What is Trillion Trees?
Launched in 2017, Trillion Trees is a new initiative to help end deforestation and restore tree cover around the world. Three major international conservation organisations – the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), the World Wide Fund for Nature - UK (WWF-UK) and BirdLife International (BLI) – have formed a collaborative partnership to reach this goal with support from Restore UK, an environmentally-focused charitable foundation.
Our vision is that, by mid-century, one trillion trees have been restored, saved from loss, and better protected around the world through collective action by all sectors of society. In other words, deforestation will have ended, significant numbers of trees will have returned to areas where they were lost, and large areas of existing trees will be better protected. Trees in forests, woodlots or on farms bring multiple social, economic and environmental benefits.
You can find out more about how we have derived this vision in our briefing note Why a Trillion? The scientific context of our partnership’s vision. As well as the more technical scientific paper that underpins it Predicting Global Forest Restoration.
Will the programme achieve that by itself?
No. Our vision is a global one that will require commitment and action from governments, businesses, non-government organisations, communities, and individuals all across the world. We will promote this vision, implement projects that make major contributions to it, and help others do the same. Many others are already pursuing similar goals – we will add to that collective effort.
Why are WCS, WWF and BirdLife teaming up for forests?
As global conservation organizations, we share an ambition for a world with healthy, thriving forests and rural communities. There is tremendous added value to be unlocked by working together. We can combine our reach, our resources, our expertise, and more. And together we can aim higher than we could individually – in specific landscapes as well as at a global level.
Together we work in over 100 countries around the world with many partners. We are decentralised organisations and this partnership will encourage us to collaborate not just in the UK from where it will be led, but also in countries and landscapes where our empowered partner organisations, offices and field programmes have many shared interests.
Who is Restore UK?
Restore UK was established in 2001 as a grant-making charity investing in the protection and restoration of Britain's natural habitat. This vision has since expanded to incorporate environmental and biodiversity issues globally.
Are you going to plant one trillion trees?
No. Planting trees is one part of a variety of approaches we will take. We aim to halt further tree loss as well as to promote planting and regrowth where appropriate. In addition to restoring trees to landscapes where they have been lost, our vision encompasses better protection of existing forests that could otherwise be at risk and avoiding loss of trees by tackling deforestation. Together, these three actions add up to ‘a trillion trees restored, saved from loss, or better protected.’
Why do we need more trees?
Now, more than ever, we need trees. Protecting and restoring trees has many benefits, including reducing the carbon in our atmosphere—a major contributor to global climate change--providing habitat for wildlife and protecting biodiversity, providing sustainable income from timber or non-timber products, protecting ecosystem services like water supply and natural drainage systems, and making landscapes more resilient to climate change.
Scientists agree that maintaining and increasing the carbon storage and absorption that landscapes provides– in large part through tree cover – is an essential component of slowing climate change before temperatures rise to dangerous levels. To that end, trees and forests will be essential to meet the targets set in the 2015 UN Paris Agreement on climate change.
What type of trees will you be planting/ restoring?
This will need to be assessed on a site-by-site basis, with the full participation of local stakeholders. A realistic and fair strategy to achieve our goal must adopt a philosophy of “the right trees in the right places.” Our organisations share a vision where ecosystems and wildlife are thriving, as well as people. We will therefore often support natural forests and native trees, but in some places it will be important for communities to grow other trees that can provide income, fuel, food, timber and so on. These two approaches together will be needed to improve human welfare and protect our planet.
Is there enough land available on Earth to restore and better protect a trillion trees?
A trillion is a thousand billion (or 1,000,000,000,000). Scientific research has shown that there were once six trillion trees on our planet, and now there are around three trillion left. Human activity was the main driving force for this decrease and humans can, therefore, be the main driving force in increasing it again!
We believe our vision is within reach: with better agricultural practices large areas of land can be left as, or restored to, forests. Many forests have been degraded and have space for more trees to regrow. Bare, degraded lands exist where natural forests can return. Well-managed plantations or woodlots can provide sustainable fuel, food and, fibre.
And while our vision is certainly very ambitious, we hope it will inspire influential individuals and institutions to aim higher than they might otherwise have done.
Is ending deforestation really possible?
Yes. Individual countries have already achieved it, such as Costa Rica, and others have dramatically reduced deforestation while continuing to develop, such as Brazil. Globally, the rate of forest loss has been in decline, albeit increasing in areas of the tropics. We know ending deforestation is possible, with the knowledge and skills we already have, with the right strategies and the resources to support them. In truth, we will never lose all our forests; the question is how much we lose and the repercussions of that loss for the climate, for people, and for biodiversity. The answer to that question is down to all of us.
Will you be counting the number of trees in the world to show your progress?
There are means to make a global estimate of the number of trees in the world, which we hope to do at milestone intervals. We will more precisely monitor the number of trees and tree cover in specific sites and landscapes in which our field programmes will be working towards the Trillion Trees vision.
Is counting trees a good way of measuring progress on forests?
Forests are indeed complex and remarkable ecosystems that cannot be summed up in one measure. Therefore, we will track other measures of impact too, relating to carbon, biodiversity, livelihoods and so on.
