By Jad Daley, President and CEO of American Forests
The buzz keeps growing about planting 1 trillion trees to slow climate change, sparked by a landmark study from Crowther Lab making the case for this natural climate solutions moon shot. Now the White House is on board, with their announcement at the World Economic Forum this morning that the United States will support a new initiative to plant 1 trillion trees worldwide. Here’s the big question: Can it be done?
At American Forests, we say, “Yes, if…”
Yes, if countries around the world simultaneously ramp up public and private investment to moon shot levels, while empowering every organization and individual to help. America, with our ample wealth and open spaces, must provide a big wedge of the trees needed.
That’s why my organization, American Forests, has been working with partners for more than a year to build a Reforest America movement for climate action. We are scaling U.S. ambition with a national goal to plant billions of trees, not millions, across the country — from city streets to rural landscapes.
American Forests has worked with partners to plant more than 65 million trees in the last three decades alone, so we understand the opportunities and challenges ahead. Here are three key steps to scale up from millions to billions of trees planted:
1. Plant More Trees on Public Land: In every part of America, including cities, governments control land that is or could be forested. In fact, more than 40 percent of America’s forestland is publicly owned. That means we can easily mobilize large areas of land for planting and scale-up government-run tree nurseries. Public land can also showcase new climate-smart reforestation practices in terms of which trees to plant, and where and how to plant them. All that is needed is the political will to allocate needed funding at scale, like the landmark Climate Stewardship Act.
2. Help Private Landowners Plant More Trees: The largest available planting area in America is on privately-owned land. While there are some government programs to help private landowners plant trees, these programs are rarely targeted at climate change goals and often overly complex. The barriers are even greater with carbon offset markets, which have had limited success supporting reforestation projects, due in part to high up-front costs for participation. If we want private landowners fully on board, we need to make public funding more readily available for them to plant trees on their land, thereby benefitting us all.
3. Create a Role for Non-Traditional Partners: There are many non-traditional partners outside the forest sector ready to help. The Creation Care movement, for example, has sparked a new interest in climate action among diverse faiths. Houses of worship own a significant amount of land, with far-reaching potential to plant trees on these grounds. The faith community can also help shape relevant public policies, as demonstrated by the Evangelical Environmental Network’s influential support for the Reforestation Act of 2019. Business leaders in technology, finance, consumer goods and other sectors are also playing an essential and growing role by funding millions of trees planted all across America. Leaders include some of our nation’s most recognizable names, such as Salesforce, Microsoft, Bank of America, Travelers, Eddie Bauer, and Timberland.
What should give us all hope is that these three key actions are already happening at one level or another. We simply need to refine and scale these approaches.
The new support from the White House announced at Davos, could help make this possible by mobilizing the U.S. Department of Agriculture and encouraging partnership with Congress. This is timely because in recent months the U.S. Congress has introduced ambitious new legislative proposals to accelerate tree planting on public and private land. Some of these bills, such as the TREES Act and the Reforestation Act of 2019, have already drawn bipartisan support. By joining George H.W. Bush and other past U.S. Presidents of both parties who have backed tree planting, President Trump is sending a positive political signal to these congressional efforts.
The Reforest America movement also has a new ally in the global trillion tree movement, 1t.org, which was just announced at the World Economic Forum. This new global platform will provide an opportunity for America to join with partners in other countries by sharing best practices, forging new global partnerships to finance tree planting, and integrating international tree planting accomplishments to track progress against the 1 trillion tree goal.
So here’s that question again: “Can we really plant 1 trillion trees to act on climate, and can America help make it happen?” With a strong and growing Reforest America movement, new national leadership emerging from the White House and Congress, and a budding global partnership, the world can do it — with America’s help.