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UN’s Billion Tree Campaign Hits its Seven Billion Goal Target

Global Climate Change Initiative Inspires Millions in Run-up to Crucial Copenhagen Conference

New York/Nairobi, 21 September 2009 –The global public’s desire to see action on climate change was clearly spotlighted today with the announcement that the Billion Tree Campaign has reached 7 billion trees—one for every person on the planet.

Over the past three years millions of people ranging from scouts to presidents and from schoolchildren to city dwellers and corporate heads have been rolling up their sleeves and getting their hands dirty for the environment through tree planting.

Today’s milestone was reached with the news that the Government of China has planted 2.6 billion trees as part of this unique campaign, bringing the total to 7.3 billion trees planted in 167 countries worldwide.

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), said: “Seven billion trees, seven billion commitments to action and seven billion reasons why governments should be inspired to Seal the Deal at the crucial UN climate change convention meeting in Copenhagen in less than 80 days’ time.”

“When this campaign was launched in 2006, there were those who said it could not be done. But day after day and week after week, people have got out into their gardens, parks and cities and into the countryside and the rural areas to prove the doubters wrong,” he added.

“Above all the Billion Tree Campaign shows that the simple act of planting a tree resonates and unites the child in the slums of Africa with a president in Mexico, or a corporate CEO in Paris with UN peacekeepers in Timor-Leste. It is the kind of solidarity that now needs to be expressed at the level of all governments and heads of state between now and December in order to move economies towards a low carbon, sustainable path,” said Mr Steiner.

The Billion Tree Campaign was launched jointly with the World Agroforestry Centre during the UN climate convention meeting in November 2006 in Nairobi, Kenya, under the patronage of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Professor Wangari Maathai and His Serene Highness Prince Albert II of Monaco.

Its initial goal was to catalyze the pledging and the planting of one billion trees as a way of giving public expression to the challenges of climate change and also forest and ecosystem degradation.

Since then the Billion Tree Campaign has more than surpassed its aims, evolving into a true ‘People’s Campaign’ – more than half (52 per cent) of all the participants are private individuals.

Furthermore, tree planting has become both an inter-faith and an inter-generational activity, with the trees symbolizing connections between children and parents and bringing together people from different religious backgrounds.

Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Wangari Maathai, the founder of the Kenyan Green Belt Movement and the campaign’s co-patron, said: “Let’s plant even more trees to celebrate this wonderful achievement, the fruit of collective action from people all over the planet. By making the Billion Tree Campaign such an incredible success, people from every continent are calling their governments to truly start caring for the planet and to find unity in the fight against climate change.”

His Serene Highness Albert II, the Sovereign Prince of Monaco and the campaign's co-patron, said: “I have always had a strong belief in the symbolic strength of the Plant for the Planet: Billion Tree Campaign and I am delighted that it has exceeded our greatest expectations, far beyond the welfare linked to replanting trees, to benefit future generations.”

Highlights of the Billion Tree Campaign

In the past eight months China planted 6.1 billion trees, of which 2.6 billion have been given to the Billion Tree Campaign. With the announcement of these 2.6 additional billion trees, the grand total number of trees planted for the campaign stands at 7.3 billion as of 21 September. The government planted 260 different species of trees in eleven provinces around China, from Inner Mongolia to Jiangxi and from Yunnan to Sichuan.

The announcement was made in New York on 21 September at a press conference attended by international dignitaries, including Campaign Patrons Wangari Maathai and Prince Albert II of Monaco, UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner, Jia Zhibang, the Minister of the State Forestry Administration of China, and Mohamed Nasheed, the President of the Maldives. The announcement coincided with Global Climate Week, an event launched to mobilize global mass action around the UN high-level event on climate change – including the Global Tree Planting Drive on19 September where people were encouraged to plant trees on every corner of the planet.

A number of other countries around the world have planted impressive numbers of trees since the campaign was launched. Countries that have planted more than a hundred million trees range from Ethiopia (with 1.4 billion trees) and Turkey (711 million trees) to Mexico (with 537 million trees) and countries including Kenya, Cuba, and Indonesia.

In addition to bringing governments to take concrete action to reforest their lands, the Billion Tree Campaign has succeeded in catalyzing tree planting from all walks of society, bringing together creative, original and pioneering initiatives around the world.

To name a few, the Replant New Orleans Initiative sponsored a planting of fruit trees to help breathe new life into a community struggling with the aftermath of the 2005 Hurricane Katrina; the Greening Soweto Campaign is transforming dustbowls into treed lanes in Soweto by capitalizing on South Africa’s preparations for the 2010 FIFA World Cup; and eleven-year-old Felix Finkbeiner is leading an ambitious campaign plant 1 million trees by December 2009, which he is already halfway towards achieving.

