In the largest endeavour of its kind, on July 11th, hundreds of thousands of people in the state of Uttar Pradesh in India participated in planting 50 million trees in 24 hours. The state coordinated the mass planting of trees with the help of 800,000 volunteers in public spaces.
This was the first real show of a $6 billion commitment India had made at the 2015 Paris Climate talks. During those talks, India made a commitment to reforest 12 percent of its land by 2030. The country already boasts of the world’s first 100 percent solar powered airport, and the building of world’s largest solar power station is already in the works. Even solar power has recently become cheaper than coal in India.
The volunteers in total planted 49.3 million tree saplings from 80 different tree species, all sourced locally from nurseries in Uttar Pradesh.
The timing of this drive could not have been more apt. 6 out of the top 10 cities with the world’s worst air quality are in India. Even though the project sounds ambitious, it will contribute only a small fraction towards India’s goals to fight climate change. It is, however, a sign that the country is moving in the right direction.
“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 told volunteers before the planting in the city of Kannaui in Uttar Pradesh. He further added, “Uttar Pradesh has made a beginning in this regard.”
The previous such record was held by Pakistan. In 2013, 847,275 trees were planted in a day along highways, railroad tracks, small roads, and publicly owned forests.
The major concern henceforth is the high mortality rate associated with planting such a large number of trees in such a short period of time. As many as 40% of the trees will die due to lack of water, disease and lack of care for all trees in the first few fragile months.
“You can’t just plant the trees,” says Edward Parson, an environmental law professor at the University of California, “Of course it is great to plant 50 million trees, but you also need to have procedures in place to care for them and protect them.”
“However, this reforestation effort will be monitored through aerial photography along country roads, highways, rail tracks, and forest areas – places where the saplings were planted – at regular intervals,” says senior forest official Sanjeev Saran.
Hopefully, this is just the first of any tree planting events in India. In May, the country’s Environment Minister announced plans to increase the nation’s forests from 21.34 percent to 33 percent of its land area with a bill that’s been passed by the Parliament of India’s lower house and is now pending approval from the upper house.
“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.”
Many other cities around the world should use this as motivation for similar campaigns for reforestation. Planting trees is one of the more efficient ways to significantly increase air quality, reduce greenhouse emissions and re-establish habitats for wildlife.