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Reaching Climate Goals through Reforestation

Are we now seeing the beginning of the end of fossil fuels? Not everyone agrees. Some of the biggest oil producers in the world have publicly stated that oil demand – and emissions – show no sign of falling despite claims by climate scientists that 2024 will usher in an era of ‘beginning of the end’ of fossil fuels.

Contrary to claims by climate scientists that 2023 was the ‘tipping point’ for greenhouse emissions which will mark the start of a terminal decline for fossil fuels this year, the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) said that energy-related carbon emissions would continue to rise, in line with growing global demand for oil, until 2050. Similarly, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) also predicted that global oil demand will continue to grow till 2045.

Responding to these strong oil demand forecast, climate experts said it as a self-fulfilling prophecy, meant to encourage governments to back further oil and gas exploration. Amy Kong, a climate scientist, said the forecasts were “wildly wrong” and another “underhand attempt by oil producers to persuade investors and governments that fossil fuels have a future”.

Former US Vice President and climate change protagonist, Al Gore, criticized world oil producers last week declaring that, “the oil industry is kicking off 2024 by spending millions to undermine global progress on the climate crisis. Far from being ‘part of the solution’ as they claimed at COP28, they are aggressively working to prevent any transition away from fossil fuels.”

Beyond these claims and counter claims, there is still growing appreciation that emissions from energy use may not have peaked last year as expected, even with the intensification of net zero mission. Equally, the desired milestone considered to be a crucial tipping point in the race to drive emissions to net zero is light years away. Results have fallen far short of the rapid reduction the world needs as energy demand growth has outstripped renewables deployment, despite record additions of wind and solar.

Meanwhile, the world’s leading climate scientists have consistently warned that the buildup of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere means it is critical to drive down emissions before 2030 if leaders hope to keep global heating to a maximum of 1.5C above pre-industrialised levels. The rate at which emissions would need to be reduced will require, most experts agree, global transformation on a scale not yet in the pipeline.

This global transformational efforts include radical change in human behaviour and approach towards the environment, sustainable governments policy on reforestation and afforestation as well as adoption of sustainable renewal energy plan.

But first, the story must be told about the existing global inequality which forms the basis of the current division. Wealthy nations have been able to grow and develop by burning fossil fuels with few immediate penalties, leaving a substantial carbon footprint. In contrast, many developing countries are now facing pressure to curb emissions to mitigate climate change, even as they strive to achieve similar levels of development.

The distribution of cumulative CO2 emissions since 1750 presents a stark reflection of industrial history and economic development. The United States leads with 25%, a testament to its role as an industrial pioneer and its long-standing position as the world’s largest economy. China’s 14% reflects a more recent surge in industrialization and economic growth, especially considering its emissions have primarily accumulated in the last few decades.

The early starters of the Industrial Revolution, such as the United Kingdom and Germany, have lower cumulative percentages but have been emitting CO2 for a much longer time. Their early start kickstarted the anthropogenic climate change we grapple with today.  India’s lower share, similar to China, is indicative of its more recent industrialization but is rising rapidly with its ongoing development.

Furthermore, emissions responsibility is not just about production but also consumption. High-income countries often outsource production to developing nations, which in turn bear the emissions on their tally. This creates a complex web of accountability that extends beyond borders, where consumer habits in one country affect emission counts in another.

The conversation around emissions is, unfortunately, finetuned by primordial sentiments, politics and greed. One common argument is that those countries which have added most to the CO2 in our atmosphere – contributing most to the problem today – should take on the greatest responsibility in tackling it. However, the emphasis should increasingly shift from who has emitted how much to how each country can contribute to the solution. It involves collaboration, investment in clean energy, and technology transfer, ensuring that all nations can pursue development without exacerbating the climate crisis. Every nation should forge a sustainable path forward.

The United Nations Environment Programme estimates that for the world to have a shot at keeping global heating below the 1.5C target set out in the Paris agreement emissions will need to fall by about 9% every year. For context, emissions fell 5.4% when the Covid-19 pandemic brought global economies to a standstill in 2020 before starting to rise again.

There will need to be great strides in addressing the world’s record high carbon emissions.

The simplest approach to mitigating CO2 emissions globally is through reforestation and afforestation but sadly the world’s not doing enough in that direction. A lot of emphasis is given to complex and expensive renewable energy solutions. Many countries are doing poorly with regards to forest conservation. Russia, for instance, has the world’s largest forest area, but it is also losing forests at a rapid pace, mainly due to logging and wildfires. In 2022, Russia lost 4.29 million hectares of tree cover, equivalent to 737 million tons of CO2 emissions.

Each year an average of 10 million hectares of global forests disappears. Deforestation reduces the capacity of forests to regulate local and regional climates, leading to changes in precipitation patterns and increased vulnerability to extreme weather events. The clearing of forests disrupts this natural carbon sink, leading to increased greenhouse gas emissions and contributing to global warming.

