In a groundbreaking move, the city council of Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, recently secured its place as a finalist in the esteemed Earthshot Prize for 2023.
The recognition stems from their pioneering initiative, aptly named “Freetown the Treetown,” showcasing the city’s commitment to combatting climate change on a global scale.
Freetown, standing resolute on the frontline of global climate change, has witnessed a transformative journey. Despite facing the challenges posed by environmental crises, its people are emerging as leaders in community-driven initiatives.
Prince William, in 2020, laid the foundation for the Earthshot Prize, a beacon of hope and optimism, aiming to mend the scars inflicted upon our planet.
Earthshot Prize: A Call to Urgent Optimism
The Earthshot Prize, guided by the spirit of “urgent optimism,” recognises and rewards innovative solutions to the world’s pressing climate and environmental issues.
The five core goals – Protect and Restore Nature; Clean Our Air; Revive Our Oceans; Build a Waste-Free World; and Fix Our Climate – shape the framework for identifying and honouring impactful projects. Each year, five deserving projects are awarded £1 million to further their initiatives.
Freetown’s Starring Role in Protecting Nature
Freetown City Council has emerged as a finalist in the “Protect and Restore Nature” category, thanks to its visionary project, Freetown the Treetown. Spearheaded by Manja Kargbo, this city-led initiative employs a “pay-to-grow” model.
Residents of Freetown are financially incentivised to plant and monitor trees, contributing to a greener landscape. The initiative employs an online platform to transparently track the progress of this eco-friendly endeavour.
A Vision Beyond Planting Trees
Freetown the Treetown extends beyond tree planting. The city council, in collaboration with the local community, is diligently fostering awareness about the crucial role trees play in mitigating climate change.
By 2024, the project aims to have one million new trees rooted in Freetown’s soil, an impressive feat in the face of rapid deforestation and climate-related challenges.
The motivation behind Freetown the Treetown is deeply rooted in the city’s recent history. In 2017, devastating floods wreaked havoc, claiming a thousand lives and reshaping the city’s landscape. The subsequent rapid urban development in Freetown led to the loss of millions of trees – a staggering 70% of the city’s green cover.
Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr, former Mayor of Freetown, reflects on the city’s vulnerability, stating, “Freetown has been on the frontlines of global climate change, and our people are already directly impacted by the realities of a changing climate that creates stronger storms.”
Harnessing Community Power and Technology
The driving force behind Freetown the Treetown lies in the amalgamation of community engagement, buy-in, and technological innovation. Manja Kargbo and her team aspire not only to make Freetown a greener city but also to inspire urban centres worldwide. Aki-Sawyerr envisions the project as a beacon of hope, symbolising the collective strength of communities in tackling climate challenges.
Freetown City Council’s commitment to environmental causes extends beyond Freetown the Treetown. The council actively engages in various climate-focused projects, such as the Women4Climate Freetown Mentorship Programme, the Reinventing Cities initiative, and their enthusiastic participation in the International Day of Clean Air for Blue Skies.
Call for Responsible Tourism
In the midst of this environmental optimism and increased investment in tourism, Sierra Leone is emerging as a must-visit destination in 2024. Recognised by National Geographic Traveller and Conde Nast Traveller, the country is poised to capture the attention of travellers seeking unique experiences.
The new Freetown airport, inaugurated in 2023, has already broadened access, with further expansions planned in 2024. Simultaneously, Sierra Leone is unveiling new roads, providing access to off-the-beaten-path national parks and traditional villages.
Travellers in 2024 can choose from an array of new hotel openings and expansions. Freetown welcomes a new 200-room Hilton, while the Turtle Islands offer glamping options, previously tucked away from mainstream tourism. Exciting plans are in motion for a resort in collaboration with W Hotels and The Peninsula City in the coming years
Freetown the Treetown is not just a local initiative; it’s a global inspiration. As Freetown City Council leads the charge in environmental stewardship, Sierra Leone beckons travellers with its natural beauty and commitment to sustainability.
The story of Freetown’s Earthshot is a testament to the power of communities and innovation, a narrative that resonates far beyond Sierra Leone’s borders.