Costa Rica tree-planting ‘carbon neutral’ project


Costa Rica has announced plans to embark on a tree-planting project in order to make the biodiversity hotspot nation carbon neutral.

Plane tree leaves and fruit

The goal for 2008 is to plant seven million trees, which officials say will equate to 1.5 trees per person.

The Costa Rica Conservation Trust, which is not directly connected to this proejct, says nearly 26% of the nation’s land is protected in the form of national parks and private preserves, and holds around 6% of the world’s bio-diversity.

But the Trust adds that there are few corridors of protected areas to link together the national parks and reserves and illegal loggers and poachers seek out farmers and landowners boardering national parks by offering them bribes for access through their properties and into the national parks and reserves.

Here is the report from AFP:

SAN JOSE (AFP) — Costa Rica will plant seven million trees in 2008 to soak up as many greenhouse gas emissions as it produces, in a bid to become the world’s first carbon neutral nation, a top official said Monday.

“The stated goal is to be the first neutral country as far as greenhouse gas emissions is concerned,” said Energy and Environment Minister Roberto Dobles.

“To get there, this administration is betting on halting deforestation and on the ‘Plant a Tree’ project,” he added, referring to an ongoing government initiative to plant as many trees as possible in the country.

The project aims to “plant seven million trees this year, meaning that in our country there would be 1.5 trees for each Costa Rican.

He added that in 2007 the country managed to plant five million trees, spurred by the desire to forestall an impending environmental catastrophe.

“Climate change is the main threat facing humanity and, even so, the world still can’t agree to fight this problem,” Dobles said.

Every country can help in the struggle, even a small nation like his own, Dobles said.

“We all know developed countries and big developing nations like China, Brazil and India are chiefly responsible for most of the greenhouse gases that destroy the ozone layer.

“That doesn’t mean a country like Costa Rica should stand by doing nothing. On the contrary, we’re working on a series of initiatives on the national and global levels to lessen the impact” of climate change, the minister said.

Urban trees linked to cutting childhood asthma


US researchers suggest that urban trees have a wider role to play than just an aesthetic one. They are undertaking a study into claims that tree-lined avenues can cut the number of children who develop asthma.

City officials are going to embark on a 10-year project to see if increasing the number of trees per square kilometre leads to a decline in the number of children suffering from the lung condition.

It appears as if the initial hypothesis is based on observations that a wealthly New York neighbourhood, with a high ratio of trees , had a  low  level of asthma among  young residents; whereas a poor district (with considerably less trees) had a much higher percentage of cases of childhood asthma.

Columbia University researchers found that asthma rates among children aged four and five fell by 25% for every extra 343 trees per square kilometre.

They believe more trees may aid air quality or simply encourage children to play outside, although they say the true reason for the finding is unclear.

The study appears in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

Here is the report from Reuters:

NEW YORK – City blocks boasting plenty of trees aren’t only more pleasing to the eye; they may be healthier for children’s lungs, according to research conducted in New York City.
Four- and five-year-olds living along the city’s greenest streets were less likely to have asthma than young children living in sparsely planted neighborhoods, Dr. Gina S. Lovasi and colleagues from Columbia University found. “We think that trees might have a beneficial effect on air quality — affecting air quality right at the street level,” Lovasi told Reuters Health. While the effects were independent of poverty and pollution, the researcher added, its possible street trees may simply be a stand-in for a healthful environment. “We’re not confident that it’s the trees themselves that are what’s driving this.”

Asthma rates have risen sharply in the US since 1980, and inner cities have been hit particularly hard, Lovasi and her colleagues note in their report. Trees could cut asthma risk by cleaning the air and encouraging kids to play outdoors, they add; but the pollen they release could also contribute to asthma attacks. To investigate, the researchers compared a census of New York City’s half-million street trees from 1995 to statistics on asthma prevalence and hospitalisation rates for 1999.

The wealthy Upper East Side of Manhattan was the greenest neighbourhood in the city, with 1,675 trees per square kilometre, or nearly seven trees an acre, while the impoverished Hunt’s Point-Mott Haven neighbourhood in the Bronx was the city’s barest, with only 109 trees per square kilometre or less than half a tree per acre.

As the density of trees in a neighbourhood rose, asthma prevalence fell, even after the researchers accounted for the percentage of residents living below the poverty line, a neighbourhood’s proximity to pollution sources such as busy truck routes, and other relevant factors.

An increase of 343 trees per square kilometre, or roughly 1.5 trees per acre, translated to 29% lower asthma prevalence. For example, asthma prevalence among 4- and 5-year-olds would be 9% in a neighbourhood with 2.5 trees per acre, but just 6% in a neighbourhood with four trees per acre.

Rates of asthma hospitalisation tended to be lower in neighbourhoods with more street trees, but the relationship wasn’t statistically significant; nevertheless, this suggests that trees aren’t a major contributor to asthma attacks, Lovasi said.

A “natural experiment” set to take place over the next decade will help to answer the question of whether street trees really do make for healthier kids; New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg has launched an effort to plant a million new trees by 2017, and Lovasi and her colleagues are now working with the city government to study neighbourhood health as the project progresses.


Story by Anne Harding

REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
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