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World Changing Ideas

India Just Planted Nearly 50 Million Trees In 24 Hours

One of the most important climate change strategies is also the most low-tech. If the trees survive.

[Photo: Saikat Paul/Pacific Press/LightRocket/Getty Images]

India is home to 10 cities that are smoggier than Beijing, and it's one of the world's top emitters of climate pollution. But it's also trying to change as quickly as possible. On July 11, volunteers planted 49.3 million trees in 24 hours as part of a massive reforestation effort.

At the Paris climate talks last year, India committed to spend more than $6 billion planting trees across millions of acres in the country; by 2030, the goal is to have a national forest that can suck up an extra 200 million tons of carbon a year.

Most of the countries that made pledges in the global climate agreement including planting trees as one of their goals. "If you look at where we are in terms of climate impacts right now—temperature increase, CO2 concentrations—right now we're currently looking pretty bad," says Gustavo Silva-Chávez, program manager for forest trade and finance at the nonprofit Forest Trends. "What we need right now is as many ways as possible to either stop emitting, or take CO2 out of the atmosphere. So reforestation is going to be an important tool to help in the fight against climate change."

China, which has been aggressively planting trees over the last 20 years, plans to plant as much as 250 million acres more forest, an area four times as big as the U.K. The trees will absorb the equivalent of the pollution from 770 million cars. In Africa, 10 countries have pledged to replant 100 million hectares of forest by 2030. Brazil plans to reforest an area the size of Pennsylvania.

Of course, trees alone can't curb climate change. India also has the goal to have 175 gigawatts of renewable energy by 2022 (for comparison, the total installed solar power in the entire world was 181 gigawatts in 2014). Solar power is already cheaper than coal in India, and the country has the world's first fully solar-powered airport. As more Indians start to buy cars, the country wants to make every car on the road electric by 2030.

As it works on its other goals, India will keep planting trees. Sadly, it may have to replace some of the millions that were just planted; one official estimated that only 60% of the new saplings may survive. That might be one of the drawbacks of trying to plant trees so quickly—without proper care, a good portion of the effort is for nothing.

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