Over the next decade, Salesforce plans to conserve and restore 100 million trees. Mastercard plans to reach the same number in five years. Timberland is also planting trees: 50 million of them. Clif Bar is adding 750,000. Microsoft, which plans to invest in reforestation as one piece of a strategy to become carbon negative, is developing technology for conservation organizations. The companies are among 26 businesses, organizations, and cities that make up the new U.S. chapter of 1t.org, the movement to plant and conserve a trillion trees globally.
The new group is coordinating pro-forest efforts that have grown quickly over the last few years. It’s designed to accelerate work to protect and plant trees, but also to make sure it happens strategically. “We don’t just need to do more, but we need to do it better,” says Jad Daley, president and CEO of American Forests, the nonprofit conservation organization leading the national effort with the World Economic Forum. “We are all learning our way into some really complicated challenges—things like how to reforest in a changing climate.”
The wildfires currently burning in California are one example. “We know that we can’t reforest these burned-out areas the way that they were before, because they’re just going to be set up for catastrophic wildfire again,” he says. Instead, he says, it’s possible to replant species that are best suited for a changing climate, and trees with genetics that are better suited to tolerate drought or resist pests. Trees can also be planted in different densities; in California, for example, that might mean planting fewer trees per acre.
“It’s not just business as usual, but being innovative in setting up a forest in a way so that as wildfire passes through it, it doesn’t reach the incredible level of intensity and destruction that we’ve been seeing,” he says, noting that forest managers will also have to adapt as the climate continues to change. Other parts of the country will also have to adapt to new stresses from climate, from hurricanes in the Southeast to pest infestations in the Midwest to new diseases in the Rockies.
By one estimate, there’s room in the United States to grow 60 billion new trees, which could capture half a billion tons of CO2 from the atmosphere each year. Existing forests that are damaged by climate change—such as those currently burning in California—will also need to be replaced. “Climate change is only going to ramp up the need for reforestation,” says Daley. “That is the unfortunate reality. We’re going to have to replace forests at a rate that we never have before. I think it’s probably fair to say at this point that we need to be able to go as fast as we possibly can on conserving the forests that we have but also replacing the ones that we lose.”
The pledges from the initial organizations and cities in the group add up to 855 million trees that will be conserved and planted, so far, although that’s an underestimate. Bank of America, for example, has pledged $300 billion in climate finance that will support new tree-planting projects, though that commitment hasn’t yet been translated into the number of trees it will impact. Others are expected to quickly join the effort, including the federal government, which Daley expects to join soon with a pledge to support “billions and billions” of trees. The broad support in the coalition, he says, means that the work to protect and restore forests will happen now at a larger scale than it ever has before. “We really do believe that we’re better positioned than ever before to set a goal like a trillion trees and actually be able to get there,” he says.
Correction: We’ve updated this article to note that Bank of America has pledged $300 billion—not $300 million—to climate finance.