2 years of growth in the trillion trees movement

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Nicole Schwab, Co-Head, Nature-Based Solutions; Member of the Executive Committee, World Economic Forum, Gill Einhorn, Head, 1t.org, World Economic Forum Geneva

  • 1t.org was launched against a backdrop of worldwide interest in nature. Two years on, we are seeing progress in the movement to conserve, restore and grow a trillion trees by 2030.
  • The narrow view of trees as small carbon sequestration machines has given way to a greater recognition of the vital and multi-dimensional role trees play in our lives.
  • In our efforts to build a nature-positive economy we must shift from being a destructive species paving the way to our own demise, to being a regenerative and restorative force on the planet.

In January 2020, 1t.org launched at the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting, with the ambition to serve the global restoration movement to conserve, restore and grow a trillion trees by 2030. As we look back upon these troubled years, against all odds, we see glimmers of hope.

Trillion trees by 2030

1t.org began against a backdrop of renewed worldwide interest in nature, with a greater understanding of the socio-economic risks associated with nature loss, the urgent need to transition to a nature-positive economy, and to pair rapid decarbonization with investment in natural climate solutions. With the launch of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, the European Green Deal, and the campaign to protect 30% of the planet by 2030, there was optimism in the air and conserving our planet was in the spotlight.

The tide turned rapidly, with the onset of the global pandemic, which rightly captured the world’s attention, casting doubt as to the feasibility of maintaining momentum behind what many were calling the “super year for nature”. When it comes to forests, the World Resources Institute’s 2021 global forest review would indeed suggest that we have come to a standstill: primary tropical forests continue to be lost at rates higher than two decades ago, and we are seeing unprecedented wildfires across major continents.

And yet, we would argue that there has been significant progress.

From quantity to quality at scale

We are witnessing a tree-planting rush, which while criticized for its initial focus on numbers, is now maturing. The narrative has changed. It’s no longer just about the size of tree-planting commitments, it’s also about making sure they are implemented in a way that is ecologically and socially sound.

The global restoration movement has developed guidance behind the “right tree, right place” mantra, including among others, the 10 Golden Rules for Restoring Forests, the Trillion Trees Guide to Investing in Forest Restoration and the IUCN’s Global Standard for NBS. The hierarchy of protect, manage and then restore lands for climate mitigation has gained traction. Key stakeholders that are essential in design and implementation (such as youth and Indigenous groups) are receiving greater attention.

The narrow view of trees as small carbon sequestration machines is also giving way to a greater recognition of the vital and multi-dimensional role trees play, from climate regulation to water capture and soil retention, and as critical components of food security, livelihoods, and our collective well-being. A forest is more than just the sum of its trees – it’s a living and breathing organism that we have yet to fully acknowledge.

Trees are also an essential part of our well-being and social justice. Access to the benefits they provide should be a basic human right, and yet research done by our 1t.org US Chapter partner American Forests shows that with few exceptions, trees are sparse in socio-economically disadvantaged and neighbourhoods of colour and more prominent in wealthier, whiter neighbourhoods. Everyone should have access to the health, economic and climate benefits that trees provide, and the Tree Equity Score gives a guided path for building understanding, commitment and action.

From commitments to tracking implementation of trillion trees

We are also seeing unprecedented contributions to restoration from the private sector. At 1t.org we have mobilised commitments from 65 companies to conserve, restore and grow over 5.75 billion trees around the world. These companies have further committed to applying ecologically and socially responsible approaches, ensuring local communities and ecosystems are appropriately involved and considered in these investments.

Importantly, we are not alone in this collective effort to protect and restore our world’s forests. Founded in 2016, Trillion Trees – a joint venture between BirdLife International, Wildlife Conservation Society and WWF focused on the protection and restoration of forests – has, in the last two years, mobilised programming and funding to protect and restore 20.8 million hectares of forest landscapes, totalling an estimated 9.6 billion trees.

But the key to more credible implementation is effective monitoring that will enable progress to be tracked. Many developments have taken place over the past two years to support this: 1t.org has collaborated with the IUCN to develop a pledge implementation tracking system for the private sector based on the framework of the Restoration Barometer, while geospatial platforms such as Restor support practitioners’ implementation tracking using artificial intelligence and remote sensing imagery. Quality commitments require quality implementation that’s monitored.

The Ecopreneurship revolution

In parallel, we need to grow a new generation of entrepreneurs: ecopreneurs, who put nature-restoration at the heart of their business models and pave the way for a new economic model that fully accounts for natural capital and ecosystem services.

With our partner UpLink, we hosted 9 Trillion Trees Innovation Challenges to crowd-source and scale the best ecopreneurial ideas for restoration. Our 100 Top Innovators have mobilized more than $129 million in funding, and have reported that their innovations have conserved and restored 10 million hectares of natural habitat, reduced and avoided 2.8 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere, returned 3,000 species to their natural habitats, and helped 172,000 people gain increased resiliency to climate change impacts.

Across 1t.org’s priority regions, ecopreneurs are generating local livelihoods that put societies on a more resilient, inclusive, and sustainable path. Los Aliados provides livelihoods to Indigenous communities by implementing a bioeconomy model in the Amazon, SeriousShea champions women groups in Shea production to contribute to the Great Green Wall and Gratitude Farms engages veterans for food security in rural India.

And to grow the next generation of youth ecopreneurs, we have also launched the Nature and Climate education series, so that young leaders can learn how to launch and scale their green ideas for maximum impact. The 1t.org Global Youth Hub for #GenerationRestoration includes 60 influential youth leaders, ecopreneurs, activists and practitioners, each representing a youth network or youth-led enterprise, with a potential collective reach of 70 million youth.

Trillion Trees: the road ahead

The evolution of the trillion trees movement has been inspiring and achieving vital impact is only possible by growing the global initiative. In March the 1t.org India Platform was launched to support the country’s commitments under the Paris agreement to restore 26 million hectares of deforested and degraded land and sequester an additional 2.5 to 3 billion tons of CO2 equivalent through increased forest and tree cover by 2030. And excitingly at this year’s Annual Meeting, China’s Special Envoy for Climate Change announced that with the World Economic Forum and China Green Foundation, China will aim to plant and conserve 70 billion trees by 2030 through the newly announced 1t.org China Action.

These successes are cause for celebration, yet much work remains to be done. In our efforts to build a nature-positive economy we must shift from being a destructive species paving the way to our own demise, to being a regenerative and restorative force on the planet. Restoration should no longer be a radical choice, but the new normal.

Achieving the scale we need will require collective action: It means the private sector restructuring their business models to account for natural capital and making bold restoration commitments. It means new financial instruments, such as debt for nature swaps, to unlock greater funding for conservation at scale. And it means new governance structures that give local communities and Indigenous people the ownership and agency to restore their land and reap the economic rewards.

But most of all, this movement needs you. Your passion. Your energy. Your drive.

We are at a tipping point. The next eight years will determine the future we have chosen. Join us at 1t.org to find out how you can get involved.

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