With fire and destruction sweeping through the Amazon Rainforest, it feels like right about now would be a very nice time to get a bit of good news.
Enter stage left, 5,000 miles away: the Republic of Ireland, which is stepping up with a brand new climate action plan — proposing to plant 22 million trees every single year until 2040.
In total, Ireland plans to plant 440 million trees over two decades to scale up its fight against the climate crisis, according to the Irish Times. That’s more than 60,000 a day — or another 14 trees in the time you’ve already spent reading this article.
Ireland first announced its climate plan in June, pledging to create 19,768 acres of new forestry land a year. But it didn’t initially clarify how many trees would be planted across that space, putting forward fresh figures on Saturday.
“The climate action plan commits to delivering an expansion of forestry planting and soil management to ensure that carbon abatement from land-use is delivered over the period 2021 to 2030 and in the years beyond,” a Department of Communications Climate Action and Environment spokesperson told the Irish Times.
Carbon abatement refers to processes that take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. A report published in June found that planting trees, especially in areas where forests have been previously destroyed, is one of the best ways to do that — and beat back climate change.
We want many more trees in Ireland, as part of our plan on climate action. 440 million is a huge number but it’s achievable if all landowners plant just some of their land. We are willing to make it financially worthwhile. https://t.co/MmX2sGqXM7— Leo Varadkar (@LeoVaradkar) September 2, 2019
The government has revealed that 70% of these trees will be conifers — the trees with spiky leaves that sort of resemble needles — while the remaining 30% will be broadleaf — which have flat, light leaves, like oak, beech, or sycamore trees.
For every 100 acres, 2,500 conifers or 3,300 broad-leaf trees will be planted, mainly across existing farmland. However, this presents a challenge, as it means farmers must be willing to put up their own land to plant them.
The government is therefore launching town-hall style events around the country in an attempt to encourage communities to get on board, saying in July that fighting the climate crisis was “everyone’s journey.”
Trees suck up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. So planting more of them is widely seen as a good way to reverse the damaging effects of ever-increasing greenhouse gases building up in the atmosphere and warming the planet.
However, environmental group Extinction Rebellion said on Twitter that the tree planting initiative “is no substitute for the diversity and resilience of rewilding” — meaning returning large swathes of the UK to its natural environment, protecting bogs and marshes.
It follows the success of Scotland, which announced in June this year that it had hit its tree-planting target for the first ever time — with 22 million trees planted in 2018, covering 11,200 hectares of countryside.
Recently, Scotland has planted more trees than anywhere else in the UK — but Ireland hopes to go bigger and bolder.
England, however, fell 71% short of its official target last year.
Scotland just planted 22 million trees to combat the climate crisis! 🏴✊ pic.twitter.com/6zIXrFu1gX— Global Citizen UK (@GlblCtznUK) August 13, 2019
Ireland does have competition though. On July 29, Ethiopia reportedly planted 353 million trees in just 24 hours. Although apparently not submitted as a Guinness World Record, the number is far higher than the current record of 50 million trees planted on a single day by India in 2016.
It was part of a £1.1 billion project that the government hopes will result in 4.7 billion trees planted by October this year.
Just under a quarter of Ethiopia’s population of 105 million people was said to have volunteered on the day. However, there is some doubt within the country if the initiative was as successful as reported.
Ireland wants to hit net-zero emissions by 2050, an objective that means it will not emit any more greenhouse gases than it will remove from the atmosphere. The UK made a legally-binding commitment in June to also hit the net-zero target by 2050, while Scotland is aiming to hit net-zero by 2045.
Ireland is also exploring ideas like a carbon tax and adding an extra million electric cars by 2030 to get to net-zero.
While humanity shudders through the Anthropocene — that new era of humanity we’ve now entered, denoting the unprecedented impact human beings have left on the environment — Ireland’s ambition is surely an example for other countries to follow. Because if 440 million trees get planted, but nobody was around to breathe them, did it really even happen?