Tree Planting: An Excellent Benchmark

Ontario, a province of Canada, has cancelled a tree planting program, with those involved warning the move will lead to the loss of jobs, not to mention, environmental benefits that forests provide.  The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry told Forests Ontario the day after the Progressive Conservative government delivered its budget that the 50 Million Tree Program was being eliminated. 

Rob Keen, CEO of Forests Ontario, said since 2008 more than 27 million trees have been planted across Ontario through the program, which saved landowners up to 90 per cent of the costs of large-scale tree planting.  The CEO of one of the main nurseries that grows seedlings for the program said the cancellation of the 50 Million Tree Program will lead to more erosion in flood zones, as well as poorer air and water quality, warmer lakes and streams without forest cover to shade them, and less wildlife habitat.

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon to have some politicians in almost every country who don’t necessarily appreciate the fact that in this new ecology age, trees have far more value than providing just timber.  For instance: Trees keep soils moist, prevent floods, provide shelter, store carbon, beautify landscapes, protect water sources, increase biodiversity, improve conservation, and induce human wellbeing.

Tree planting has been around forever.  The ancient civilizations had gardens and orchards into which they transplanted trees that bore useful crops, or those that could be clipped into hedges, or those which were valued for their shade or beauty.  As a matter of fact, the ancient Greeks and Romans were great planters. The Romans have left evidence in their extensive horticultural manuals of how they planted trees.

Source: arborday.org

Ebenezer Howard’s Garden Cities of Tomorrow (1898) inspired a new approach to solving the urban crisis. He advocated the building of planned towns incorporating low-density housing with trees and green spaces.

The desire to improve urban areas by “greening” them persisted, and by the 1970s, urban ecology had become a distinct discipline, with great interest in conserving, planting and managing many urban green spaces. Much of this work is being continued through the implementation of the community Forests.  Government agencies, non-governmental organizations, charities, local authorities, highway authorities, service providers and many other groups are involved directly or indirectly in tree planting.

The reality is that trees are essential to maintaining our climate and biodiversity. Trees contribute to the global environment by improving air quality, conserving water, preserving soil, and supporting wildlife. During the process of photosynthesis, trees take out carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and produce the oxygen we breathe.

With trees and woodland so important in capturing carbon from the atmosphere, improved coverage is known to have a big impact on the human health.  This is beneficial for two very important reasons:

  1. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a greenhouse gas (GHG), which is directly contributing to one of the biggest risks to our planet today – global warming. When these gases are released into the air due to activities such as cars burning fossil fuels and waste being sent to landfill sites, they cause the Earth’s temperature and sea levels to rise. Consequently, we experience more droughts, wildfires, tsunamis and other devastating natural disasters; and
  2. Although humans are regularly exposed to low levels of CO2, too-high concentrations cause a number of unpleasant symptoms that make us feel unwell. These include increased fatigue, nausea, headaches and vertigo.

Here comes the threat.  There are only 12 years left to limit global warming to the 1.5°C target laid out by October’s United Nations (UN) Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report.

In this time, anthropogenic CO2 emissions must drop by 45 percent. By 2050 they need to reach net zero, with any further emissions offset by deliberate removal of CO₂ already in the atmosphere. Investment firm Schroders have warned the global economy could suffer annual losses of $23trn in the long term without rapid action. This permanent economic damage would be almost four times greater than that of the 2008 global financial crisis. 

The good news is that the business world is already making great strides to reduce emissions and waste in a move towards a circular economy. But, if we are to achieve the UN’s targets, we need trees.

