get climate-ready. Large forested areas moderate local temperatures, reduce reliance on air conditioning, encourage healthy outdoor activity, and capture and store carbon—a City of Toronto finding estimates that Toronto’s urban forest stores over 1.1. million metric tonnes of carbon. While these forests help to mitigate the effects of climate change, they are also vulnerable to those effects. In particular, the report outlines how our urban forests are susceptible to the impacts of hot dry summers, intense storms, and novel pests and diseases.
“One of the best strategies for protecting urban and peri-urban forests is to ensure a diversity of tree species are present,” says Tenley Conway. “In addition to species diversity, there are a diversity of spaces where protecting existing trees and planting new ones will support resilient urban forests.”
The report also highlights how racialized and other marginalized communities typically have reduced access to high-quality greenspace near home. According to Jacqueline L. Scott, while tree-planting initiatives seek to improve tree canopy in urbanized areas, these initiatives are usually white-dominated, and can be exclusionary to racialized communities. Scott recommends that groups working on urban forest restoration projects build relationships with nearby Black communities, hire Black staff to lead projects, and learn and promote relevant Black history of the work area. She also points out that the first step is acknowledging that race is an issue.
“Planting trees is one of the easiest ways to improve the environment in the city and to reduce the negative impact of the climate crisis,” says Jacqueline L. Scott of Black Outdoors. “However, race shapes where trees are planted, who benefits from the trees, and who takes part in tree planting.”
“Forests in and around the Greenbelt are important sites for recreation and are key sources of climate resilience for our communities,” says Edward McDonnell, CEO of Greenbelt Foundation. “The Greenbelt Foundation works with organizations across the region, as well as Indigenous partners, to build more equitable and open access to this landscape.”
About Black Outdoors
Jacqueline L. Scott is a PhD student at OISE, University of Toronto. She is an avid fan of nature-based activities. Her research explores how to make outdoor recreation and environmentalism more welcoming for Black Canadians, who share the space on Indigenous land.
Jacqueline L. Scott
PhD student, OISE, University of Toronto
About Greenbelt Foundation:
Greenbelt Foundation is a charitable organization, solely dedicated to ensuring the Greenbelt remains permanent, protected and prosperous. We make the right investments in its interconnected natural, agricultural and economic systems, to ensure a working, thriving Greenbelt for all. Ontario's Greenbelt is the world's largest, with over two million acres of farmland, forests, wetlands and rivers working together to provide clean air, fresh water, and a reliable local food source.
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