The economic gains of tree planting are powerfully illustrated by the Appalachian Regional Reforestation Initiative. As well as being close to planting 38 million trees in the Appalachian region, the North American organization has also devised a green job tree planting proposal to stimulate the economy of Appalachia and reap the ecological benefits of a region-wide reforestation effort.

In addition, the Campaign has mobilized groups and individuals in post-conflict areas around the world, bringing the seeds of hope to communities in Afghanistan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iraq, Liberia and Somalia among others.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has planted 9 million trees in and around refugee camps around the globe, helping to plant hundreds of thousands of acres of trees in Asia and Africa since the 1990s.

The United Nations Departments of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) and Field Support (DFS) have also participated in the campaign, with thirteen peacekeeping missions having pledged 117,848 trees.  Of this number 33,184 trees have already taken root across various countries hosting peacekeeping missions.  The campaign, which encouraged the planting of indigenous trees appropriate to the local environments, has not only witnessed the participation and enthusiasm of UN staff, but also of the local communities in the different areas of operation.   

The private sector has become a key player in the global campaign, accounting for almost 15 per cent of all the trees planted. Multinationals from Accor to Bayer and from Toyota to Coca-Cola East and Central Africa and Yves Rocher have been active tree planters, along with hundreds of small and medium-sized companies the world over.

The campaign’s universal appeal is clear from its success on social networking sites, with some 4,000 blogs adopting the cause early in the campaign.

Proving true its motto that ‘Every tree counts, and we count every tree’, the Billion Tree Campaign’s phenomenal success is a result of the participation of people of all walks of life and from every corner of the planet.

Notes to Editors:

The rise and rise of the Billion Tree Campaign

Plant for the Planet: Billion Tree Campaign was launched by UNEP in November 2006 during the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The campaign was launched as one response to the threat but also the opportunities of global warming and the wider sustainability challenges from water supplies to biodiversity loss.

Under this initiative, people, communities, business and industry, civil society organizations and governments are encouraged to register tree planting commitments on the campaign’s website, available in seven languages, with the objective of planting at least one billion trees worldwide each year.

The billionth tree – an African olive tree now growing in Ethiopia – was planted in November 2007. After the campaign hit the two billion mark in May 2008, UNEP decided to set a new goal of seven billion trees – one for every person on the planet. Mass plantings by governments and citizens helped get the campaign over the three billion tree mark in March 2009 and the four billion mark in May 2009.

Tree Planting and Climate Change

When forests are destroyed, their carbon is released – the loss of natural forests around the world contributes more to global emissions each year than cars, trucks and planes combined.  Curbing deforestation is a highly cost-effective way to reduce emissions.

Trees absorb carbon dioxide and are vital carbon sinks. It is estimated that the world’s forests store 283 Gigatonnes of carbon in their biomass alone, and that carbon stored in forest biomass, deadwood, litter and soil together is roughly 50 per cent more than the carbon in the atmosphere.

Around the planet in 1990–2005, carbon stocks in forest biomass decreased annually by 1.1 Gigatonne of carbon (equivalent to 4 billion 25kg sacks of charcoal).


At the dawn of agriculture some 10,000 years ago, forests covered about half the Earth’s land. Today, little more than half of that original forest cover remains.

Worldwide, deforestation continues at an alarming rate – about 13 million hectares per year, an area the size of Greece or Nicaragua.

While forested lands are growing at 0.1 per cent a year in high-income countries, they are shrinking at 0.5 per cent a year in low-income countries.

Africa and South America have the largest net loss of forests. In Africa it is estimated that nearly half of the forest loss is due to the removal of wood fuel. Forests in Europe are expanding. Asia, which had a net loss in the 1990s, reported a net gain of forests in the past five years, primarily due to large-scale forestation in China.

Questions and answers on the Billion Tree Campaign:  

How does the campaign work?

The Plant for the Planet: Billion Tree Campaign is based around the campaign website,, which is available in seven languages and where anyone can enter a tree planting pledge and then confirm this once the trees have been planted. The website has a counter showing the total number of trees pledged and planted as part of the campaign as we progress towards the seven billion target.

People also send in their photos and videos of their tree planting activities, and these are featured on the campaign homepage through features including the ‘Photo of the Day’, photo galleries and a section on News from the Campaign.

Is there a verification process?

The verification process works on several levels.

For each tree planted as part of the campaign, UNEP keeps a full and transparent database with full contact details, tree species and the place where the tree was planted.

There is a filter for any contribution over 200,000 trees – for any pledge higher than this, UNEP gets in direct contact with the planters to verify the figures.

