Ecological and agroforestry restauration of the Estropajo Hill in Xalapa

Having recently celebrated both World Environment Day and the formal launch of the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030) on June 5th, CityAdapt highlights the progress made on the ecological restoration of Estropajo Hill in Xalapa, Mexico.

As part of a collection of locations with forest remnants and greater ecological connectivity in the Xalapa-Tlalnelhuayocan metropolitan area in the heart of the state of Veracruz, the Estropajo Hill plays a strategic role as a buffer against the impacts of climate-related hazards. It also provides various ecosystem services such as water provisioning and aquifer recharge, air purification, and noise-pollution reduction while serving as a refuge for flora and fauna endemic to the region, some of which are in danger of extinction. The Estropajo Hill is vital to building the region’s climate resilience.

In contrast to the multiple benefits provided by the Estropajo Hill, recent socio-environmental climate vulnerability studies have shown that the rise in temperatures and variability in rainfall patterns have exacerbated the frequency and intensity of flooding and landslides from hillsides, processes which, added to the unplanned growth of the city of Xalapa, put the lives of residents living on or near the Hill at risk.

Because of those threats, rapid urbanization, and the urgent need to increase forest remnants and Xalapa’s resilience, the CityAdapt project, “Building Climate Resilience of Urban Systems through Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EbA) in Latin America and the Caribbean,” has been promoting the “Estropajo Hill Ecological and Agroforestry Restoration” initiative. During its first phase, the initiative developed a plan for ecological restoration, agroforestry production and soil conservation to subsequently implement Nature-based Solutions in a concerted manner with the participation of local landowners and families in its second stage.

These NbS’ goal is to maintain the Estropajo Hill’s connectivity with other forest remnants in the Xalapa-Tlalnelhuayocan metropolitan area and protect the region’s biodiversity, ecological processes, and ecosystem services. Additionally, alternative livelihoods using best practices are being established with the participation of different parts of society and the government, advancing the sustainable development of the region and helping build urban climate resilience.


G20 Special event on urban NbS

In the framework of the G20 under the Italian presidency, on April 16, 2021, Italy and UNEP organized a virtual event on Nature-Based Solutions (NBS) in cities, with the aim of exploring how to increase its implementation's pace and scale . The national coordinator of CityAdapt - Mexico participated in the session, called "Resilient, Smart and Sustainable Cities: The Power of Nature-Based Solutions."

Facing the climate crisis, cities must be at the forefront of the identification and understanding of the challenges they face and the solutions they can implement to adapt. Resilient cities allow the development of economies of scale, provide services to a greater number of people, strengthen economic growth and generate innovations to face environmental challenges and reduce the factors that can limit their climate ambition.

In this sense, Nature-based Solutions (NbS) harness the power of nature for sustainable development and contributes to resilience, favoring safe and sustainable urban development. Business opportunities are generated in parallel, such as the creation of green jobs and the conservation of biodiversity, among others.

From this perspective, during the session, CityAdapt presented some of the NBS that it is implementing in the city of Xalapa, with a focus on the importance of having a vulnerability to climate change assessment to use these results as a demonstration of the power of NbS in water resource management. The selected NbS integrate green infrastructure such as infiltrating gardens, the construction of wetlands for water treatment and the installation of rainwater harvesting systems in schools, public buildings and at the domestic level. This process has resulted in the participation from local government, civil society organizations and citizens to achieve changes in public policy and in promoting business opportunities for private initiative.

The panel included representation from cities in China, South Africa, and Mexico, as well as leading architects and academics who shared their experience and knowledge about the power of NBS in cities. The article referring to the session is available on the G20 website at this link.

Video: two years of CityAdapt in Xalapa, Mexico

CityAdapt Project; Trinational Initiative in Latin America and the Caribbean; includes the cities of San Salvador, Kingston and Xalapa; aims to: Help build cities resilient to climate change through the implementation of actions based on EbA ecosystems in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Overview of the activities carried out in the city of Xalapa within the framework of the CityAdapt project. Presentation of the characteristics of the city, the broad features of the project and the results evidenced during this implementation period.