Source: inside-rge.com (Photo: Lim Yaohui)

It’s a common knowledge that trees and other plants absorb CO2 from the air as they grow.  Using energy from the sun, trees turn the carbon captured from the CO2 molecules into building blocks for their trunks, branches and foliage and this known as a part of the carbon cycle. It makes sense to assume that deforestation, and especially the destruction of rainforests, contributes significantly to climate change. Climate scientists estimate that forest loss and other changes to the use of land account for around 23 percent of current man-made CO2 emissions – which equates to 17 percent of the 100-year warming impact of all current GHG emissions. Here are a couple of facts worth considering:

  1. A mature forest doesn’t necessarily absorb much more CO2 that it releases, however, because when each tree dies and either rots down or is burns much of its stored carbon is released into the air again. In other words, in the context of climate change, the most important thing about mature forests is not that they reduce the amount of CO2 in the air but that they are huge reservoirs of stored carbon. If such a forest is burned or cleared then much of that carbon is released back into the atmosphere, adding to atmospheric CO2 levels; and
  2. The same process also works in reverse. If trees are planted where previously there weren’t any, they will on soak up CO2 as they grow, reducing the amount of GHG in the atmosphere. It is thought that trees, plants and other land-based “carbon sinks” currently soak up more than a quarter of all the CO2 that humans add to the air each year – though that figure could change as the planet warms.

The relationship between trees and local and global temperature is more complicated than the simple question of the GHGs they absorb and emit. Forests have a major impact on local weather systems and can also affect the amount of sunlight absorbed by the planet: A new area of trees in a snowy region may create more warming than cooling overall by darkening the land surface and reducing the amount of sunlight reflected back to space.

Source: huffingtonpost.co.uk

Here are some facts which help explain why we needed to plant more trees:

  1. Approximately 80 percent of our forests have been destroyed since the 1900’s, causing a 52 percent reduction in land-based wildlife.  The Paris 2020 Agreement included pledges from governments to plant trees, which is a huge stride for the environment;
  2. Half of our oxygen comes from trees.  Research suggests that trees are responsible for around 50 percent of the oxygen on the plant, with the other half coming from the ocean.  As pollution increases, we are beginning to see the populations of phytoplankton, kelp, and algal plankton drop. These ocean-based plants produce oxygen through photosynthesis similar to trees;
  3. Forests contain 80 percent of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity.  Biodiversity is basically everything that is alive on land. This includes plants, animals, fungi, and bacteria.  The most diverse forests in the world are rainforests, where temperature is warm and rainfall is abundant; 
  4. 1 in 4 medicines stem come from rainforest ingredients.  Experts say that four square miles of rainforest usually contains around 1,500 different types of plants and 750 types of different trees. This intense biodiversity causes many organisms to develop chemicals, which are often collected and researched by leading pharmaceutical companies.  Today, 25 percent of western pharmaceuticals are derived from rainforest ingredients, and 121 prescription drugs come from plant-derived sources; and
  5. 1 tree removes 48 pounds of carbon per year, but the carbon doesn’t disappear.  It stays in the tree, and when deforestation takes place, we don’t just destroy the regulators of our climate, we release the carbon they have stored too.   As our carbon levels continue to rise, the importance of our trees continues to grow. 

The United Nations Initiative, the Trillion Tree Campaign, aims to bring transparency to tree-planting projects around the world and make it as easy as possible for anyone to support them. Global reforestation could capture 25 percent of global annual carbon emissions and create wealth in the global south.  So far 13 plus billion trees have been planted.

Source: saga.co.uk

Trees are being planted all over the world in hundreds of millions.  Here are some examples:

