Freetown experienced tragedy due to deforestation and the associated increased risk of landslides in 2017, when a deadly landslide killed more than 1,000 people and left many more missing. The city has taken action to reduce landslide and flooding risk through the “Freetown the TreeTown” initiative, which aims to increase the city’s green space and vegetation cover. With engagement from the local community, the city will plant, grow and track 1 million trees and restore 3,000 hectares of land, sequestering approximately 69,000 tonnes of CO2.

The initiative uses innovative, disruptive, low-cost digital technology for tree-tracking. It also creates new jobs for women and young people in green sectors, providing eco-friendly alternatives to working in dangerous and environmentally damaging industries like mining. With a growth cycle of 3–5 years, each tree is assigned a unique identification code that can be transformed into “impact tokens”. The tokens can be bought, sold, and traded for carbon offsets, preventing future emissions and further climate damage.

Since 2020, Freetown has planted more than 560,0000 trees in climate-vulnerable areas, covering 578 hectares of urban land and benefiting 300+ communities. The initiative has created over 1,200 jobs, 80% of which have gone to young people, including 44% to women.

This approach is effectively raising community awareness of the importance of reforestation for reducing climate-related disasters. The city recognises that 1 million trees will not meet the challenge of deforestation and climate breakdown in the city. Therefore, an additional 4 million trees will be planted over the next ten years using the #FreetownTheTreeTown community-growing approach.

Quezon City
GrowQC: food security for Quezon residents

In Quezon City, the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated widespread hunger and malnutrition. The city launched GrowQC to tackle the growing problem of food insecurity amongst the most vulnerable residents. The initiative aims to make healthy and nutritious food available to all and create inclusive and sustainable livelihoods for vulnerable groups by converting idle lands across the city into productive, green and local urban farms, reducing transport and agriculture-related emissions. 

From the start of the pandemic to 2022, GrowQC has established a total of 337 urban gardens and ten model farms, creating livelihoods for 4,119 urban farmers, 258 displaced workers and 298 vendors and jeepney drivers. Private landowners were exempt from paying Idle Land Tax if they allowed their land to be utilised in the project for three years, effectively increasing the city’s access to land; a total of 381,650 m2 of land was converted for urban agriculture. 

During the city’s most intense lockdown in 2021, GrowQC ensured 1.7 million healthy and nutritious meals were served to 325,600 families. Around 3,600 residents, previously on low or zero incomes, have been trained as city farmers to produce food and boost their income. Direct access to fresh and affordable food has benefited the health and wellbeing of communities that experienced food insecurity. The project promotes a circular economy by exemplifying the farm-to-table and waste-to-energy cycle, serving as an integrated food system that is sustainable and replicable to other cities.

Rio de Janeiro
Reviver Centro: reviving Rio’s city centre

The pandemic turned many of the world’s cities into virtual ghost towns, provoking global discussions about planning, using and maintaining urban centres. Rio opted to change the very fabric of its metropolitan landscape in the wake of COVID-19 through the Reviver Centro project. The project aims to address the emptiness of Rio’s Central Business District, which was seriously impacted by business closures, resident flight and the absence of daily workers.

To attract people and businesses back to its historic heart, Rio is utilising a unique mechanism of land-value capture through the transfer of development rights. For every 100 m2 of residential units built and/or retrofitted, entrepreneurs can earn the right to buy 40 m2 in prime areas of Rio. The initiative is raising funds to finance active transport infrastructure, the city’s first affordable housing programme with subsidised rental for low-income residents, and green infrastructure. In just ten months, 1,317 residential units have been licensed in 18 buildings, raising around R $2.2 million.

Reviver Centro embodies the 15-minute city philosophy by transforming the degraded business district into a mixed-use and inclusive area. The project is developing 9.34 kilometres of bike lanes, a chain of pocket parks, and creating an African Heritage quarter to celebrate Afro-Brazilian culture and history. Over the next decade, Rio expects to reduce transport emissions by 35.4% and stationary energy emissions by 34.1%, with Reviver Centro promising to develop into a green and thriving neighbourhood.

São Paulo
Sustainable school menus that reduce food insecurity and offer climate-friendly options

Cities are centres of consumption, but through innovative mechanisms, mayors can make it easier for residents to access healthy and sustainable food and reduce food insecurity in times of economic uncertainty. São Paulo is taking action to mitigate food insecurity, promote behaviour change and reduce its environmental impact through its Sustainable School Menu programme.

In São Paulo, more than 305 tonnes of meat are distributed weekly through 2.5 million daily school lunches; meat served in the city’s schools contributes more than 140,000 tonnes of CO2 annually. In the next eight years, the city will phase down the amounts of meat consumed per week in schools, replacing it with nutritious vegetarian meals. The programme will benefit 1 million students enrolled in 4,000 municipal schools, reducing emissions by 22.3%. In addition to decreasing meat consumption, the project raises awareness of food consumption’s health and environmental impacts by monitoring greenhouse gases and tackling food waste in schools.

This awareness shift is not limited to students; the city has trained 443 cooks and nutritionists in sustainable diets, released an accessible virtual cookbook, and online training in cooking techniques is coming soon. The programme promotes local food purchasing, with R $100 million in 2021 spent on purchasing food from more than 4,000 families in the countryside, helping to address rural poverty and stimulate organic and small agriculture production, with related positive climate impacts.