We are in a planetary emergency. Horrific heat waves and fires blaze across North America, Turkey and Russia. Extreme floods wreak destruction and cause death from Europe to Africa to Asia. Ocean temperatures and the amount of carbon in our atmosphere have reached unprecedented highs. July was the hottest month in recorded history. Our planet, as the United Nations recently warned, is flashing a “code red for humanity.”
There is no single solution to a crisis this large. Nations must fulfill the commitments they made under the Paris Agreement. Industries need to decarbonize, and businesses—especially the Fortune 1000—need to achieve net zero emissions. We need to empower a new generation of ecopreneurs—entrepreneurs focused on protecting our planet—to unleash innovative climate solutions. In our own lives, we need to adapt our lifestyles and consumption patterns.
None of these climate solutions are mutually exclusive. We need them all. If we are to save our planet—and ourselves—from irreversible climate change, we need to recruit everyone, everywhere in this mission.
This includes embracing a powerful climate solution that can be delivered by anyone, anywhere: trees.
Trees are our planet’s natural air purifiers—the single most effective “device” we have to pull carbon out of the atmosphere. In the U.S., for example, forests capture and store almost 15 percent of our carbon dioxide emissions every year—equivalent to the annual emissions from 163 million cars.
Tragically, we are losing trees at the very moment we need them most. Every six seconds, our planet loses a football pitch worth of tropical rainforest to deforestation. Forests in colder regions are losing millions of acres to drought, pests and wildfire worsened by climate change, and our rapidly growing cities are often losing the natural cooling of trees.
That’s why, last year, we helped launch a new global partnership with a bold new climate action goal—conserving, restoring and growing 1 trillion trees by 2030. Why a trillion? Because cutting-edge scientific analysis, led by the Crowther Lab, has identified enough ecologically suitable land around the world to help achieve this goal with reforestation. By some estimates, a trillion trees could sequester some 200 gigatons of carbon over their lifetimes—equal to the annual emissions from more than 43 billion cars.
When we announced our trillion-tree goal last year, some skeptics dismissed our work as misguided or unrealistic. But the past year has proven that progress is possible. Great Britain, Canada, the U.S., the E.U., China, India, Pakistan and Colombia have committed to plant billions of trees. Partnerships with indigenous communities aim to permanently conserve the planet-protecting forests and biodiversity of the Amazon Basin and the Sahel. Conservation efforts that have removed the world’s second largest rainforest—the Salonga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo—from the endangered list show what’s possible.
In its inaugural year, the U.S. chapter of 1t.org has secured pledges from more than 70 U.S. cities and states, companies and NGOs to conserve, restore and grow over 50 billion trees in the U.S. and abroad by 2030, and invest billions of dollars in workforce development, carbon finance and technology.
Now, as the world comes together next month for Global Citizen Live to rally the international community to address climate change and defeat poverty, and prepares for the pivotal United Nations climate change conference in November, we have the opportunity to spark a truly global effort.
This is a movement that everyone can join.
Every national, state, provincial or local government can make a commitment, like the State of Wisconsin, which will conserve and plant a total of 89 million trees, and the City of Dallas, which will conserve and plant more than 18 million trees.
Every business, large and small, can take action, like Mastercard, Salesforce and Aspiration, which have each committed to planting or protecting 100 million trees.
Every group that cares about our planet can set a goal, following the lead of Eden Reforestation and Sustainable Harvest International, which will plant billions of trees in developing nations, and diverse non-profits reforesting landscapes across America, from abandoned mine lands in West Virginia to burn scars in California.
Every community group can do something, like Girl Scout Troop 4 in Orange, New Jersey that planted 50 dogwood trees as part of the new Girl Scouts Tree Promise to plant five million trees.
Planting one trillion trees won’t be easy. It will depend on all of us taking action in our countries, our companies and our communities. And at a time when it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the relentless news of our changing climate, it’s something we have the power to do—right now. As the legendary conservationist Dr. Jane Goodall has said, “Now is the time for everyone on the planet to do their part.”