By Brian Clark Howard, National Geographic
India reports that volunteers planted 49.3 million tree saplings on July 11, shattering the previous record for most trees planted in a single day. That record was set by Pakistan in 2013 by planting 847,275 trees.
A reported 800,000 volunteers from Uttar Pradesh worked for 24 hours planting 80 different species of trees along roads, railways, and on public land. The saplings were raised on local nurseries.
The effort is part of the commitment India made at the Paris Climate Conference in December 2015. In the agreement, signed on Earth Day 2016, India agreed to spend $6 billion to reforest 12 percent of its land (bringing total forest cover to 235 million acres by 2030, or about 29 percent of the country’s territory).
Trees sequester carbon dioxide from the air, thereby reducing the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. India has experienced substantial loss of its forest cover over the past few centuries, as people cut down trees for firewood, pasture, and to make room for development.
Other countries are also replanting trees. In December, African nations pledged to reforest 100 million hectares. A wide range of stakeholders, from countries to companies, also signed on to the non-binding New York Declaration of Forests that month, with the goal of halving deforestation by 2020 and ending it by 2030. The declaration also seeks to restore at least 350 million hectares of degraded land with healthy forests.
Still, the young trees aren’t out of the woods, yet. Saplings need water and care and are susceptible to disease. Experience shows mortality rates as high as 40 percent after such massive tree plantings. Officials will monitor the trees with aerial photography, to see which areas may need special attention.
“The world has realized that serious efforts are needed to reduce carbon emissions to mitigate the effects of global climate change,” Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav said at an event promoting the planting.
Officials also hope the trees will improve air quality in India, which suffers from some of the worst in the world. Trees can help remove some pollutants from the air. Right now, six of the top 10 most polluted cities in the world are in the country.
Uttar Pradesh is the most populous state in India, a nation of 1.25 billion people. Some of them may be able to breathe a little easier, and find shade under the trees.
“The biggest contribution of this tree planting project is, apart from the tokenism, that it focuses on the major issues,” said Anit Mukherjee, policy fellow with the Centre for Global Development. “It addresses many of the big issues for India: pollution, deforestation, and land use.”