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Ethiopia Planted Over 350 Million Trees in 12 Hours: Why Planting Trees Can Save the Environment

Introduction:

On July 29th, 2019, Ethiopia planted over 350 million trees in 12 hours. Although this has not yet been confirmed by Guinness, Ethiopia has unofficially broken the record for the most trees planted in one day. This was previously held by India, where over 50 million trees were planted across the country in 2016.[1] This even surpassed the target set by the Green Legacy Initiative which organised the campaign across Ethiopia, which aimed to plant 200 million trees in a single day: in fact, they planted 353,633,660 trees in 12 hours.[2]

Figure 1 – Some civil servants were given time off work to take part in the campaign by planting trees. (BBC)

The information was tweeted by Ethiopia’s Minister of Innovation and Technology, Dr Getahun Mekuria, who also added that special technology was used to count the number of trees planted.

Figure 2 – Tweet posted by Getahun Mekuria (@DrGetahun), Ethiopia’s Minister of Innovation and Technology, announcing the number of trees planted in 12 hours.

The initiative occurred across 1000 locations in Ethiopia, with each citizen being encouraged to plant 40 seeds. These were planted as part of a target set to plant over 4 billion trees between May and October of 2019.[3] The benefits to Ethiopia include improving the economy, providing jobs, and, of course, combating climate change.

Ethiopia planting so many trees has been celebrated by people across the world, particularly on social media. Everyone knows that trees and plants are good for the environment, but how effective is planting trees really? With deforestation occurring, and the Amazon rainforest burning at an alarming rate[4], is planting tree seeds and saplings really making an impact?

Planting Trees to Combat Climate Change:

Climate change is caused by the greenhouse effect: when greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, methane and water vapour, are released, they add to the greenhouse layer around the planet. This means that less of the infrared (IR) radiation from the sun, which is reflected off the earth’s surface, can pass through the atmosphere, so an increased amount of heat is trapped in the layer around the earth. Increased carbon dioxide emissions from across the world by transport and industrial factories have massively contributed to this.[5]

Figure 3 – Diagram showing the Greenhouse Effect

Trees and plants are able to ‘purify’ the air due to the process of photosynthesis: this involves the take up of carbon dioxide, thus reducing the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.[6]

Figure 4 – Photosynthesis word and chemical equations. During photosynthesis, carbon dioxide is converted to oxygen.

With 2.5 kg of carbon dioxide being released for each litre of diesel burned in a car[7], methods are rapidly needed to reduce the carbon dioxide emission levels. Add to this the large-scale deforestation currently taking place to clear land for urbanisation and agriculture, it is clear there is a massive need to not only reduce carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, but to prevent their increase. Currently, methods to reduce emissions include carbon capture technology, and investing in renewable energy sources which have lower levels of emissions.

According to the United Nations, Ethiopia’s forest coverage has decreased from 35% of the total land to 11% between the 1900s and the 2000s due to large-scale deforestation.[9] The tree-planting campaign, led by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and the Green Legacy Initiative, is hoping to not only combat climate change, but to also improve social development and Ethiopia’s economy by increasing forest resources.

Effects of Climate Change:

Rising temperatures across the planet have already had catastrophic effects and, if not prevented, will continue to do so. The rising temperatures across the planet have had and, if not prevented, will continue to cause catastrophic effects. The average planetary temperature is currently 1°C higher than pre-industrial temperatures, and the effects of this have already been seen in the hurricanes in the US and forest fires in the Arctic.[10]

It was recently reported that we have until 2030 to combat climate change before its effects are irreversible.

“We are the last generation that can prevent irreparable damage to our planet,”
– General Assembly President María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés[8]

If temperatures are prevented from rising to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, there is a chance of reversing these effects and lowering the temperature back to natural levels, restoring the balance of the climate. However, if the temperatures are allowed to continue to rise to 2°C above pre-industrial levels, it would be difficult to survive the effects: this difference of just 0.5°C would cause twice as many people to be exposed to water stress, and insects and plants would be almost twice as likely to lose half of their habitat at 2°C compared to at 1.5°C higher than pre-industrial levels.[11] Therefore, the level of pollination would be greatly decreased, and this would have a devastating effect on global food production: around 75% of crop plants require some degree of animal pollination, including many of our everyday fruit and vegetables.[12]

Therefore, it is essential to combat climate change, and initiatives such as Ethiopia planting trees are essential to protect the future of the planet.

How Effective Is Planting Trees?

While the initiative has been celebrated across the world, the realities of the situation must be acknowledged: planted saplings and tree seeds can often die before reaching maturity due to adverse conditions and competition.[13] Add to this the sparsity of available water in Ethiopia[14], it is very unlikely that all of the trees planted will survive to adulthood.

It must also be considered that the rate of photosynthesis of the small seedlings being planted is much lower than that of the large fully grown trees being cut down. Thus, overall there is a net carbon dioxide emission due to decreased carbon dioxide capture in forests acting as sinks. Furthermore, it is important to remember that carbon dioxide is not the only greenhouse gas: water vapour, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone also contribute to the greenhouse layer, so high emissions of these contribute to global warming.

