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Nature boost for Berlin as Amazon funds city climate protection

by Megan Rowling | @meganrowling | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 26 May 2020 11:21 GMT

FILE PHOTO: People spend time at Treptower park as the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues in Berlin, Germany, April 19, 2020. REUTERS/Christian Mang

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The global online retailer is backing a European project to green urban spaces in a bid to protect residents from climate risks and increase biodiversity

By Megan Rowling

BARCELONA, May 26 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Germany's capital Berlin will serve as a testing ground for a European project backed by online retailer Amazon.com to work out how best to revive and expand city green spaces, which can help protect residents from rising heat and floods.

From June, environmental charity The Nature Conservancy (TNC) will work with the west Berlin district of Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf to map its surface and put together a plan to plant more trees, grass and flowers, and restore wetland areas.

Amazon will provide 3.75 million euros ($4 million) for the work to reduce climate change risks and boost species biodiversity in three urban areas in Germany over the next five years, the company said in a statement on Tuesday.

The money comes from a $100-million climate fund, announced by the e-commerce giant last autumn as part of a pledge to cut its carbon emissions to net-zero by 2040.

The German initiative is the fund's first allocation in Europe, after a $10-million commitment to restore and conserve 4 million acres of forest in the United States.

"The people of Berlin are experiencing climate change first-hand - with urban floods and extreme heat events in the past years," said Ulrich Heink, director of the nature conservation department for Berlin's Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf district.

Just in 2019, Berlin suffered floods when Storm Axel brought heavy rainfall in May, and then experienced at least 500 deaths linked to summer heatwaves, pushing the city state to declare a climate emergency.

Kerstin Pfliegner, director of TNC Germany, said the new project would identify local climate risks and spaces that could be used to reduce those across Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf, with the areas also providing leisure opportunities and habitat for vital pollinating insects.

"Just like engineers would plan... for other infrastructure like roads or buildings, ecologists also need to plan when they create new features like parks or constructed wetlands to maximise the benefits of biodiversity and human wellbeing in cities," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Recent lockdowns in many cities, to curb the coronavirus pandemic, have shown how important urban green space is to residents, she added, as people have been required to remain close to their homes while getting exercise and fresh air.

In Berlin's Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf district of nearly 339,000 inhabitants, places targeted for greening could include disused land owned by the German railway, roadsides, and rooftops and courtyards of schools and buildings, she said.

Ralf Kleber, country manager for Amazon Germany, said TNC and its municipal partners would use a science-based approach to develop a model that can be applied in other cities.

"We will measure the impacts to ensure that the actions result in tangible benefits to urban residents, such as more greened spaces, greater counts of wild bees and other pollinators, more cubic litres of storm water safely managed, and lower average surface temperatures," he added.

TNC is already working with about 25 cities in North America and Asia on similar programmes to create more space for nature.

Researchers, meanwhile, have urged municipal authorities to ensure the benefits of urban greening efforts are spread fairly and do not favour only rich neighbourhoods, as often happens when urban projects are led by private developers.

TNC's Pfliegner said the Amazon-backed initiative - which will collaborate with businesses and communities - would include poorer parts of the chosen localities.

Adam Elman, Amazon's head of sustainability for Europe, said a key goal was to share knowledge generated by the project widely.

"Ultimately we want the learnings here to be replicable and usable for cities and locations all over Europe," he said in an interview.

($1 = 0.9180 euros)

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(Reporting by Megan Rowling @meganrowling; editing by Laurie Goering. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org/climate)

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