In 2019, the government of Ethiopia undertook a challenge to plant four billion trees in just three months. Since the 1950s, the country’s forest cover has fallen from around 40 percent of its land to just 15 percent.1 Ethiopia’s achievement also spurred other countries to take forestation seriously and make similar commitments.2
Forestation vs. deforestation: Why one cannot balance the other
Scientists largely agree that planting new trees is beneficial for the local environment and the planet. But, the debate does not end there. Is it better to plant new trees or to let forests regrow?3
Is it ok to balance deforestation in one region by planting trees in another? The problem is that deforestation is costly for the planet too. It releases the carbon that trees have stored back into the atmosphere. Keeping that CO2 sequestered and away from the atmosphere is important, scientists say.4
Moreover, new forests may also be less efficient at absorbing carbon dioxide from the air. This may be because smaller plants are known to absorb less CO2 than older trees. In other words, it is better for the climate to keep trees standing rather than constantly replacing them.5
This is why forestation in one region cannot always be balanced out with deforestation elsewhere.
Forestation examples in Europe
Europe has a positive story to tell about forestation. Forests cover nearly 40 percent of the EU’s land area. This has increased in recent decades. From 1990 to 2010, forest coverage across the region increased by approximately 11 million hectares. The European Union has made afforestation – the creation of new forests – an area for more support.6
In France, for example, forests now cover almost a third of its land area. This is partly due to increased protection and a decline in farming. It is Europe’s fourth most forested country, after Sweden, Finland and Spain.7
Forestation efforts in Africa
In 2007, the African Union launched a groundbreaking plan to build the ‘Great Green Wall of Africa’. The initiative planned to restore Africa’s degraded landscapes across the Sahel region, south of the Sahara desert. The aim was to stop the desertification and expansion of the Sahara. Proponents say that once complete, it will be the largest living structure on the planet – an 8,000-kilometre green wall of trees stretching across the continent. The project spans 20 countries, and it has raised over eight billion US dollars in support.8
The efforts of the African Union and the Ethiopian government to increase forest cover illustrate that Africa is vital in fighting deforestation. The continent has more land than the US, China and Canada combined. It has enormous potential.9
- Mwai, P. (2019). Did Ethiopia plant four billion trees this year? BBC News. [online] 20 Dec. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-50813726.
- World Economic Forum. (n.d.). The African country that inspired more and more countries to plant billions of trees. [online] Available at: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/06/ethiopia-trees-forests-deforestation-worldwide-climate-change/.
- Popkin, G. (2020). Plant trees or let forests regrow? New studies probe two ways to fight climate change. [online] Science | AAAS. Available at: https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/09/plant-trees-or-let-forests-regrow-new-studies-probe-two-ways-fight-climate-change.
- Pugh, T. (2020.). Are young trees or old forests more important for slowing climate change? [online] The Conversation. Available at: https://theconversation.com/are-young-trees-or-old-forests-more-important-for-slowing-climate-change-139813.
- Montaigne, F. (2019). Leaving trees alone might be better than planting new ones. [online] Grist. Available at: https://grist.org/article/leaving-trees-standing-might-be-more-important-than-planting-new-ones/.
- Fact Sheets on the European Union. (n.d.). The European Union and forests. [online] European Parliament. Available at: https://www.europarl.europa.eu/factsheets/en/sheet/105/the-european-union-and-forests.
- World Economic Forum. (2019). Europe’s forests are booming. Here’s why. [online] Available at: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/07/forest-europe-environment/.
- Unccd.int. (2010). The Great Green Wall Initiative. [online] UNCCD. Available at: https://www.unccd.int/actions/great-green-wall-initiative.
- Fischetti, M. (2015). Africa Is Way Bigger Than You Think. [online] Scientific American Blog Network. Available at: https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/africa-is-way-bigger-than-you-think/.