Planting a Billion Trees Campaign is Launched by United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)


The vital importance of voluntary collective action in the fight against climate change is spotlighted with the launch of a new campaign to plant a billion trees.

UNEP Photo

The vital importance of voluntary collective action in the fight against climate change is spotlighted with the launch of a new campaign to plant a billion trees.


The Plant for the Planet: Billion Tree Campaign, coordinated by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), will encourage all sectors of society—from the concerned citizen to the philanthropic corporation—to take small but practical steps to combat what is probably the key challenge of the 21st century.


The campaign, backed by Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Green Belt Movement activist Professor Wangari Maathai, His Serene Highness Albert II, Sovereign Prince of Monaco and the World Agroforestry Centre-ICRAF, was unveiled at the annual UN Climate Change Convention Conference taking place in Nairobi, Kenya.


Achim Steiner, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UNEP said:  “Intergovernmental talks on addressing climate change can often be difficult, protracted and sometimes frustrating, especially for those looking on but we cannot and must not lose heart.”


“Meanwhile, action does not need to be confined to the corridors of the negotiation halls. The campaign, which aims to plant a minimum of one billion trees in 2007, offers a direct and straight forward path down which all sectors of society can step to contribute to meeting the climate change challenge”, he added.


“In re-creating lost forests and developing new ones, we can also address other concerns including loss of biodiversity, improving water availability, stemming desertification and reducing erosion”, said Mr. Steiner.


Professor Maathai said: "When we are planting trees sometimes people will say to me, 'I don't want to plant this tree, because it will not grow fast enough'. I have to keep reminding them that the trees they are cutting today were not planted by them, but by those who came before. So they must plant the trees that will benefit communities in the future."


Mr. Steiner added: “The Billion Tree Campaign is but an acorn, but it can also be practically and symbolically a significant expression of our common determination to make a difference in developing and developed countries alike.”


“We have but a short time to avert serious climate change. We need action.We need to plant trees alongside other concrete community-minded actions and in doing so, send a signal to the corridors of political power across the globe that the watching and waiting is over — that countering climate change can take root via 1 billion small but significant acts in our gardens, parks, countryside and rural areas”, said Mr. Steiner.


Other actions include people driving less, switching off lights in empty rooms and turning off electrical appliances rather than leaving them on standby. If everyone in the United Kingdom switched off rather than left TV sets and other appliances on standby it would save enough electricity to power close to 3 million homes for a year, according to some estimates.


The idea for Plant for the Planet: The Billion Tree Campaign was inspired by Professor Maathai who, along with the Prince, is co-patron of the new initiative.


When a corporate group in the United States told Professor Maathai it was planning to plant a million trees, her response was: “That’s great, but what we really need is to plant a billion trees.”


His Serene Highness Albert II, said: “I am particularly honoured to be associated with the founder, Professor Wangari Maathai, whose involvement in the process of reforestation has been, and continues to be, inspirational. To plant a tree for future generations is a simple gesture, yet a strong symbol of sustainable development.”


Under the Plant for the Planet: Billion Tree Campaign, people and entities from around the world are encouraged to enter pledges on a web site


The campaign is open to all – individuals, children and youth groups, schools, community groups, non-governmental organizations, farmers, private sector organizations, local authorities, and national Governments.  Each pledge can be anything from a single tree to 10 million trees.


The Plant for the Planet: Billion Tree Campaign encourages the planting of indigenous trees and trees that are appropriate to the local environment, with mixtures of species preferred over other options.


The campaign identifies four key areas for planting: degraded natural forests and wilderness areas; farms and rural landscapes; sustainably managed plantations; and urban environments but it can also begin with a single tree in a back garden.


Advice on tree planting will be made available via the Website, as well as information about reforestation and other tree-related issues, including links to appropriate partner organizations best equipped to give locally tailored advice, such as the World Agroforestry Centre-ICRAF.


Dennis Garrity, ICRAF Director-General said: “The Plant for the Planet: Billion Tree Campaign is a superb initiative by UNEP to link people, trees and the environment. Planting trees is great, although using appropriate scientific knowledge to plant the right tree in the right place is even greater. The 500 million smallholder farmers in the tropics stand to benefit tremendously from the greater recognition, appreciation and promotion of the right trees in the right places, so that such trees may transform both lives and landscapes.”


