NGOs and public figures join civic initiative to save Bucharest’s forests, make the Green Belt reality
Amid repeated warnings that Bucharest is one of the European Union's most polluted capitals, local non-profits, civic groups, and public figures decided to unite their voices and join a multilevelled civic initiative aimed at saving Bucharest's surrounding forests and help make the city's Green Belt reality. They banded together under the umbrella of a new platform launched by the Alex Găvan Foundation, named Together for the Green Belt (Împreună pentru Centura Verde) - a call for action focused on solutions to make the Romanian capital a healthier city.
The project, initiated by Alex Găvan, high-altitude climber and conservationist, and Florin Stoican, president of the Kogayon and Văcărești Natural Park associations, was joined by dozens of NGOs such as WWF, Greenpeace, Fauna & Flora International, Kogayon Association, Codrii Vlăsiei Civic Initiative Group, Social Innovation Solutions, Impact Hub Bucharest, and the Bucharest Community Foundation.
Plus, some of the project's ambassadors are well-known public figures from various areas, such as Mircea Cărtărescu, Elisabeta Lipă, Charley Ottley, Oana Pellea, Horia Tecău, Cristian Mungiu, Gabriela Szabo, Alexandru Tomescu, Tibi Ușeriu, Andreea Marin, and more.
As part of the Together for the Green Belt civic initiative, lawmakers Diana Buzoianu and Oana Cambera introduced legislation amending the Forest Code so as to put the entire forest vegetation of Ilfov county under protection. Ilfov is the county surrounding Bucharest, and thus protecting its forests is a keystone for Bucharest's future Green Belt.
At the same time, the initiators launched a public petition asking the politicians and authorities to take action. They request the adoption and signing into law of the bill to protect the forests of Ilfov, an integrated plan of the Bucharest City Hall and the Ilfov County Council to combat pollution, the inclusion of the Green Belt in the Bucharest-Ilfov Regional Development Plan 2021-2027, and an assumed timetable for the implementation of the Green Belt. The online petition can be read and backed by signature here.
"Exceptional circumstances, such as the one we're in now, call for exceptional vision and exceptional boldness. And exceptional ethics. And all this can only be done animated by an exceptional love," said Alex Găvan, initiator of the civic movement and founder of the Alex Găvan Foundation.
Conservationist Florin Stoican, also an initiator of the project, said: "Peri-urban forests play an essential role in ensuring the quality of life of big cities' inhabitants. They are the green lungs of the most polluted areas inhabited by people, they oxygenate the air and filter pollutants, ensure the connection of the townspeople to nature, offer multiple possibilities for recreation, leisure and education, protect inhabited areas, ensure a pleasant microclimate and conserve biodiversity. For all this and more, these forests must be protected and used for their predominantly social and environmental role and must be expanded so that the townspeople reap the maximum of these benefits."
Alex Găvan (pictured below on Gashebrum II, 8,035 m, with a #GreenBelt sign) is a leading mountaineer of Romania, having climbed seven of the world's 14 peaks over 8,000 meters without supplemental oxygen or Sherpas. He also used the summits of the world's highest mountains to advance environmental causes, such as the quest against illegal logging, protecting and conserving Romania's virgin forests, creating the Bucharest Green Belt, or saving the asprete, a living fossil fish that still survives in Romania.
What's the situation in Bucharest?
Bucharest is in the top 3 of the most polluted capitals in the European Union. And air pollution not only means health issues for its inhabitants but also translates into an annual cost of EUR 6.35 billion.
Plus, the Romanian capital is last in the EU when it comes to green space per capita. With approximately 7-9 square meters, the city is far from the 26 square meters it should have, according to the law.
At the same time, the forests around Bucharest are systematically decimated, the project initiators say. "Legal cuttings alone add up to the equivalent of 5,000 truckloads of wood annually, a significant amount given the few remaining forests in Ilfov county. According to the Forest Inspector application, in the last 12 months, over half a million trees (581,287) were cut in Ilfov in over 700 authorized forestry works. And these are just the legal cuts," reads the press release.
A 2020 report by the National Institute of Public Health found that if the authorities were to meet their already assumed targets to combat pollution, the life expectancy of Bucharest residents would increase by four years.
Creating a Green Belt and restoring and protecting the forests around Bucharest are fundamental actions for a healthy environment and the fight against climate change. The Copenhagen Green Wedges (Denmark), London Metropolitan Green Belt (UK, where almost all major cities have such green areas), Melbourne's Green Wedges (Australia), San Francisco Bay Area Greenbelt (USA), and São Paulo City Green Belt Biosphere Reserve (Brazil) are just a few examples.
"The largest existing green belt is that of the city of Ontario, of almost 810,000 hectares comprising both forests and wetlands as well as pastures and agricultural land. But perhaps the most inspiring story is also one of the oldest and comes from Vienna, where one hundred and fifty years ago, its inhabitants became aware of the need to preserve green space. At this moment, the Wiener Grüngürtel surrounds the city almost completely. A perfect example for the future Bucharest-Ilfov green belt," the initiators of the Romanian campaign said.
The entire Together for the Green Belt project is detailed here.
(Opening photo: Alex Găvan)