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President Trump, Climate Change And 1 Trillion Trees


We're going to talk now about one project where the U.S. got on board. It's an initiative to plant a trillion trees over the next decade. Here's what Trump said at Davos.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We're committed to conserving the majesty of God's creation and the natural beauty of our world. Today I'm pleased to announce the United States will join one trillion trees initiative.

SHAPIRO: To talk about whether the one trillion trees initiative is realistic and what its impact could be, Janet Ranganathan of the World Resources Institute joins us now.



SHAPIRO: Just to start with the most basic science, remind people why planting trees is helpful for slowing climate change at all.

RANGANATHAN: So trees, when they grow, they actually absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it in their tree parts above and underground.

SHAPIRO: So planting a trillion trees is a catchy alliterative phrase. Where did the initiative come from?

RANGANATHAN: So it actually follows on the sweep (ph) of several other trillion tree initiatives - but the idea that, you know, we can address the climate problem through large-scale reforestation.

SHAPIRO: This particular initiative at Davos was put forward by Marc Benioff, who is this billionaire founder of Salesforce. Tell us about the argument he's making here.

RANGANATHAN: Well, you know, I think - you know, if you think about large, you know, ambitious initiatives are launched, we've had fires in Australia and in Indonesia and Brazil, so trees have been under siege. People are worried about climate change. This is a good time to, you know, galvanize attention around something that's been around for a while.

SHAPIRO: There's a question of whether one could plausibly plant a trillion trees in a decade. But setting that aside for a moment, if we imagined that tomorrow, a trillion new trees were on the Earth, what kind of an impact would that actually make?

RANGANATHAN: It depends. And this is the critical question. It's, how do we do this? And how do we actually connect these trees and the planting schemes to local interests? If there is not local support for these, we may plant the trees. And when we go back, they're gone.

SHAPIRO: So what would a successful program look like?

RANGANATHAN: One such as the initiatives that are kind of out there now, where you've got countries - there's something called the AFR100, where African countries have committed to restore 100 million hectares of land. They're already interested in doing this for a variety of reasons, like water and food security, so there's a demand for that. So how do you actually link the supply of trees to where there's a strong or existing demand?

SHAPIRO: Do you think the infrastructure exists to make a trillion trees a plausible reality?

RANGANATHAN: Well, it's a question about how much land that would take, but there's certainly enough existing initiatives already out there that are trying to do this through the lens of restoration that could be supported by this sort of high-scale effort.

SHAPIRO: On many climate initiatives, you have President Trump opposing the policy and the teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg pushing for it. This is actually the opposite. Thunberg said at Davos that this is nowhere near enough of what is needed. Is she right?

RANGANATHAN: Yes. So first, I would just say it's a good thing that President Trumps supports this. And who wouldn't be for planting trees? If this is - as Greta notes, if this is the only action on climate change, it's nowhere near enough.

SHAPIRO: Do you think that this is just a talking point? Or do you sense that there actually is enough of a plan to execute something this ambitious?

RANGANATHAN: Yes, I think the initiative's being quite forthright in noting that, actually, they do want to interlock with the myriad of other existing initiatives that are out there, and they want to do it effectively. I should point out, though, that, you know, the first order of question is let's protect the existing forests and not just be planting trees. We need to do both.

SHAPIRO: Janet Ranganathan is vice president for science and research at the World Resources Institute.

Thanks for coming in today.

RANGANATHAN: My pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.