Last week hundreds of thousands of people hit the streets of the Uttar Pradesh state in India to plant 50 million trees in 24 hours, in an attempt to beat the world record.
Although six of the top 10 cities with the world’s worst air quality are in India, the country of 1.25 billion people is moving forward with climate change reduction efforts.
So increasing air quality with this 50-million-tree project is ambitious, but only a small part of India’s goals when it comes to fighting climate change.
"The world has realised that serious efforts are needed to reduce carbon emissions to mitigate the effects of global climate change," the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Akhilesh Yadav, told volunteers in the city of Kannaui, which is 250 kilometres (155 miles) southwest of the state capital, Lucknow.
"Uttar Pradesh has made a beginning in this regard," he added.
The current Guinness World Record for the most trees planted in one day goes to Pakistan, with 847,275 trees planted back in 2013. Although the Guinness World Record auditors have not yet finished checking the numbers from India’s latest effort, it is likely that the record will be broken thanks to the 800,000 volunteers that took part.
"The biggest contribution of this tree planting project is, apart from the tokenism, that it focuses on the major issues," said Anit Mukherjee, policy fellow with the Centre for Global Development. "It addresses many of the big issues for India: Pollution, deforestation, and land use."
The Indian government has earmarked US$6.2 billion for tree-planting for the next 15 years, because although deforestation plays only a minor role in India’s net greenhouse gas emissions, an increased demand for agricultural land in rural areas means that planting new trees is important to the region.
But planting is just the beginning of the challenge for those involved with the project, as officials told the Associated Press that approximately 60 percent of new saplings won’t make it, due to disease or lack of water.
"You can’t just plant the trees," says Edward Parson, an environmental law professor at the University of California, in an interview with The Christian Science Monitor, "Of course it is great to plant 50 million trees, but you also need to have procedures in place to care for them and protect them."
Senior forest official Sanjeev Saran said that the sites where the trees have been planted, such as along country roads, highways, rail tracks, and forest areas, will be monitored by aerial photographs, to keep an eye on the saplings’ survival.
Token gesture or not, we’re impressed at India’s contribution towards fighting climate change, first with solar power, and now a few million trees. We would love to see a few other nations picking up the pace in protecting our climate.