The threat of climate change and global warming has necessitated urgent and effective measures to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, particularly carbon dioxide. Afforestation and reforestation have emerged as key nature-based solutions to counteract CO2 emissions by capturing and storing carbon in forests and even in our homes, neighbourhoods and parks within towns and cities. However, to achieve significant progress, it is essential to engage the world population in a massive exercise of afforestation and reforestation.

Indeed, the permanent removal of trees and vegetation cover from forests is a pressing environmental issue that affects countries worldwide. Here in Nigeria, a country blessed with abundant forest resources, deforestation has emerged as a significant concern. The country’s growing population and the increasing demand for agricultural land have led to the conversion of forests into farmland. Small-scale farmers engage in slash-and-burn techniques, clearing large areas of forest for cultivation. Also, unregulated logging for timber and fuelwood extraction is another major cause of deforestation as the timber industry, driven by domestic and international demand, leads to the unsustainable logging of valuable tree species. This practice not only depletes the forest cover but also disrupts the ecological balance and threatens biodiversity.

In addition, rapid urbanization and the expansion of infrastructure, including road construction, mining, and oil exploration, have resulted in the clearing of vast forest areas. Urban growth and the establishment of industries often prioritize economic development over environmental conservation.

Addressing this issue requires a multi-faceted approach involving government intervention, community participation and public awareness. Implementation of sustainable practices requires a multi-stakeholder approach involving governments, farmers, researchers, NGOs, and the private sector. By increasing the global forest cover, we can enhance the planet’s capacity to absorb and sequester carbon, thereby mitigating climate change.

The first step in engaging the world population is to raise awareness about the importance of afforestation and reforestation. Governments, non-governmental organizations and educational institutions should collaborate to disseminate information about the role of trees in carbon sequestration, biodiversity conservation and sustainable development. Awareness campaigns, educational programs and media outreach can effectively communicate the urgency and benefits of tree planting initiatives.

Encouraging local communities to actively participate in afforestation and reforestation projects is vital. By involving communities in decision-making processes and ensuring their ownership of the initiatives, long-term sustainability can be achieved.

To encourage widespread participation, it is essential to provide incentives and rewards to individuals engaging in tree planting activities. Governments can offer tax incentives, subsidies and grants to individuals and organizations involved in afforestation and reforestation projects. Additionally, recognition and rewards for exceptional contributions can inspire more people to actively participate in the exercise.

Also, promoting environmental education is a critical means of engaging the world population. Schools, universities and vocational institutes should incorporate environmental literacy into their curricula, enabling students to understand the significance of afforestation and reforestation.

The world can draw inspiration from several successful tree planting initiatives that have effectively engaged local communities in afforestation and reforestation efforts. Few notable examples include Africa’s Great Green Wall Initiative, an ambitious project aimed at combatting desertification and land degradation in the Sahel region. It involves planting a wall of trees across 8,000 kilometers from Senegal to Djibouti. The Miyawaki method, developed by Japanese botanist Akira Miyawaki, is another initiative which focuses on creating dense, native forests in urban areas. This approach has gained popularity in India, where several cities and communities have successfully implemented Miyawaki forest projects. These forests enhance biodiversity, improve air quality, and provide recreational spaces for the community.

Another one is the Billion Tree Tsunami, a reforestation project, initiated by the government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in Pakistan. The project aimed to plant one billion trees by 2020 to combat deforestation, restore degraded land, and mitigate the impacts of climate change. The initiative engaged local communities, including farmers, women’s groups, and youth organizations, in tree planting activities. Local villagers were provided with employment opportunities as tree planters and forest guards, creating a sense of ownership and responsibility for the newly planted forests. The project successfully achieved its target ahead of schedule and has been recognized as one of the world’s largest afforestation efforts.

Finally, Costa Rica is known for its successful reforestation efforts, which have contributed to the country’s impressive forest cover restoration. Community-based reforestation initiatives, such as the Payment for Environmental Services (PES) program, have played a significant role in engaging local communities. The PES program provides financial incentives to landowners and communities for protecting and restoring forests on their land. Local communities participate in tree planting activities and receive economic benefits for maintaining the forests over the long term. This approach has not only restored forest ecosystems but also improved rural livelihoods and strengthened community resilience.

Other countries and regions such as Brazil, China, Ethiopia (Tigray) and Scotland have implemented successful community-based reforestation initiatives. These examples highlight the importance of engaging local communities in tree planting initiatives. By involving them in decision-making, providing training and incentives and recognizing their contributions, these initiatives have achieved successful outcomes in terms of carbon sequestration and ecosystem restoration.

By implementing effective policies, promoting sustainable land use practices and restoring degraded forests, the world can mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and protect its valuable forest resources for future generations.