Climate Crisis

The US is planting a billion trees to fight climate change

US takes up tree planting on a massive scale to fight climate change.

US takes up tree planting on a massive scale to fight climate change. Image: Unsplash/Matt Artz

Stephen Hall
Writer, Forum Agenda
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Climate Crisis

This article is part of: Centre for Nature and Climate

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  • Tree planting is the ‘most powerful solution in the fight against climate change’, an ETH Zürich scientist says.
  • The US is aiming to plant 1 billion trees over the next 10 years to help tackle global warming.
  • Other projects of significant scale include 1T.org, a scheme to plant 1 trillion trees worldwide by 2030.

Summer wildfires continue to send shockwaves through the global community. In June, parts of Europe, North America, the Middle East and North Africa were affected by large-scale blazes, resulting from multiple heatwaves.

In the fight against climate change, trees are a vital tool, as they have the ability to capture carbon from the atmosphere and store it for generations.

Researchers in the United States and Colombia found the biophysical properties of trees can increase the cooling effect of forests by almost 0.5°C.

As a solution to global warming, "tree restoration can be a powerful tool for drawing carbon from the atmosphere," according to ecologist and professor Tom Crowther, from Swiss university ETH Zürich.

More than $100 million has been set aside by the US government for tree planting this year.
More than $100 million has been set aside by the US government for tree planting this year. Image: Unsplash/shayd johnson

The US’s tree planting plan for climate change

It’s a potential fix that is already being implemented in earnest by governments and institutions around the world. In July 2022, the Biden administration announced that the US government aims to plant over a billion trees to replace millions of acres of burned and dead woodlands.

More than $100 million has been set aside by the US Government for reforestation this year, which is more than three times the investment of previous years, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) said in a statement.

Over 4 million acres of forest now need to be replanted over the next decade. This equates to 400,000 acres of forest annually, which, if successful, will significantly exceed the 60,000 acres planted last year.

Such schemes are also vital to the health and resilience of existing areas of forestry, particularly those under threat from the effects of global warming, explains US Agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack.

“Nurturing natural regeneration and planting in areas with the most need is critical to mitigating the worst effects of climate change while also making those forests more resilient to the threats they face from catastrophic wildfire, historic drought, disease outbreaks and pest infestation,” he says.

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What’s the World Economic Forum doing about deforestation?

1 trillion trees

Tree planting projects are also up and running elsewhere. 1t.org is part of the World Economic Forum’s efforts to accelerate nature-based solutions and was set up to support the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030.

The plan aims to encourage the private sector, governments and multiple stakeholders to plant, conserve and restore 1 trillion trees by 2030. The Forum also hosts the UpLink Trillion Trees Challenge, which calls for solutions and innovations to the loss of forests.

The scheme, outlined at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2020, by Executive Chairman Klaus Schwab, led to China’s Special Envoy for Climate Change announcing the country’s commitment to plant and conserve 70 billion trees by 2030.

Over the past decade, China has regrown more than 70 million hectares of forest cover and accounts for more than 25% of the world’s new green areas.

Africa’s Green Wall and other projects

The Great Green Wall Initiative, led by the African Union Commission, aims to grow an 8,000km ‘natural wonder of the world’ across the entire width of Africa. ​

A decade on from its launch and at 15% completed, the project is already starting to benefit people and the environment across the Sahel region, improving food security, jobs and stability, organisers say. Once finished, it will be the largest living structure on the planet, covering an area three times the size of the Great Barrier Reef.

On a smaller scale, German search engine company Ecosia uses revenue from internet searches to plant trees. The company says it donates 80% of its profits to rewilding conservation efforts. To put this in perspective, if the search engine was as big as Google it could absorb 15% of all global CO2 emissions, Ecosia says.

But there are other societal benefits to tree planting and restoring scarce resources besides helping the planet. In 2011, the German government worked with the International Union for Conservation of Nature to set up the Bonn Challenge, a global movement to restore 350 million hectares of deforested land. University of Colorado researchers studying the project found that the financial rewards of achieving ambitious 2030 targets on rewilding could be substantial, generating a net benefit of between $0.7 trillion and $9 trillion.

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