Several African governments have pledged to restore forests that would cover 100 million hectares on the continent.
The AFR100 initiative, which aims to restore 386,000 square miles of forest by 2030, was agreed upon by more than a dozen African nations at the United Nations climate talks on Sunday.
Several of the countries involved, including Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda, have pledged millions of acres towards reforestation, while several West African nations have vowed to plant trees to halt the encroaching desert in the area. The World Bank and the German goverment have also agreed to help fund the project, setting aside over $1.5 billion.
Kenyan environmentalist Wanjira Mathai applauded the ambitious plan. “I have seen restoration in communities both large and small across Africa, but the promise of a continent-wide movement is truly inspiring,” said Mathai. “Restoring landscapes will empower and enrich rural communities while providing downstream benefits to those in cities. Everybody wins. ”
More than half the earth’s forests have been destroyed during the course of history, the World Resources Institute reports. Scientists believe the massive loss of so many trees that worsened climate change and produced up to 15 percent of global carbon emissions.
African governments hope the abundance new trees will benefit both the environment and the continent’s growing population. “Restoring our landscapes brings prosperity, security and opportunity,” said Vincent Biruta, Rwanda’s Minister of Natural Resources. “With forest landscape restoration we’ve seen agricultural yields rise and farmers in our rural communities diversify their livelihoods and improve their well-being. Forest landscape restoration is not just an environmental strategy, it is an economic and social development strategy as well.”
The initiative faces some significant hurdles, including an expected challenge from the global timber industry. Environmentalists say logging in the Congo Basin has never been easier, and rampant corruption among officials have left them helpless to halt deforestation.
Some African leaders who supported the initiative remained skeptical it would happen, saying funding for environmental causes rarely end up in the right hands. Victorine Che Thoener, a Cameroon representative that signed the pledge, said many African countries make these pledges in the goal of attracting foreign aid. “There’s a lot of talk, but not a lot of action on the ground,” she stated.
The World Research Insitute acknowledge that the project will require extensive monitoring from satellites and from representatives at groundlevel to confirm that the African countries live up to their promise.