The 1st Panel Discussion of the Emirates Environmental Group for 2022, was held virtually on the historic day 22.2.22, under the title “Greening the Concrete Jungles – Towards Urban Afforestation and Vertical Farming”. It highlighted the importance of building hybrid cities, amalgamating natural environment into sustainable architecture and design with the incorporation of modern retrofit technologies.
The speakers in the panel discussion emphasised that urban afforestation and vertical farms can be considered as a link between existing green urban areas, counter-fragmentation, enhancing environmental cohesion, to cope with the changing climate, gradual environmental degradation and the associated loss of agricultural land. The speakers stressed that urban afforestation and vertical farms not only constitute a base for food production, they can also create a valuable new ecological, social and economic hub in contemporary cities that have been transformed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
During the panel discussion, Ms. Habiba Al Mar’ashi, Co-founder and Chairperson of the Emirates Environmental Group, started her speech by thanking supporting entities of the Panel Discussion, the Arabia CSR Network, Emirates Green Building Council, the Clean Energy Business Council, and the Swiss Business Council.
In 2015, more than half of the world’s population and nearly three quarters of Europe’s population lived in cities or large agglomerations, and in 2050, the proportion of the population living in urban areas around the world, according to UN projections shall be more than 66%, and 82% in Europe. This new reality will cause more urban areas being occupied, increase in pollution, shrinking of forests, more erosion and further habitat fragmentation that will result in the overall decrease of biodiversity.
Ecological function of greenery largely depends on the size of nature hubs, resilience, ecological linkages, and on the resistance of plant habitats to changes in the natural environment. The human population, who are struggling with climate change, must create a new quality of space, which will not only maintain the environment’s sustainability, but will also improve its quality. In urban areas, where structures and spatial planning are dynamically transformed, there is a need to explore the possibility of introducing greenery in new spatial systems.
Accessible green space creates a spectrum of possibilities to do sport, increases children’s creative play, and improve social relationships between people of different religions and genders. Green space can encourage social interaction and can contribute to making higher density housing more attractive and safe. Widely accessible green spaces favour human interactions and, in this way, help in decreasing social exclusion and strengthening the link between urban and rural communities.
The urban vertical greenery provides new opportunities for educational use of the area, and ensures that the mosaic of habitats in the forest can be used for the full range of environmental educational needs of the surrounding schools. Building the urban vertical system will allow reparation of the ecosystem’s integrity and enhance sustainable use of natural resources and biodiversity in the urban environment, which results in better provision of food, goods, and services to support human well-being.
Mrs. Habiba Al Mar’ashi in her opening speech said that “For far too long, we have followed the pattern of razing down habitats to construct our villages, cities, towns, farms, industries, mega structures and more. This singular thought of taking human comfort perspective only has led to reduction in habitats, extinction of countless species, loss of biodiversity, deterioration of human health and other species.” She further added that “It is high time to get onto the ground level, see other creatures as important part of biodiversity and essential to our survival. It is time to build hybrid communities where nature and humans can exist side by side with minimal conflict, make our agricultural practices more sustainable. To change the mind-set of the future generation to be holistic and inclusive with nature.”
The distinguished panellists who were invited to contribute to the discussions included:
- Olivia Nielsen – Associate Principal at Miyamoto International
- Henrique Pereira – Chief Executive Officer, Taka Solutions
- Moohammed Wasim Yahia – Assistant professor at Architecture Engineering Department – Faculty of Engineering, University of Sharjah.
The successful incorporation of urban afforestation and vertical farms into the cities will effectively contribute to achieving several Sustainable Development Goals: 3 – Good Health and Well Being, 6: Clean Water and Sanitation 11 – Sustainable Cities and Communities, 13 – Climate Action 14 – Life Below Water & 15 – Life on Land and 17 – Partnership for Goals. This panel is a prime example of the aims to achieve the goals by 2030.
Ms. Olivia Nielsen emphasised that the future of cities should look more alive with trees and vegetation. If green vegetation is not in our imagination, we cannot build it. Many scientific reports highlight the importance of urban afforestation. Studies show many affordable green construction solutions. In concluding her presentation, she urged the audience to give wings to their imagination so we can create a green urban future together!
Dr. Moohammed Wasim Yahia brought to the table the advantages of Urban Afforestation such as improve in air quality, mitigation of storm water, enhanced biodiversity. Permeable vegetated surfaces resulting in lower surface temperature and lower air temperatures. He explained the causes for urban heat island and concluded his discussion that the green cannot be implemented unless the blue infrastructure is executed. Green Blue infrastructure will maximise the benefits of Urban Afforestation.
Mr. Henrique Pereira addressed the audience with a detailed explanation of the correlation between urban afforestation and energy consumption. Structures such as buildings, roads, and other infrastructure absorb and re-emit the sun’s heat more than natural landscapes. Natural landscapes besides purifying the air play an important role by acting as carbon sinks. He affirmed that policies and strategies are strongly taking shape and with collaborated efforts from all sectors, a world inclusive for not just humans but all inhabitants will be built.
The panel discussion concluded with interactive and detailed round of questions asked to the panellists by the moderator as well as with the questions from the attendees. Overall the session was very informative and the audience took away, in-depth valuable knowledge from the session with varying perspectives from different sectors of the society.
About Emirates Environmental Group:
Emirates Environmental Group (EEG(, is a professional working group established in 1991. It is devoted to protecting the environment through the means of education, action programmes and community involvement. EEG is actively encouraged and supported by concerned local and federal government agencies. It is the first environmental NGO in the world to be ISO 14001 certified and the only organisation of its kind in the UAE with accredited status to the United Nations Convention to Combating Desertification (UNCCD) and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). EEG is a member of the UN Global Compact, the Global Urban Development (GUD), and the One Planet Network under programme of Sustainable Food System (SFS) and its Multi-Stakeholder Advisory Committee (MAC) and Global Partnership on Marine Litter (GPML).
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