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Madrid is Planting a Forest Around the City

Jonny Rogers explores how Madrid’s new green infrastructure project offers a promising model for combatting climate change.

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Photo by Javier Martinez

In an attempt to reduce heat levels and air pollution, Madrid is set to plant a new forest around its 46-mile perimeter: the Bosque Metropolitano. Half a million trees will be involved in this project, which may well be “the largest green infrastructure to be built in Europe” over the next decade.

Native trees have been chosen, as these neither require foreign soil conditions nor excess volumes of water; as a forest, it will be preserved with minimal external resources or maintenance. When the forest reaches maturity in around 12 years, it is estimated that it will absorb 175,000 tons of CO2 every year and reduce surrounding temperatures by 2 degrees, as well as provide a new habitat for birds and other wildlife.

Madrid’s Need for Green Infrastructure

In January, more than 400,000 trees in Madrid were damaged by Storm Filomena as the city experienced its heaviest snowfall in over a century – 1,250 metric tons of snow hit the city over a 30-hour period, costing the city around 1.4 billion euros in damage. Conservationist Mariano Sánchez attributed the storm’s impact on urban trees to the city’s practice of systematic annual pruning.

The IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report concluded that extreme changes in weather will become more frequent as the global temperature continues to rise. Furthermore, parts of Europe are already experiencing desertification as a result of climate change and agriculture-related land degradation; green infrastructure projects are necessary both as a mitigation and adaptation to our rapidly changing climate.

Madrid is directly impacted by the ‘Urban Heat Island Effect’, according to which heat generated by human activity causes metropolitan spaces to experience higher temperatures than surrounding rural areas, in part as a result of decreased green coverage. In addition, high levels of traffic reduce the local air quality, causing a wide range of health issues; according to a report from the World Health Organisation, 93% of children around the world are breathing toxic air every day.

As Mariano Fuentes, Madrid’s councillor for the environment and urban development, explains:

“What we want to do is to improve the air quality in the whole city... To fight the 'heat island' effect that is happening inside the city, to absorb the greenhouse emissions generated by the city, and to connect all the existing forest masses that already exist around the city.”

Cities and Decarbonisation

Cities consume two-thirds of the world’s primary energy demand, and are responsible for 70% of all CO2 emissions. As such, it is clear that decarbonisation – a shift towards an economy that does not depend on carbon-intensive power sources – cannot occur without significant changes to the structure of our cities.

However, this will require urban planners to do much more than simply improve recycling services or restrict private car usage, though these are, in principle, valuable efforts. Rather, we need to reshape our understanding of the spaces we inhabit, and facilitate the coexistence of plants and pavements in and around our cities.

Madrid’s green border is a promising step in the right direction, and other cities are beginning to implement similar changes. Glasgow recently announced that it will plant 18 million trees over the next decade, Paris is set to transform the iconic Champs-Élysées into green space and Barcelona has launched a 10-year plan to reclaim the street from vehicles.

As Mariano Fuentes explains, Madrid’s development of green infrastructure will have to be understood as a part of a wider “global strategy”:

“It’s not only about cars, but also a pedestrianisation strategy, the creation of environmental corridors in every district... and most of all... to engage citizens in this new green culture, it is essential for every city to face the near future in the best conditions.”


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