By Brian Clark Howard PUBLISHED July 18, 2016
More than 800,000 volunteers pitched in to help the country fight climate change. Volunteers plant trees in Allahabad, India, on July 11, as part of an effort to restore 50 million trees in a day. Cover Photograph by Rajesh Kumar Singh, Associated Press
Although the feat has yet to be certified by Guinness World Records, Indian officials have reported that volunteers planted a whopping 49.3 million tree saplings on July 11, blowing past the previous record for most trees planted in a single day.
That record, a mere 847,275 trees, was set by Pakistan in 2013.
A reported 800,000 volunteers from Uttar Pradesh worked for 24 hours planting 80 different species of trees along roads, railways, and on public land. The saplings were raised on local nurseries.
The effort is part of the commitment India made at the Paris Climate Conference in December 2015. In the agreement, signed on Earth Day 2016, India agreed to spend $6 billion to reforest 12 percent of its land (bringing total forest cover to 235 million acres by 2030, or about 29 percent of the country’s territory).
Trees sequester carbon dioxide from the air, thereby reducing the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. India has experienced substantial loss of its forest cover over the past few centuries, as people cut down trees for firewood, pasture, and to make room for development.
Other countries are also replanting trees. In December, African nations pledged to reforest 100 million hectares. A wide range of stakeholders, from countries to companies, also signed on to the non-binding New York Declaration of Forests that month, with the goal of halving deforestation by 2020 and ending it by 2030. The declaration also seeks to restore at leat 350 million hectares of degraded land with healthy forests.
Still, the young trees aren’t out of the woods yet, so to speak. Saplings need water and care and are susceptible to disease. Experience shows mortality rates as high as 40 percent after such massive tree plantings.
Watch India Man Plants Forest Bigger Than Central Park to Save His Island by William Douglas McMaster in National Geographic’s Short Film Showcase. The filmmakers created the content presented, and the opinions expressed are their own, not those of National Geographic Partners.
Officials say they are aware of those concerns and will be monitoring the trees with aerial photography, to see which areas may need special attention.
“The world has realized that serious efforts are needed to reduce carbon emissions to mitigate the effects of global climate change,” Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav said at an event promoting the planting.
Officials also hope the trees will improve air quality in India, which suffers from some of the worst in the world. Trees can help remove some pollutants from the air. Right now, 6 of the top 10 most polluted cities in the world are in the country.
Uttar Pradesh is the most populous state in India, a nation of 1.25 billion people. Some of them may be able to breathe a little easier, and find shade under the trees.
“The biggest contribution of this tree planting project is, apart from the tokenism, that it focuses on the major issues,” Anit Mukherjee, policy fellow with the Centre for Global Development told the Telegraph. “It addresses many of the big issues for India: pollution, deforestation, and land use.”