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Planting more trees in cities could cut deaths from summer heat, says study | Access to green space

The study suggests that planting more trees could mean fewer people will die from ever hotter summer temperatures in cities.

According to a first-of-its-kind simulation conducted in 93 European cities by an international team of researchers.

Lead author Tamara Jungman of the Barcelona Institute for Global Health said: “This is becoming increasingly relevant as Europe experiences more extreme temperature swings driven by climate change.

“We already know that high temperatures in urban environments are associated with negative health outcomes such as cardiorespiratory failure, hospitalization and premature death.”

Her team wants to influence policy makers to make cities greener, “more resilient, resilient and healthier” and mitigate the effects of climate change, she added, as heat-related illness and death is expected to be an even greater burden on services. healthcare next year. decade than low temperatures.

The researchers used mortality data to estimate the potential reduction in mortality from colder temperatures as a result of increased tree area. Using data from 2015, they calculated that of the 6,700 premature deaths that year attributed to warmer urban temperatures, 2,644 could have been prevented if forest cover had increased.

The cities most likely to benefit from increased forest cover are in southern and eastern Europe, where summer temperatures are highest and forest cover tends to be lower.

Cluj-Napoca in Romania, which had the highest number of premature heat-related deaths in 2015 at 32 per 100,000 people, has just 7% tree coverage. In Lisbon, Portugal it is only 3.6% and in Barcelona it is 8.4%. This compares to 15.5% in London and 34% in Oslo.

Study co-author Mark Nieuwenhuysen, a researcher at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health, said the team chose 30% as that is a target that many cities are currently working towards.

He said there was no need to demolish the buildings and replace them with parks, as all the cities the team studied had enough space to plant more trees. He praised initiatives such as the EU’s plan to plant 3 billion trees and the UK government’s proposal to ensure every home is within 15 minutes’ walk of green space, though he noted that policymakers must ensure that trees are evenly distributed between richer and poorer areas. .

He added that cities “too dominated by cars” should consider replacing heat-absorbing asphalt roads with trees.

He added that planting more trees in cities should be a priority as there are huge health benefits beyond reducing heat-related deaths, including reducing cardiovascular disease, dementia and poor mental health.

Professor Yadwinder Malkhi, Professor of Ecosystem Science at the University of Oxford, who was not involved in the study, said: “More than half of the world’s people live in cities, so trees will be critical to the sustainability of urban areas. to climate change and improvement of the urban environment. Urban trees provide many additional benefits beyond climate change adaptation: many studies show that the mere sight of trees and their scent benefit health and well-being, and increase the biodiversity of cities. But most tree cover is found in wealthy cities and districts, so expanding urban tree cover could reduce this disparity and, in particular, reduce the high vulnerability of poorer areas to climate change.”

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