When the Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai received an offer from a US company to plant 1 million trees, Wangari’s answer was unequivocal: “What we need is a billion trees”. With these words, the United Nations Environment Programme launched the campaign “Plant for the Planet”. Four years later, the result was staggering: 12 billion trees planted.
We organized the United Nations campaign in Spain, the European country most affected by climate change. During the first few days of the campaign, the counter on our website registered 384 trees planted. After four years of efforts our counter showed more than 47 million trees planted, with more than 60,000 hectares—150,000 acres—of land restored.
While working to reduce emissions, it is important to eliminate some of our emissions from the atmosphere. It is a concrete action with a measurable result. The UN explains that the restoration of forests and degraded lands represents one of the largest, most cost-effective climate solutions available today. Existing forests play a significant role against climate change, storing more than 40% of world CO2 emissions, mainly in tree trunks and soil.
The 12 billion trees planted during the UN campaign represent about 25 to 30 million hectares. The UN is now calling for the restoration of 350 million hectares of forestlands and landscapes by 2030. This would eliminate 4.5 billion tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere each year, or 5% of world annual emissions. If we add the sustainable management of existing forests and the resources they give us, that would eliminate from the atmosphere each year up to 8.8 billion tonnes of CO2, or 25% of world annual emissions.
Answering the UN’s call to restore forestlands and landscapes is probably one of the most concrete and urgent actions we need to take if we want to curb climate change before 2030. Restoring land is giving back to nature the role it has always played: maintaining the balance between man and planet. It is also the best way to invest in the future.