Kenya: Maathai Unveils Drive to Plant a Billion Trees

Nairobi — Nobel peace laureate Prof Wangari Maathai has launched a worldwide campaign to plant one billion trees by the end of next year.

She said the project, to be run by the Green Belt Movement and the United Nations Environment Programme (Unep), is an effort to save the environment for the future.

"We know the signs and we have the data. We shall hear a lot during this conference, but what is important is what we will do," Maathai told local and international journalists in Nairobi.

While pledging to plant two million trees through Green Belt, the Tetu MP urged individuals, companies and groups from all sectors to join confront climate change.

Gift to subsequent generation

She said the initiative, Plant for the planet: Billion Tree Campaign, encourages people to "take small but practical steps to combat what is probably the key challenge of the 21st century".

Through the project, people and groups from around the world are encouraged to enter pledges on the campaign website, www.unep.org/billiontreecampaign.

The initiative encourages the planting of indigenous trees and those appropriate to the local environment.

The campaign, which is also backed by the Sovereign Prince of Monaco, His Serene Highness Albert II, and the World Agroforestry Centre (Icraf), was unveiled at the ongoing climate change conference in Nairobi on Wednesday.

"The campaign is part of human gift to the subsequent generation; it is a superb initiative," said Mr Dennis Garrity, the Icraf director-general.

Voluntary expressions of solidarity

Maathai, who is also the campaign's co-patron with the prince, conceived the idea. The campaign identifies four areas for planting: degraded natural forests, farms and rural landscapes, plantations and towns.

Maathai also called on people to take care of the trees: "You got to have a commitment to protect the plants; if you know you will not, them please do not bother to plant any."

Unep Executive Director,Dr Achim Steiner said the tree planting campaign is an engine for voluntary expressions of solidarity open to everyone including governments, businesses, community groups and individuals.

The campaign, he said, gives new impetus to the sayings of a Chinese poet who lived 2,500 years ago If you are thinking a year ahead, sow a seed. If you are thinking ten years ahead, plant a tree.

The watching and waiting is over

Steiner said it was no longer conjecture or debate around an abstract or hypothetical future since issues of climate change are already being felt.

"We need action. We need to plant trees and in doing so send a signal to the corridors of political power across the globe that the watching and waiting is over - that countering climate change can take root via one billion small but significant acts in our gardens, parks, countryside and rural areas," he said.

Prince Albert of Monaco said the campaign is dedicated to environment and sustainable development.

"The foundation's aim is to become an initiative and project multiplier in the areas of climate change, biodiversity and water," he said.

Drastic effects of climate change

Maathai also appealed to rich nations to cut their emissions of green house gasses to spare poor countries from drastic climate change effects.,

"This conference is supposed to unite countries in order to address climate change and to urge developed countries to cut down their green house emissions since poor countries suffer the most as a result of the gas emissions," she said.,

She also called on the developed states to pump in more funds to third world countries to enable them address challenges posed by climate change.

Struggle for environmental conservation

Maathai is recognised internationally for her persistent struggle for environmental conservation, democracy and human rights.

She was awarded the 2004 Nobel Peace prize for her lifelong commitment to environmental sustainability and the empowerment of women.

She founded the Green Belt Movement in Kenya in 1977 under which rural women have established tree nurseries and planted trees to reverse the effects of deforestation.

The Green Belt Movement, now an international campaign, has planted more than 30 million trees throughout Africa.

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