  1. China: China reassigns 60,000 soldiers to plant trees in bid to fight pollution.  Area to be planted by the end of the year is roughly the size of Ireland.  It is reported that a large regiment from the People’s Liberation Army, along with some of the nation’s armed police force, have been withdrawn from their posts on the northern border to work on non-military tasks inland. It comes as part of China’s plan to plant at least 84,000 square kilometers (32,400 square miles) of trees by the end of the year, which is roughly equivalent to the size of Ireland. The aim is to increase the country’s forest coverage from 21 per cent of its total landmass to 23 per cent by 2020, the China Daily newspaper reported. Zhang Jianlong, head of China’s State Forestry Administration, said by 2035 the figure could reach as high as 26 percent;
  2. The United Kingdome: Tree planting must double by 2020 as part of radical changes to land use in the UK, according to the government’s advisers on climate change. New forests would lock up carbon but also help to limit the more frequent floods expected with global warming. The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) said land currently used to produce food would need to be converted to woodland, growing crops to produce energy and for new homes to accommodate the growing population. Up to 17 percent of cropland and 30 percent of grassland could be converted, the report says. Protecting and restoring peatland, a huge store of carbon, is also vital, as is ensuring no food waste went to landfill by 2025, but is instead used to generate energy, it adds. The CCC report says the government should increase tree planting from 9,000 hectares (22,239 acres) per year to 20,000ha by 2020, then triple it to 27,000ha by 2030. This would bolster forest cover from 13 percent of the UK to 19 percent by 2050;
  3. Pakistan: Pakistan hit its billion tree goal in August 2017 – months ahead of schedule. Now, the hills of the country’s northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are alive with newly planted saplings.  The massive reforestation project – named the Billion Tree Tsunami – added 350,000 hectares of trees both by planting and natural regeneration, in an effort to restore the province’s depleted forests and fight the effects of climate change. Decades of felling and natural disasters have drastically reduced Pakistan’s forests. Figures for the country’s total forest cover range between around 2 percent and 5 percent of land area. Nevertheless, Pakistan has one of the lowest levels of forest cover in the region and well below the 12 percent recommended by the UN.  It is also among the six countries that will be most affected by global warming;
  4. India:  India’s Rural Development Ministry has decided to try to tackle two problems at the same time: Youth unemployment and bad air quality. It has unveiled a plan to hire youths – potentially up to 300,000 – to plant 2 billion trees along the country’s highways:  “The length of National Highways in the country is one lakh kilometer [about 62,137 miles]. I have asked officials to come out with a plan to plant 200 crore (2 billion) trees along these stretches which in turn would create jobs for the unemployed on the one hand and protect the environment on the other,” said Shipping and Rural Development Minister. Not only would this help provide jobs to a segment of the population that needs them and make the country more beautiful, but trees are also great at improving air quality; and
  5. Australia:  Australia has set an ambitious target to plant 1 billion trees by 2050 in an effort to fight climate change, enhance natural landscapes, and boost the nation’s overall economic prosperity.  Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the scheme, part of a new National Forest Industries Plan, will remove 18 million tons of greenhouse gases from the environment each year between now and 2030 and, in turn, allow Australia to meet its Paris climate agreement targets.  This target is in addition to the 70 million trees planted every year to replace those trees harvested in Australia’s plantations. Growing the size of Australia’s plantation estate will provide confidence to our forest industries that they will have the resource security they need into the future to underpin their investment decisions for decades to come. About 70,000 Australians are directly employed in the growing and processing of our forest products – and tens of thousands more whose jobs are indirectly supported by forestry. Annually, the sector generates $23 billion1 of economic activity.

Finally, Ontario is the largest province of Canada with 14.411 million (Represents 38.7 percent of Canada’s population) populations and a GDP of $825.805 billion (Represents 38.7 percent of Canada’s GDP).  Ontario had surpassed its 2014 target of 6 percent below 190 levels of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) and became a world climate leader after years of hard work that included:

  1. Closing coal plants;
  2. Slowing urban sprawl and promoting conservation;
  3. The 2009 Green Energy and Green Economy Act;
  4. The 2016 Climate Change Mitigation and Low-carbon Economy Act and its cap and trade system;
  5. Joining the shared carbon market with California and Quebec; and
  6. Joining the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change.

There is a concern about meeting the next reduction target of 15 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 as the newly elected government in 2018 appeared to have different priorities for climate change.  It is expected the current trends and policies would result in 170 megatonnes of emissions, or 69 percent of its 2020 target.

However, the Canadian federal government decided on 4 June 2019 to throw lifeline to 50 Million Tree Program by putting up $15 million over four years to rescue the program.  Environment Minister Catherine McKenna explained how the new cash will extend the program for at least another four years. She said that preserving the program will mean cleaner air, a healthier environment and good local jobs.  She further said that “While Mr. Ford cuts programs that support tree planting, forest firefighting, flood management, and tackling climate change, we will continue to invest in a clean future for our environment, our economy, and our kids.”

5 June 2019

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