Climate & Health Action Guide

Maximize the benefits of trees to address climate change and improve human health.

Phase:

Take action to promote human health and climate benefits

This action guide is designed to help you promote human health and climate benefits of urban forests in your community while minimizing risks from climate change, such as sea level rise and more frequent and extreme weather events. It outlines a process for you to create an urban forestry project to optimize for climate and health outcomes. The guide will help you reduce climate risks and proactively respond to changing conditions while also providing important benefits to the health and well-being of your community.

Healthy urban forests provide substantial benefits for communities, improving the environment and supporting human health—forests are critical to combating the effects of climate change.

The process is based on the five-step Adaptation Workbook, developed by the Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science (NIACS). The Adaptation Workbook provides a structured, yet flexible approach for integrating climate change into urban forestry projects, and this guide takes you one step further by integrating human health. You can use the complete Adaptation Workbook to take a deeper dive into creating a complete climate change adaptation plan.

Urban forests—including street trees, parks, and other elements of green infrastructure—provide essential environmental, economic, social and health benefits to cities and communities. The environmental services and functions that urban forests provide are well documented, and these include the ability of trees to reduce greenhouse gases through carbon storage, decrease stormwater runoff through interception and absorption of rainwater, and reduce the urban heat island effect by cooling surface and air temperatures at a local scale. The innate ability of urban forests to absorb and store carbon dioxide and regulate local climate becomes even more important as temperatures rise and extreme events become more frequent as a result of climate change. Urban forests can provide benefits for both carbon mitigation (removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere via photosynthesis and reducing greenhouse gas emissions) and climate adaptation (helping human and natural communities adapt to changing conditions, such as more frequent and longer periods of extreme heat). 

There is a growing recognition that exposure to urban forests and nature plays a critical role in promoting human health. These benefits are wide-ranging and affect individuals as well as communities. Human connection to urban forests and nature can also be restorative to psychological and physical health, by helping improve mindfulness and mental health while also reducing stress. Access to nature can facilitate individual and community effects that promote wellness in multiple ways by encouraging physical activity and facilitating social cohesion. Learn more about these benefits.

Funding for this product was generously provided by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation as part of a broader investment to optimize urban forests for climate and public health outcomes.

Author List: Maria Janowiak, Leslie Brandt, Todd Ontl, Molly Henry, Eboni Hall, Kathleen Wolf. Janowiak and Brandt work for the Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science & USDA Forest Service; Ontl works for the Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science & Michigan Technological University. Henry and Hall work for American Forests. Wolf works for the University of Washington.
The Climate & Health Action Guide is based on the adaptation resources developed by the Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science (NIACS) and integrates the Climate & Health program of American Forests.
Climate & Health Action Guide