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More than a billion trees planted in 2007: UN

By Bogonko Bosire (Agence France Press) - November 28, 2007

More than one billion trees were planted around the world in 2007, with Ethiopia and Mexico leading in the drive to combat climate change through new lush forest projects, a UN report said Wednesday.

The Nairobi-based UN Environment Programme (UNEP) said the mass tree planting, inspired by Nobel Peace laureate Wangari Maathai, will help mitigate effects of pollution and environmental deterioration.

“An initiative to catalyze the pledging and the planting of one billion trees has achieved and indeed surpassed its mark. It is a further sign of the breathtaking momentum witnessed this year on the challenge for this generation — climate change,” UNEP chief Achim Steiner said in a statement.

“Millions if not billions of people around this world want an end to pollution and environmental deterioration and have rolled up their sleeves and got their hands dirty to prove the point,” he added.

UNEP said the total number of trees planted is still being collated, but developing countries top the list with more than 700 million and 217 million planted in Ethiopia and Mexico respectively.

Ethiopia’s high demand for fuel wood and land for cropping and grazing has slashed its forest cover from about 35 percent of its landmass in the early 20th century to just 4.2 percent by 2000, environmentalist say.

Others planters include: Turkey 150 million, Kenya 100 million, Cuba 96.5 million, Rwanda 50 million, South Korea 43 million, Tunisia 21 million, Morocco 20 million, Myanmar 20 million and Brazil 16 million.

Maathai’s Green Belt Movement planted 4.7 million trees, double the number it had initially pledged, according to UNEP. The army has participated in re-afforestation drives in Kenya and Mexico.

Indonesia, which will next month host the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), is expected to plant almost 80 million trees in one day alone in the run up to the Bali climate meeting.

UNEP said China, Guatemala and Spain are expected soon to announce new plantings of millions of trees.

Experts says that trees help absorb carbon contained in the heat-trapping gases blamed for climate change, which are largely generated by human activity and are one of the most perilous environmental challenges in the modern world.

The UNEP report sends a powerful message ahead of the December 3-14 meeting in Bali of the UNFCCC, a panel charting the path for negotiating pollution cuts to be implemented after 2012 when the Kyoto Protocol pledges run out.

“We called you to action almost exactly a year ago and you responded beyond our dreams,” said Maathai, who won the 2004 Nobel Peace prize for her campaign to plant tens of millions of trees to counter tree-loss and desertification in Africa.

“Now we must keep the pressure on and continue the good work for the planet,” Maathai said in the statement.

The Nairobi-based World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), which co-organised the campaign, said the success indicated that environment can be rescued by afforestation.

“This milestone shows clearly that the global community has the spirit and the substance to unite in achieving ambitious targets to create a better environment for all,” said ICRAF Director General Dennis Garrity.

The UNEP, citing its credible tracking system, said 1.56 billion trees have been planted around the world, but had so far received pledges of 2.24 billion trees.

The mass planting, carried by governments, communities, corporations and individuals, will continue despite surpassing the one billion mark, the agency said.

UNEP spokesman Nick Nuttall was asked why the most enthusiasm for the worldwide initiative seemed to have occurred in developing countries.

“There is no clear answer, however it may be that communities in Africa, Asia and Latin America recognise more clearly the impact of climate change already on the way,” he told AFP.

“Perhaps also they more intimately understand the wider benefit of the forests from stabilising water supplies and soils up to their importance as natural pharmatives as well as the importance of trees in combatting global warming.”