The Federal government hopes to shore up the liveability and sustainability of Australian cities by introducing greater volumes of tree cover to urban environments.

Environment minister Greg Hunt said the Commonwealth will spend the next 18 months assembling an ambitious plan for expanding the scope of “urban canopies” in Australia’s major cities.

Speaking at the Sydney Business Chamber, Hunt said the government will cooperate with cities over the next year and half to establish decennial targets for urban tree coverage until mid-century.

“We will work with Australian cities to set decade by decade goals out to 2050 for increased overall tree coverage,” he said. “Our task is to establish those goals and increase them progressively over each of the decades.

“We will also look at building rooftops with green cover which improve both amenity, and as Singapore has shown, can improve value and quality of life as well as operational efficiency.”

Hunt pointed to a broad range of positive impacts that increased tree coverage can have on urban environments.

“Green cities – cities with high levels of trees, foliage and green spaces – provide enormous benefits to their residents,” he said. “They can improve the quality of air in our cities by absorbing some types of airborne pollutants, reduce soil erosion, minimise water run-off and limiting the amount of particular matter entering our waterways.”

Another key benefit of urban tree coverage is reduction of the heat island effects associated with urban areas, which is caused by the concentration of a large volume of heat-absorbing building materials in a single location.

“Air temperature in cities are a number of degrees higher than in surrounding areas due to the heat-absorbing properties of dark-coloured roads and other surfaces, as well as the effect of urban canyons trapping hot air,” said Hunt. “An effective way to reduce the severity of the heat island effect is to increase the greenery in our cities.”