Governor of Rhode Island Receives American Forests’ Inaugural Tree Equity Champion Award
Washington, DC, 9 September 2020 – Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo today received American Forests’ first Tree Equity Champion Award, in recognition of her leadership in creating healthy forests statewide that will help slow climate change and reduce social inequities.
Most notably, her new Resilient Rhody strategy recognizes urban forestry as a pathway for addressing and responding to climate change. To implement the strategy, the Rhode Island Urban Forests for Climate and Health Initiative was established. The Initiative is creating technical, finance, policy and engagement tools, including a score, for every neighborhood in Rhode Island, that indicates how much Tree Equity there is in each neighborhood. Tree Equity exists when every part of every neighborhood has enough trees to serve all residents’ needs.
Rhode Island is the first region in the country to calculate this type of score and develop a tool to make sure tree canopy investments have maximum impact on communities that will benefit the most. Final scores for the state will be announced in October.
“The leadership shown by Gov. Raimondo is inspiring,” said American Forests President & CEO Jad Daley. “And it is just what is needed as our world grapples with rapidly increasing negative impacts associated with climate change and social inequities. Trees are one of the best tools we have to minimize those impacts so that people can live healthy and prosperous lives.”
In the United States, trees often are sparse in low-income neighborhoods and some neighborhoods of color. This is problematic, given that trees across the U.S. absorb 17.4 million tons of air pollutants, preventing 670,000 cases of asthma and other acute respiratory symptoms annually. They also prevent approximately 1,200 heat-related deaths and countless heat-related illnesses annually in the U.S. And, nationwide, trees reduce energy bills for heating and cooling by 7.2%, on average.
Addressing this inequity was one motivating factor behind Gov. Raimondo’s support for the Rhode Island Urban Forests for Climate and Health Initiative that, among other things, is working on the Tree Equity Score project. So was climate change. Two years ago, when the idea for the Initiative was born, Gov. Raimondo and other U.S. Climate Alliance States were developing detailed plans to maximize the role of their natural lands in slowing climate change.
While many larger states logically focused on their vast forests or prairies, Rhode Island looked at its 1,200 square miles, just smaller than metro Detroit, as one urban forest. Forests and forest products comprise 14.9 percent of the total U.S. carbon sink. Of that, almost a quarter comes from trees in cities. In addition, when uniquely positioned near buildings, urban trees reduce energy demand and its carbon output by 7.2 percent nationally.
“I’m honored to receive the inaugural Tree Equity Award on behalf of Rhode Island,” said Governor Gina M. Raimondo. “Thanks to our partnership with American Forests through their Tree Equity initiative, we are finding innovative new ways to ensure all Rhode Islanders, regardless of ZIP code, can enjoy the economic and health benefits of trees. I look forward to continuing our work together to promote environmental equity and combat climate change.”
American Forests is working with Gov. Raimondo, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and others to create the methodology for determining a Tree Equity Score. It will be based on existing tree cover and tree cover potential, climate projections, development density, income, employment and race.
American Forests is the first national non-profit conservation organization created in the U.S. Since its founding in 1875, the organization has been the pathfinders for the forest conservation movement. Its mission is to create healthy and resilient forests, from cities to wilderness, that deliver essential benefits for climate, people, water and wildlife. The organization advances its mission through forestry innovation, place-based partnerships to plant and restore forests, and movement building.
“Thanks to the Governor’s leadership and work with the US Climate Alliance, Rhode Island has included supporting natural lands and urban forests as an important part of our state’s climate goals. This has helped us promote Tree equity in our Health Equity Zones and to assess tree canopy cover as part of our overall progress towards advancing health equity.”
– Nicole Alexander-Scott, Director, Rhode Island Department of Health
“Rhode Island’s urban forests offer a powerful and effective natural climate solution by absorbing and storing carbon dioxide and reducing energy demands. Tree Equity contributes to healthier neighborhoods, providing cleaner air, cooler temperatures and stress reduction – and we sure want to bring those benefits to families in our frontline communities.”
– Janet Coit, Director, Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management
“I’m thrilled to celebrate this award and the Governor’s leadership on implementing Resilient Rhody, greening Rhode Island’s communities, and her commitment to building statewide Tree Equity.”
– Shaun O’Rourke, Chief Resilience Officer, Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank