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Sowing best practices for cleaner air and better resilience to climate change

Edmond Prifti, a Project and Investment Specialist based in Kolonja, Albania, has been trying for years to grow specific tree species in his municipality. Although state-owned lands are ready to be used for this, his lack of expertise greatly hampered progress. Meanwhile, Albania has been experiencing a set of unfortunate events including deforestation, illegal logging, erosion and flooding, all contributing to making land degradation a major problem in the country.
“Degradation of agricultural soil and pastures, together with dramatic deforestation, is posing a serious risk to the overall socio-economic security of the Western Balkan region, especially given rapid climate change,” said Sonja Gebert of UN Environment. Temperatures in the Western Balkans are set to rise 1.2°C in the near future and a further 1.7–4.0°C by the end of the century, depending on global emission levels—with major impacts on agriculture, forestry and human health in the region.
Forests worldwide are extremely important for a variety of reasons, from purifying the air we breathe, to providing habitats for thousands of species and securing livelihoods for humans. When sustainably managed, they can provide valuable help in mitigating or adapting to climate change. 
To help people like Prifti bridge their knowledge gaps, UN Environment, the Global Environment Facility and the Albanian Ministry of Tourism and Environment have joined efforts to promote sustainable land management in Albania by restoring ecosystems.
Organized in the Forest Training Centre in Ossiach, Austria, the project was designed for Albanian officials and local stakeholders to learn from practices shared by their Austrian counterparts in the Albanian forestry sector. The aim is to encourage collaboration to address land degradation while managing forest resources more sustainably. 
Sharing sustainable forest management practices between states is a way to promote multilateral approaches to tackle climate change. It could also have a wider positive impact on the Western Balkan region.
Austria is known for its sustainable use of land and forests. Its forestry sector has become a strong economic pillar for the country, without damaging the environment and biodiversity. Austria demonstrates that it is possible to develop a thriving wood-processing sector while protecting ecosystems.
“Managing our forests successfully within ecological, economic and technical boundaries while improving safety requires experts with a high level of theoretical knowledge and practical skills,” said Johann Zöscher, Head of the Forestry Training Centre in Ossiach.
From their Austrian colleagues, Albanian officials gained insight into forest management and planning, and discovered how technology plays a key role in the Austrian forestry sector. It is used, among other things, to harvest wood and to conduct forest inventories, generating data used for policymaking and building international networks. Workshop participants also learned how to produce and store seeds and seedlings. Austrian experts shared their knowledge and skills on how to sustainably manage tree nurseries, which work as a partly state-owned enterprise in their country. 
“Adopting this kind of business model in Albania, especially in Kolonja, where we already have state-owned land for this purpose, would be a step forward for helping our forests to grow,” recognized Prifti. 
More than this, increased forest cover can help tackle the most important environmental health risk of our time namely air pollution, which claims 7 million lives each year worldwide. The main sources of air pollution are the same as the drivers of climate change, which means that efforts to mitigate one can improve the other. 
Trees can help in this regard as they can absorb great amounts of greenhouse gases and remove air pollutants. A single tree can remove over a tonne of CO2 from the atmosphere in its lifetime, making treenurseries a cost-effective way to clean the air and a key tool to mitigate climate change.
The benefits of forest ecosystems are far-reaching, and can be environmental, socio-cultural and economic. Their protection through viable management, which Albania is pursuing, is essential to ensure a sustainable future for all.

Air pollution is the theme for World Environment Day on 5 June 2019. The quality of the air we breathe depends on the lifestyle choices we make every day. Learn more about how air pollution affects you, and what is being done to clean the air. What are you doing to reduce your emissions footprint and #BeatAirPollution? 

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