The responsibility for tree planting will lie with the person or organization making the pledge via the campaign website. All contributing participants to the Billion Tree Campaign will receive a certificate of involvement.


They will be encouraged to follow up via the website so UNEP can verify that the trees have survived, in partnership with recognized certification mechanisms. The website will record the ongoing tally of pledges, and also publish photos and accounts from registered campaign members of what they have achieved.


The Plant for the Planet Billion Tree Campaign encourages the planting of trees in four key areas, namely:


  1. degraded natural forests and wilderness areas;
  2. farms and rural landscapes;
  3. sustainably managed plantations; and
  4. urban environments.


Trees have to be well adapted to local conditions, and mixtures of species are preferred over monocultures. Many trees have communal benefits, especially for the poor, and ownership, access and use rights are as important as the number of trees.


Horizon International has made an initial pledge to plant 100 trees in May 2007.  Please join Horizon and let us know about your pledges as well as submitting them on the Billion Tree Campaign Website.  The Horizon Solutions Site will carry articles about tree plantings, so share your stories with us. 


The are Fast Facts below the following Notes.



For more information, please contact:

Nick Nuttall, UNEP Spokesperson,

Office of the Executive Director

Tel: +254-20-762-3084;

Cell: +254-733-632-755,



Elisabeth Waechter, Associate Media Officer

Tel: +254-20-762-3088,

Cell: +254-720-173-968;



Fast Facts


Trees are the largest and longest living organisms on Earth.


To make up for the loss of trees in the past decade, we would need to plant 130 million hectares (or 1.3 million km2), an area as large as Peru.


Covering the equivalent of 130 million hectares would entail planting approximately 14 billion trees every year for 10 consecutive years. This would require each person to plant and care for at least two seedlings a year.


Rehabilitating tens of millions of hectares of degraded land and reforesting the Earth is necessary to restore and maintain the productivity of soil and water resources.


Expanding tree cover on denuded lands will reduce pressures on remaining primary forests, helping to preserve habitats and to safeguard the Earth’s biological diversity. It will also mitigate the build-up of atmospheric carbon dioxide.


Rainforests cover only 7 per cent of the land on Earth but they contain nearly half of all the trees on earth. They generate about 40 per cent of the world’s oxygen.


In one year, an average tree inhales 12 kilograms (26 pounds) of CO2 and exhales enough oxygen for a family of four for a year.


One hectare of trees can absorb 6 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year.


A long haul flight will produce 3.75 tonnes of CO2 (or one tonne of carbon).


How much of the world is forested?

Forests cover 30 per cent of the planet’s total land area.

The total forested area in 2005 was just under 4 billion hectares, at least one third less than before the dawn of agriculture, some 10,000 years ago.

(100 hectares is the same as 1 square kilometre).


Where are most forests found?

Forests are unevenly distributed. The 10 most forest-rich countries, which account for two-thirds of the total forested area, are the Russian Federation, Brazil, Canada, the United States, China, Australia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Indonesia, Peru and India.


What is a primary forest?

On a global average, more than one-third of all forests are primary forests, defined as forests where there are no clearly visible indications of human activity and where ecological processes are not significantly disturbed. Six million hectares of primary forest are lost every year due

to deforestation and modification through selective logging and other human interventions.


Only 20 per cent of the world’s forests remain in large intact areas.

These forests consist of tropical rain forests, mangrove, coastal and swamp forests. Monsoon and deciduous forests flourish in the drier and more mountainous regions. Primary forests shelter diverse animal and plant species, and culturally diverse indigenous people, with deep connections to their habitat.


What are the protective functions of forests?

Trees quite literally form the foundations of many natural systems. They help to conserve soil and water, control avalanches, prevent desertification, protect coastal areas and stabilize sand dunes.


Forests are the most important repositories of terrestrial biological biodiversity, housing up to 90 per cent of known terrestrial species.


Trees and shrubs play a vital role in the daily life of rural communities. They provide sources of timber, fuel wood, food, fodder, essential oils, gums, resins and latex, medicines and shade. Forest animals have a vital role in forest ecology such as pollination, seed dispersal and germination.


