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Trees are the New Instruments of Discrimination

Updated: Jun 14, 2023

Trees are the new barometers of inequality.

Green justice by Nivedita Bansal

Social and environmental inequality is prominent in cities and can be measured through indicators like income rates and access to resources. However, they can also be measured through the distribution of trees.

One of the main underpinnings of this inequality is that lower investments in poorer neighbourhoods essentially lead to less greenery and more pavement.

The Tree Equity Score

The Tree Equity Score (TES) was recently introduced by American Forests, an NGO, for all neighbourhoods and municipalities in urban America. This metric indicates whether there are sufficient trees for every citizen to experience the benefits they provide, offering a social equity-focused narrative that should be used to advocate, plan, improve and inspire for a more equitable and sustainable future. The scores are based on tree canopy, surface temperature, and social aspects including income, race, and health factors, and they range from a 0 to 100 point system. In short, a score of 100 represents maximum Tree Equity.

According to the TES, 522 million trees need to be planted and grown across American urban areas to achieve full Tree Equity.

So far, this metric has shown that there is still a long way to go to ensure that every citizen in urban America benefits from the advantages of trees. Could the Tree Equity Score be useful in measuring social and environmental inequality elsewhere too?

India and the Tree Equity Score

In 2012, the Delhi-based Institute of Environmental Studies estimated a tree cover of 11.9% in New Delhi and 6.2% in Greater Mumbai. Implementing the TES in India would further emphasize that many urban citizens do not experience the benefits of trees. Even so, it is important to the premise that the TES should be accompanied by other greening strategies, as equity for the general public cannot be fully ensured through tree planting due to the very high population densities in some Indian cities.

Mumbai experienced a drastic decrease in green cover, from 35% in the 1970s to less than 13% in 2017.

Not surprisingly, implementing the TES requires resources like financial investments and incentives. Research and satellite & imagery technology are also essential. So, which institutions could collaborate to successfully implement TES in India? NGOs addressing this problem would be a good start, as they have the motivation to solve inequality and can carry out fruitful research. Together, federal institutions could provide valuable information through open access to city maps and demographic data.

Nevertheless, just like any other policy instrument, having these resources is not enough. The TES needs to be actionable. This means that the public and important actors - like politicians - need to firstly have access to this tool to, secondly, be able to use it to address the problem. By successfully implementing the TES, communities could benefit from innovative projects aimed at increasing trees in urban areas, mitigating the impacts of climate change and ensuring a better quality of life one step at a time.


American Forests (2021). Tree Equity Score. American Forests.

Govindarajulu, D. (2014). Urban green space planning for climate adaptation in Indian cities. Urban climate, 10, 35-41.

Singh, H. S. (2012). Status of Tree Cover Urban Areas of Gujarat. Gujarat Forest Department.

Travers, J. (2021). Tree equity. The Ecologist.

Tree Equity Score (2021). About. Tree Equity Score.

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