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Forests rescue the Earth

The reforestation of the planet is necessary not only to reduce greenhouse gases but also to protect ecosystems.

by Michelle Leslie
01 September 2020
6 min read
by Michelle Leslie
01 September 2020
6 min read

Our planet is home to over three trillion trees. The world's forest floors help to control global temperatures, clean the air we breathe and hold water in our atmosphere.

However, decades of urbanization and deforestation have threatened the future of many of the world's ancient forests. So in 2019, the United Nations Environment Program launched the decade on ecosystem reforestation, calling attention to the need to restore ecosystems and highlighting the importance of reforestation to job creation, economic security for communities and the role of trees in mitigating the impacts of climate change. This objective includes restoring up to 350 million hectares of land, which would simultaneously remove 26 gigatons of GHG emissions.

Benefits of reforestation

A number of organizations are already working to address the challenge of restoring forest floors, collaborating with communities and mobilizing the power of online platforms to bring back ecosystems and protect habitats around the world. “The reality is that you can't restore or conserve nature without working with local communities," explains Diana Chaplin, canopy director of One Tree Planted, one non-profit committed to global reforestation. "Deforestation can be caused by people who are just trying to survive, because the forest provides essential fuel, food and income."

If the underlying issues of unsustainable agricultural practices and economic inequality can be addressed, contends Chaplin, the deforestation of primary forests could decrease. “It's not just about planting trees," she says, "reforestation is about making a positive social impact as much as it is about an environmental impact."

The benefits of tree restoration go beyond removing greenhouse gases. One Tree Planted is growing food for communities in India combatting poverty and pollution through a large-scale fruit tree planting initiative. Each tree, which provides up to $10 USD in food and nutrition, will help to feed communities in India's Uttar Pradesh region while also restoring the local environment following recent natural disasters.

To celebrate World Chimpanzee Day, One Tree Planted partnered with the Jane Goodall Institute to announce a reforestation program to help protect Chimpanzee habitats. The program will help to restore the Albertine Rift forest floors in Uganda, which have been lost over the years to urbanization.

By using different farming systems such as agroforestry, the plan will introduce trees into farming systems to help recover and repair some of the damaged land. A total of 3 million trees will be planted to help ensure the long-term survival of the Chimpanzee and other African species that rely on the Albertine Rift forest. (Over half of Africa's bird population also calls these forests home.) The organization is also working to save whale populations. By bringing back trees to riverbanks, ocean life can be saved and environmental pollution can be reduced.

Planting trees to save orcas

Along the coastline of the Pacific North West, from California to British Columbia and all the way up to Alaska, tourists congregate hoping to catch a view of the majestic orca, or killer whale, swimming the ocean.

Their sightings becoming ever harder to spot; it is estimated that less than 75 of these whales remain, says Chaplin. “The orca population is starving due to over-fishing, damns and runoff pollution." One Tree Planted's response: planting trees along riverbanks—and lots of and a half million by 2021, to be exact. By bringing tree life back to the rivers edges where spawning chinook salmon—the diet of Orca whales—congregate, One Tree Planted is hoping they will be able to save the Orca from extinction

The trees not only provide shade and cooler water temperatures that the chinook salmon need to survive, they also help to reduce runoff pollution from entering waterways, protecting the world's oceans and the Orcas that call them home.

Taking tree-planting online

“Growing a trillion trees is not going to be easy," says Aaron Minnick, manager of the Global Restoration Initiative at the World Resources Institute's TerraMatch. "We aren't talking about a handful of large projects, but rather thousands and thousands of small and medium ones. When looked at this way, there is a need for a continuous supply of projects to meet the demand coming from corporations and governments." TerraMatch offers project developers and funders a one-stop shop where they can find projects and funding offers that match their preferences, from geography to restoration methods and beyond. The goal is to get money flowing to projects on the ground more quickly.

The platform also vets all organizations and projects to ensure legitimacy and best practices. “TerraMatch is the ' for reforestation," Minnick explains. "No transactions take place on the platform. It allows the two parties to connect with each other and then they can share information and take the contract details offline." 

Launched in mid-June, the app already hosts hundreds of organizations and has the support of major corporations. For TerraMatch, their tree matchmaking service is a long-term venture. Looking to the future, they are hoping to incorporate project monitoring into their services so that companies can see their investments in action.

Likewise, One Tree Planted is hopeful they can extinguish the forest fire threat in California by growing drought resistant trees in fire zones. And in February, the United States House of Representatives put forth the Trillion Trees Act. The goal is to grow a trillion trees by 2050 enough trees to sequester two-thirds of all manmade carbon since the Industrial Revolution.