What are the links between forests and climate change?

Trees absorb carbon dioxide and are vital carbon sinks. It is estimated that the world’s forests store 283 gigatonnes of carbon in their biomass alone, and that carbon stored in forest biomass, deadwood, litter and soil together is roughly 50 per cent more than the carbon in the atmosphere.


Carbon in forest biomass decreased in Africa, Asia and South America in the period 1990–2005. For the world as a whole, carbon stocks in forest biomass decreased annually by 1.1 gigatonne of carbon (equivalent to 4 billion 25kg sacks of charcoal).


The loss of natural forests around the world contributes more to global emissions each year than the transport sector. Curbing deforestation is a highly cost-effective way to reduce emissions.


Other solutions include increased energy efficiency, reduced energy demand, better transport and the use of green energy.


What is the deforestation rate on Earth?

World population currently stands at 6.5 billion people. It is projected to grow to 9 billion by 2042. The expansion of agricultural and industrial needs, population growth, poverty, landlessness and consumer demand are the major driving forces behind deforestation. Most deforestation is due to conversion of forests to agricultural land. Global removals of wood for

timber and fuel amounted to 3.1 billion cubic metres in 2005.


Worldwide, deforestation continues at an alarming rate, about 13 million hectares per year, an area the size of Greece or Nicaragua.

Africa and South America have the largest net loss of forests. In Africa it is estimated that nearly half of forest loss was due to removal of wood fuel. Forests in Europe are expanding. Asia, which had a net loss in the 1990s, reported a net gain of forests in the past five years, primarily due to large-scale forestation in China.


Forest planting and the natural expansion of forests help to reduce the net loss of forests. The net change in forested area in the period 2000–2005 is estimated at 7.3 million hectares a year (an area about the size of Sierra Leone or Panama), down from 8.9 million hectares a year in the period 1990–2000.


Where should trees be planted as a priority?

Favourable growing conditions give nations in the Southern Hemisphere an advantage over most industrial countries in the economics of wood production. Plantations in the South can produce 10–20 cubic metres of wood per hectare per year, considerably more than plantations in most northern temperate regions and 10–20 times the typical productivity of natural forests worldwide.


Who owns forests and trees?

Forest and tree ownership and tenure are changing. Eighty per cent of the world’s forests are publicly owned, but private ownership is on the rise, especially in North and Central America and in Oceania.


About 11 per cent of the world’s forests are designated for the conservation of biological diversity.  These areas are mainly, but not exclusively, in protected areas.


Who cares for forests and trees?

Around 10 million people are employed in conventional forest management and conservation. Formal employment in forestry declined by about 10 per cent from 1990 to 2000. More than 1 billion forest adjacent people are informal  custodians of forests. They rely on forest products and services for a significant part of their livelihoods. Approximately 500 million small-scale farmers in the tropics retain and manage trees on their farms for livelihood goals.


Trees and Humanity


Forests provide not only environmental protection, but also significant income and livelihood options globally for more than 1 billion forest-dependent people. Trees provide a wide range of products (timber, fruit, medicine, beverages, fodder) and services (carbon sequestration, shade, beautification, erosion control, and soil fertility). Without trees human life would be unsustainable. Forests also play an important cultural, spiritual and recreational role in many societies. In some cases, they are integral to the very definition and survival of indigenous and traditional cultures.  Forests and trees are symbolically important in most of the world’s major religions. Trees symbolize historical continuity; they link Earth and heavens and, to many traditions, are home to both good and bad spirits and the souls of ancestors.


Forests also play an important role in offering recreational opportunities and spiritual solace in modern societies. They are universally powerful symbols, a physical expression of life, growth and vigour to urban, rural and forest dwellers alike.


Medicinal products from trees help to cure diseases and increase fertility.

Aspirin originally came from the bark of a willow tree. Quinine, the cure for malaria, comes from the bark of Cinchona trees. Trees preside over community discussions and marriages. They are planted at the birth of a child and at burial sites.


Additional Contact:

Jim Sniffen, Information Officer

UN Environment Programme

New York

tel: +1-212-963-8094/8210


UNEP is solely responsible for the contents of this press release of November 8, 2006.

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