Finally, for the most substantial contributions to the campaign, UNEP sends a field mission to talk to the organizers and verify the figures – UNEP field missions recently visited China and Ethiopia.

Overall, there has been a high level of accountability from participants in the campaign.

Which part of the world is planting the biggest number of trees?

Africa is number one in the campaign in terms of planted trees and participants, and it also has the biggest proportion of fulfilled pledges (79 per cent of pledged trees are planted).

Which countries are the top planters in the campaign?

Developing countries have come through in a very strong way for the campaign. Interestingly, not a single country from the developed world features in the top ten of the biggest planters. The top planting developed country is the United States, which is ranked at number 14.


People’s Republic of China       2.6 Billion

Ethiopia                                 1.4 Billion

Turkey                                   711 Million

Mexico                                  537 Million

Kenya                                   281 Million

Myanmar                              150 Million

Cuba                                    137 Million

Indonesia                              102 Million

India                                       96 Million

Rwanda                                  90 Million

Nigeria                                   57 Million

Republic of Korea                   58 Million

Questions and answers on trees and forests:

Where are forests found?

Forests are unevenly distributed. The ten most forest-rich countries, which account for two-thirds of the total forested area, are the Russian Federation, Brazil, Canada, the United States, China, Australia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Indonesia, Peru and India.

How big are the world’s rainforests?

Rainforests cover only 7 per cent of the land on Earth but they contain nearly half of all the trees on the planet. They generate about 40 per cent of the world’s oxygen.

What is a primary forest?

On a global average, more than one-third of all forests are primary forests, defined as forests where there are no clearly visible indications of human activity and where ecological processes are not significantly disturbed. Six million hectares of primary forest are lost every year due to deforestation and modification through selective logging and other human interventions.

Only 20 per cent of the world’s forests remain in large intact areas. These forests consist of tropical rain forests, mangrove, coastal and swamp forests. Monsoon and deciduous forests flourish in the drier and more mountainous regions. Primary forests shelter diverse animal and plant species, and culturally diverse indigenous people, with deep connections to their habitat.

Where should trees be planted as a priority?

Favourable growing conditions give nations in the southern hemisphere an advantage over most industrial countries in the economics of wood production. Plantations in the south can produce 10–20 cubic metres of wood per hectare per year, considerably more than plantations in most northern temperate regions and 10–20 times the typical productivity of natural forests worldwide.

The Plant for the Planet: Billion Tree Campaign encourages the planting of trees in four key areas, namely: (i) degraded natural forests and wilderness areas; (ii) farms and rural landscapes; (iii) sustainably managed plantations; and (iv) urban environments.  Trees have to be well adapted to local conditions, and mixtures of species are preferred over monocultures. Many trees have communal benefits, especially for the poor, and ownership, access and use rights are as important as the number of trees.

Why are forests important?

Trees quite literally form the foundations of many natural systems. They help to conserve soil and water, control avalanches, prevent desertification, protect coastal areas and stabilize sand dunes. Forests are the most important repositories of terrestrial biological biodiversity, housing up to 90 per cent of known terrestrial species.

Trees and shrubs play a vital role in the daily life of rural communities.  They provide sources of timber, fuel wood, food, fodder, essential oils, gums, resins and latex, medicines and shade. Forest animals have a vital role in forest ecology such as pollination, seed dispersal and germination.

Do trees have a spiritual significance?

Forests play a key cultural, spiritual and recreational role in many societies – in some cases, they are integral to the very definition and survival of indigenous and traditional cultures. They preside over community discussions and marriages and are planted at the birth of a child and at burial sites. Forests and trees are symbolically important in most of the world’s major religions.  Trees symbolize historical continuity, they link earth and heavens and, to many traditions, are home to both good and bad spirits and the souls of ancestors. Forests also play an important role in offering recreational opportunites and spiritual solace in modern societies.  They are universally powerful symbols, a physical expression of life, growth and vigour to urban, rural and forest dwellers alike.  Medicinal products from trees help to cure diseases and increase fertility

Who owns forests and trees?

Forest and tree ownership and tenure are changing. Eighty per cent of the world’s forests are publicly owned, but private ownership is on the rise, especially in North and Central America and in Oceania. About 11 per cent of the world’s forests are designated for the conservation of biological diversity. These areas are mainly, but not exclusively, in protected areas.

Who cares for forests and trees?

Around 10 million people are employed in conventional forest management and conservation. Formal employment in forestry declined by about 10 per cent from 1990 to 2000. More than 1 billion forest adjacent people are informal custodians of forests. They rely on forest products and services for a significant part of their livelihoods. Approximately 500 million small-scale farmers in the tropics retain and manage trees on their farms for livelihood goals.
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