The Mexican city of Xalapa adapts to climate change hand in hand with nature

The Mexican city of Xalapa is surrounded by ecosystems that are not only home to stunning flora and fauna, but also provide crucial services to the city and its 580,000 inhabitants.

The mesophilic forest, a tropical mountain forest neighboring the city, provides 30 percent of Xalapa's water supply, while the diversity of soils and vegetation around it is a vital carbon pool. But both these natural assets and the city itself are feeling the effects of climate change. Fluctuating temperatures and rainfall patterns are destabilizing the mountain slopes around the city, leading to frequent landslides, while heavy rains in the mountains cascade into urban areas, affecting residents of the city.

"Human resilience to climate change depends on ecosystems and we need urgent measures to conserve them," says Isabel García, author of a study that examines the climate scenarios of Xalapa in 2039.

In particular, García's study identified urban sprawl, and its effect on the surrounding environment, as a factor that exacerbates the climate risks facing the city.

The mesophilic forest provides 30 percent of the water supply to Xalapa. Photo: Conacyt.

Nature-based solutions

Local authorities are now turning to nature-based solutions to cope with the effects of climate change. In partnership with the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), they plan to restore areas of mesophilic forest around the city under the CityAdapt project supported by the Global Environment Facility (GEF).

CityAdapt, a five-year initiative, is working in Latin America and the Caribbean to support cities in their efforts to adapt to climate change, an issue that is increasingly a priority for municipalities in the region, according to the regional director of UNEP for Latin America and the Caribbean, Leo Heileman.

"In Latin America and the Caribbean, where 80 percent of the population lives in cities, we need to move from vicious cycles of degradation to a virtuous dynamic of resilient ecosystems," says Heileman.

The rapid urban expansion of Xalapa has often led to the degradation of ecosystems. Photo: CityAdapt.

Xalapa is the first Latin American city to harness the potential of ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA), an approach that uses nature's services to help people adapt to climate change. By taking advantage of the natural environment, for example trees in regulating water flow and preventing landslides and erosion, EbA can help reduce both flooding and drought, and often provides solutions much more cost-effective than engineering structures built to fulfill the same role.

"One of the main objectives of this project is to improve the capacity of local governments to face the adverse effects of climate change," says Sergio Angón, National Coordinator of CityAdapt in Mexico.

Within the framework of the project, two reports have already been produced, one on vulnerability to climate change and the other on climate scenarios for Xalapa to 2039, key for decision-makers.

The vulnerability analysis identified the areas most exposed to climate change. It also measured the adaptive capacity of ecosystems that are providers of environmental services such as surface water supply, soil retention and carbon storage.

The climate scenarios report includes 20-year projections. It is estimated, for example, that by 2039 the temperature in the mesophilic forest could increase by 1.8%, which could affect the biodiversity of the mountain mesophilic forest and probably greater diseases of the coffee crop.

Farmers will learn about sustainable agroforestry practices that combat climate change, ensure food security and protect biodiversity. Photo: UNEP.

Balancing people and nature

The CityAdapt project aims to help Xalapa achieve a vital balance between people and nature.

"It is about Xalapa advancing in an orderly manner towards a new model of land management, in which resilience is the key issue," explained the municipal president of Xalapa, Hipólito Rodríguez.

"The second component of the City Adapt project has to do with the implementation of pilot actions at the basin level, at the urban landscape level and at the local community level," according to coordinator Sergio Angón.

Pilots are already underway on rainwater harvesting in public buildings and schools, as well as on better production practices. One of the first initiatives, which will benefit 2,000 people, revolves around the production of edible mushrooms, due to its high economic value and ease of reproduction.

Until 2021 there will be other pilots around soil conservation and reforestation. It could restore the landscape on the Estropajo hill, especially affected by landslides, and create ecological corridors in the city linking green areas.

"This is an opportunity to rethink the way of building the city," says Angélica Moya.


Article originally published on November 20, 2019 on the UNEP website -