It was announced with great fanfare, as if it were a great victory of common sense: the UN will launch a campaign of reforestation to plant one billion trees in 2007. With all the celebration, it appeared as if the fight against global warming had been won.
The reality is, according to Reuters, to counteract the effects of deforestation suffered only in the past decade, we would have to plant 14 billion trees per year during the next ten to return to the planet the 1.3 million square kilometers of forest lost during this time. That’s an area the size of Peru or 14 times the number proposed by the UN campaign.
Despite the magnitude of the problem, the objective of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) is, nevertheless, remarkable: to move from the negotiating table and of unlimited good intentions to that of action.
How to become a part of the UN Environment Programme’s reforestation effort
It’s all being coordinated by a website that invites individuals, organizations, businesses and governments worldwide to join the initiative to plant a billion trees in a year.
Collaborators specify their commitment online: how many trees they are going to plant, when and where, as well as the chosen species, that should be indigenous to the chosen region. The UNEP has committed to verifying that the plants survive.
Up until now, 600,000 trees have been planted of the 300 million that have been pledged by individuals, public agencies, businesses and other organizations. One such organization, the Barcelona-based Tree-nation.com, aims to plant eight million trees in the Saharan desert and makes it very easy for individuals to contribute with as little as 10€ ($13) for an Acacia from Senegal or up to 75€ for a Baobab tree.
Contribution of Wangari Maathai, creator of the Green Belt
The UNEP’s initiative was inspired by Wangari Maathai, Kenyan ecologist and winner of the 2004 Nobel Peace prize for her conservationist work in Africa. Her foundation has already planted more than 30 million trees in 12 African countries during the last three decades.
A few years ago when a corporate group in the United States told Maathai of its plans to plant a million trees, she responded, “That’s great, but what we really need is to plant a billion trees.” And the initiative was born, but for Maathai this is part of a lifelong fight.
In 1977, Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement in Kenya. Since its birth, the organization has helped 900,000 women from rural zones work in the fight against deforestation, endemic in Africa due to attempts to escape extreme poverty by indiscriminate burning of wooded zones to convert them to agricultural use, a process that results in the desertification of increasingly more extensive areas.
The Green Belt Movement is contributing to the UNEP initiative with its knowledge of the realities of rural Sub-Saharan Africa, where it has been shown that environmental degradation causes poverty, drought and many of its most dire consequences, including war and famines.
Deforestation is one of the main causes of climatic change.
The loss of worldwide vegetation is equivalent to a nearly 20% increase in carbon dioxide emissions (from the burning of fossil fuels) that would otherwise have been offset by its sequestration by plants and trees.
Among the recommendations offered by the movement’s website, they specify priority zones where it is necessary to avoid deforestation, among which are large regions of less developed countries.