Planting trees, however, is still the most effective method of combating climate change[15] due to the unique fact that photosynthesis causes carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere to be removed and replaced with oxygen. Science recently published research that estimated that, if the amount of forest cover across the Earth was maximised, the forests could act as a sink for over two-thirds of all human-related carbon dioxide emissions.[16] This would greatly reduce the impact of climate change.

Conclusion:

Everyone can help to combat climate change. Whether this is using public transport, only boiling the amount of water needed for that cup of tea instead of the whole kettle, or turning off the lights when you leave a room, each small action reduces the amount of carbon emissions. Across the world, people are working to fight climate change: from Extinction Rebellion protests led by students to the implementation of carbon capture technology on exhaust pipes, people are demanding change. Legislation is also needed to enforce regulations on carbon emissions, to ensure that all people are acting to protect the future of the planet.

Planting trees across the world helps to reduce the current carbon dioxide emission levels, which is essential to prevent the temperatures from continuing to rise, and to try to reverse the effects of climate change so far. The uptake of carbon dioxide during photosynthesis allows for this, so the more trees planted, the greater the effects to combat climate change. Countries across the world need to join this initiative.

Ethiopia planting so many trees has a direct impact on improving the environment, but it has also inspired people across the world to get involved in fighting climate change. With continued action, we can work to save the planet.

REFERENCES:

  1. “India Plants 50 Million Trees in One Day, Smashing World Record”, National Geographic, published July 18, 2016, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2016/07/india-plants-50-million-trees-uttar-pradesh-reforestation/, accessed August 1, 2019
  2. Mekuria, Getahun (@DrGetahun), July 29, 2019,
  3. Office of the Prime Minister – Ethiopia (@PMEthiopia), May 26, 2019,
  4. “Why the Amazon is burning”, Earth Sky, published August 27, 2019, URL: https://earthsky.org/earth/amazon-rainforest-fires-burning-4-reasons-why, accessed October 20, 2019
  5. “Greenhouse Effect”, Department of the Environment and Energy, URL: https://www.environment.gov.au/climate-change/climate-science-data/climate-science/greenhouse-effect, accessed October 15, 2019
  6. “How Do Trees Turn Carbon Dioxide into Oxygen?”, Sciencing, URL: https://sciencing.com/trees-turn-carbon-dioxide-oxygen-10034022.html, accessed October 15, 2019
  7. “How Much CO2 Emissions Per Litre of Diesel”, Carbon Positive Life, published May 18, 2017, https://carbonpositivelife.com/co2-per-litre-diesel/, accessed August 1, 2019.
  8. “Only 11 Years Left to Prevent Irreversible Damage from Climate Change, Speakers Warn during General Assembly High-Level Meeting”, United Nations, published March 28, 2019, https://www.un.org/press/en/2019/ga12131.doc.htm, accessed August 4, 2019
  9. “Ethiopia Forest Information and Data”, Mongabay, URL: https://rainforests.mongabay.com/deforestation/2000/Ethiopia.htm, accessed October 16, 2019
  10. “We have 12 years to limit climate change catastrophe, warns UN”, The Guardian, published October 8, 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/oct/08/global-warming-must-not-exceed-15c-warns-landmark-un-report, accessed August 3, 2019
  11. “Global Warming of 1.5°C”, IPCC, accessed August 4, 2019, https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/
  12. “The Importance of Bees as Pollinators”, Kew, published May 24, 2017, https://www.kew.org/read-and-watch/the-importance-of-bees, accessed August 3, 2019
  13. “Individual seedling mortality as a function of size, growth and competition, in naturally regenerated beech seedlings”, Forestry, URL: https://academic.oup.com/forestry/article/80/4/359/586668, accessed October 15, 2019
  14. “Ethiopia”, WASHwatch, accessed August 3, 2019, https://washwatch.org/en/countries/ethiopia/summary/statistics/
  15. S. Lewis, C. Wheeler, E. Michard et al., “Restoring natural forests is the best way to remove atmospheric carbon”, Nature 7750, accessed August 3, 2019, doi: 10.1038/d41586-019-01026-8, URL: http://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-01026-8
  16. J. Bastin, Y. Finegold, C. Garcia et al., “The global tree restoration potential”, Science 6448, accessed: August 3, 2019, doi: 10.1126/SCIENCE.AAX0848, URL: https://science.sciencemag.org/content/365/6448/76

FIGURE REFERENCES:

  1. “Some government offices have been shut down to allow civil servants to take part in the campaign”, BBC, accessed August 3, 2019, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-49151523
  2. Mekuria, Getahun (@DrGetahun), July 29, 2019, https://twitter.com/DrGetahun/status/1155866965774405633?s=20
  3. “Greenhouse Effect”, Scotland’s Environment, accessed August 3, 2019, https://www.environment.gov.scot/educational-resources/get-learning-air/air-broad-general-education-early-to-fourth-level/
  4. “Photosynthesis Equations”, K8 School Lessons, accessed August 3, 2019, https://k8schoollessons.com/photosynthesis-for-kids/

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