Nevertheless, monitoring the number of trees is one excellent starting point for understanding the state of the world’s forests. The number of trees on Earth is a simple and clear concept that everyone can to relate to and that we can use to communicate with the public.
In addition, thinking about the number of trees allows us to take into account the importance of trees outside of forests, such as on farmlands or in cities, which have great value as well.
How will this programme be funded?
For the first five year phase (2017-2021 inclusive), Restore UK have provided £5m in core funding. This will be used to help leverage other funds for field programmes. The additional funds we will be raising will come from multiple sources and will be a mix of public and private sector money. There are significant public funds aiming to protect and restore forests under global climate change efforts – for example the Green Climate Fund and various REDD+ facilities. Many international companies will need to invest private finance in forest landscapes order to deliver their commitments to “deforestation-free” supply chains of palm oil, soy or wood products, among others.
At the same time, there are a growing number of impact investment funds that attract private investors on the promise of delivering a financial return as well as social and environmental benefits from the projects they invest in. These funds are actively seeking projects to invest in.
In addition to harnessing these existing resources, we hope over the longer-term, that by delivering success, we will be able to help provide the ‘proof of concept’ for these forest investments and thereby help increase the availability of finance for forests in the future.
How will you work with communities and indigenous peoples?
One of our priority approaches to protecting and restoring forests is to help indigenous peoples and other local communities to formalise their rights to forest land, to manage these forests sustainably, and to benefit from them. Evidence has shown in the Amazon, east Africa and other regions that this can bring benefits to people and the forests.
While one of the success factors we will be monitoring is the benefits brought to people from the projects we support, we will also be managing the risk of unintended negative impacts. For example, we will be establishing ‘safeguarding’ principles that will help ensure that our programmes and activities respect and support rights of communities and indigenous peoples living in or near forests.
Isn’t population growth the real problem behind deforestation? What are you doing about that?
We recognise that population growth is a major driver of environmental degradation. However, the global population is already on a route to stabilisation as the fertility rate is falling worldwide. What and how people consume is also a key driver of environmental degradation. Influencing consumption choices, and ensuring that supply chains take into account sustainability, is therefore a part of our organisations’ work.
The root of the problem of deforestation is the consumption choices in rich countries. What are you going to do about that?
We share a concern both about current consumption in developed countries and the growing levels of consumption in developing countries. The role we want our programme to help play is to ensure that funding is available and accessed by organisations - including ourselves and our partners - who have good plans to save, protect, and restore tree cover. In addition, we will work with companies buying and trading in commodities associated with forest loss to influence their practices and encourage them to restore areas they have affected. Other parts of our organisations and our partners work with the general public to inform their consumer choices. Examples include WWF’s recent forest campaign in the UK on wood products, BirdLife partners’ work on sustainability of imported food commodities, and the WCS-led ‘96 Elephants’ campaign on domestic ivory trade in the US and elsewhere.
Why is this programme any different to what your organisations would be doing anyway?
The Trillion Trees vision raises our ambition and looks beyond a “zero deforestation” future to one where forests are returning. Trillion Trees provides a platform through which we as three global organizations can have an even larger voice. We believe the significance of aligning the efforts of three global conservation organizations and our clear commitment to long-term collaboration will itself have impact and illustrate the importance of our goal.
And importantly, through their support for Trillion Trees, Restore UK have provided an opportunity for us to use modest investments to unlock much bigger ones. Human capital – time, energy, skills and knowledge – is needed to develop the strategies and actions to achieve change. Often lack of this initial capital is the stumbling block to success. Trillion Trees helps resolve this with an emphasis on seed funding, enabling our teams to focus on working together for a common goal.
Why should more money go to organisations like WCS, WWF and BirdLife to do this work?
Trillion Trees will not exclusively focus on funds that will go through our own organisations. In fact, we would consider ourselves just as successful if we enabled funding or investments for other organisations that could competently deliver programmes for forest landscapes where there is the need for action.
And while we each have a unifying brand, we are decentralised organisations. For example, BirdLife comprises 122 national organisations; 72 of whom “own” the charity. WWF is a global network of offices that work in over 100 countries and that unify behind shared objectives. Each office or organisation in our networks seeks funding to achieve their own missions.
How do you relate to Plant for the Planet and their Trillion Tree campaign?
With the support of the UN Environment Programme, Plant for the Planet encourages individuals, schools, businesses and organisations to make pledges and get directly involved in tree planting. It also offers a platform where that can be registered to count towards the goal of a trillion trees.
We support this great initiative. We share an ambitious vision in which the number of trees around the world is increasing, yet have different and complementary strategies for doing so.
Our strategy is to instigate large-scale on the ground projects dedicated to forests and will combine a mix of reducing deforestation, protecting existing forests, natural regeneration and planting. We are in close contact with Plant for the Planet and intend to be close allies into the future.
 Crowther et al., 2015, Mapping tree density at a global scale, Nature.
 UN Department for Economic and Social Affairs, 2015, World population prospects. The 2015 revision.