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'Build back better': U.S. tree-planting push to curb warming, boost jobs

by Carey L. Biron | @clbtea | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 27 August 2020 04:01 GMT

A woman plants coconut trees on her property in Kapoho, in Hawaii, U.S., April 1, 2019. 2019. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

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Cities, corporations pledge to plant, restore 855 million trees this decade

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By Carey L. Biron

WASHINGTON, Aug 27 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - American cities and corporate giants on Thursday pledged to plant more than 800 million trees by 2030 as part of a global effort to tackle climate change, improve health and boost job creation in communities reeling from the coronavirus pandemic.

More than 20 cities, companies and nonprofits announced the creation of the first regional chapter of the World Economic Forum's 1t.org platform, unveiled in January to grow, restore and conserve 1 trillion trees globally by the end of the decade.

"There was tremendous interest in the U.S. - among corporations, the federal government, cities, nonprofits, civil society organizations," said Jad Daley, head of American Forests, a nonprofit that co-leads the chapter with the World Economic Forum.

Backers say trees offer a way to suck carbon out of the air, improve urban air quality and human health, bolster local economies and more - views they say are becoming increasingly widespread among policymakers.

"Healthy and resilient forests are a critical nature-based solution to the unique challenges we face," said Jim Hubbard, an under-secretary with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in a statement.

Initial pledges under the U.S. chapter, including from four cities and corporations such as Amazon, Mastercard and Microsoft, will cover some 2.8 million acres, according to organizers.

The trillion trees platform has sparked some concern since its launch, with researchers warning that wrongheaded tree planting can harm ecosystems and that global efforts could be better spent empowering local communities to defend their lands.

But the national chapter launches amid stronger interest in trees than seen in decades, said Daley - a bipartisan "convergence" he said is furthered this summer by extreme heat, destructive wildfires in California and the coronavirus pandemic.

Forests in California and across the country have seen historic levels of tree mortality, he said, fuelling wildfires and highlighting the need for innovative human efforts in regeneration.

'LIVING INFRASTRUCTURE'

The U.S. initiative will seek to conserve as well as restore forests, including in previously agricultural areas, former mine land and beyond, but also spearhead new technologies, carbon finance, job creation and more.

According to initial details, food and beverage maker PepsiCo will restore 1 million acres in the Mississippi River basin, while payment processor Mastercard will help plant 100 million trees in the next five years.

The city of Boise in Idaho will plant one tree for every household this decade, while Detroit characterized its pledge to plant 50,000 trees as "an effort to heal our communities", boost mental health and improve air quality.

Sun-baked Tucson, in Arizona, will plant or restore 1 million trees, said Mayor Regina Romero.

"For years I've been seeing what the effects of climate change have been on the city, so as mayor I wanted to prepare Tucson to be climate-resilient," she said in a phone interview.

Tucson could be the country's third-fastest-warming city, and trees help officials reframe climate change as a public health hazard, Romero added.

The mayor hopes that a new fee on water usage will help fund the ongoing maintenance of Tucson's urban forests, while the city is hiring an urban forestry manager.

"It's not just about planting but about how we manage and operate our living infrastructure," Romero said.

Groups taking part in the new national programme will need to outline detailed plans for how they will keep the trees healthy, with annual checks.

Such work would create thousands of jobs focused in rural and low-income urban communities that have been hit hard by the pandemic, Daley said.

"So when you think about this whole idea of building back better, you can't do better than trees and forests."

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(Reporting by Carey L. Biron @clbtea, Editing by Zoe Tabary. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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