Greening the desert – Green City initiatives for arid environments

Arid environments present many challenges for sustainable and liveable green cities, but the use of nature can provide solutions. The AIPH Green City Conference, held in Doha, Qatar, explored how plants can be used to address the issues in hot, dry environments and how this knowledge can be expanded to other cities around the globe. 

The conference was organised by the International Association of Horticultural Producers (AIPH) with the support of Host Expo 2023 Doha Qatar and Headline Sponsor Biblo as part of the AIPH Spring Meeting. Prominent speakers from around the world presented on the Conference theme of ‘city greening solutions for arid environments’. 

Keynote speaker Professor David Simon, Professor of Development Geography at Royal Holloway, University of London, opened the conference. In his presentation, he noted that in history cities were sustainable because people worked with nature. He said: “The only way to live in ‘hostile’ environments is to learn to live with nature. Modern technology has allowed us to forget that. We need to rediscover that we are part of nature, that we are the custodians of nature.”  

This need for a shift in mindset was echoed by Jala Makhzoumi, Vice President of the International Federation of Landscape Architects (IFLA) and Acting President of IFLA Middle East. She said: “Nature is more than just green, it’s about cycles. But. in the minds of city citizens, it has been reduced to ‘green spaces’. People don’t think of trees as landscapes, but they are entire ecosystems. 

Huda Shaka, Director of Urban Strategy and Planning at Gehl, highlighted the need to be more creative with greening solutions. She said: “Trees are not always the solution. We need to be scientific and strategic. Research shows that trees can be good or bad, depending on the purpose. We need to identify our goals and look at the best strategies to achieve that.” Other plants may be more suitable for achieving city goals. 

Certification schemes can motivate more sustainable choices and stimulate positive changes. An example of this was presented by Kishor Rajhansa, CEO of the Global Carbon Council (GCC). GCC is an international carbon market and sustainable development program that certifies initiatives which achieve sustainability goals, such as reducing greenhouse gases. Rajhansa explained: “We are helping to catalyse climate action.” 

Another scheme driving positive change in the region is the Society of Sustainability & Green Materials (SSGM). Dr Ali Al Jassim, Founder and Chair, presented the non-profit’s work to raise awareness and improve knowledge sharing in sustainability, green materials, and circular economy in the UAE. Organisations that join the society are presented with a scorecard that shows where they are meeting sustainability goals and where they can improve. 

In his closing remarks, AIPH Secretary General Tim Briercliffe commented: “What is the implication if we don’t green our cities? It’s unthinkable, but the solutions are here. Living in a green city is no longer an option, it’s a necessity for survival.” 

Other presentations included: 

  • Solving Water Issues Using Nature – Dr Saeed Alhassan Alkhazraji, Founder, Manhat 
  • Re-naturing cities through nature-based solutions – Dr Mario V Balzan, Senior Lecturer at the Malta College of Arts, Science and Technology (MCAST), and Managing Director at Ecostack Innovations 
  • Smarter and Greener climate mitigation solutions from cities in Asia – Diane Lee, Media Relations Manager – Asia Region, AIPH 
  • Easy Access to Nature Data – Powered by AI – Thomas Gooch, Founder/CEO of Office of Planetary Observations (OPO) 

The AIPH Green City 2024 conference concluded with a tour of sites in and around Doha that demonstrate successful implementation of plant and water solutions to provide greening in the arid environment of Qatar. 

Watch the Conference on-demand

AIPH thanks Host Sponsor Expo 2023 Doha Qatar, Headline Sponsor Biblo, Green City Conference Partners Earthna, IFLA, and ISOCARP, and Media Partners Exhibitor Magazine, FloraCulture International, Floriculture Today, Guiaverde, and Host City for their support of this event. 

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