Children can pioneer in protecting the earth - Friends of UNESCO HK e-Newsletter


Children can pioneer in protecting the earth


What were you doing when you were nine years old? Where would you be 80 years later in 2100?


Global tree planting campaign initiated by a nine-year-old


In 2007, Felix, a 9-year-old primary four student in Germany had to do a project on climate change. He was eventually inspired and initiated a global Plant-for-the-Planet movement. Its initial target was to plant one million trees in each country to offset CO2 emissions.


Felix was inspired by Wangari Muta Maathai, an African biologist and Nobel Peace Prize winner. Professor Maathai founded Kenya's Green Belt Movement to improve the employment opportunities of women in rural area and promote environmental protection. Since 1977, more than 30 million trees have been planted in Africa within 30 years under the movement.


Felix explained his idea of one-million tree-planting to his classmates and the school principal. He then planted the first tree in the school campus. The media loved his idea and eagerly reported his story. In the following year, Felix becomes the United Nations Environment Programme Junior Board Member. In the past ten years, he had given speeches in front of the European Parliament, and in the UN conferences in Norway, South Korea, the United States and many other countries.


“Stop talking. Start planting”


Felix believes that adults are aware of the challenge of climate change, but they often talk and seldom act (They named a campaign as “Stop talking. Start planting” which invited famous adults from the political, commercial, and entertainment industry to join. Harrison Ford and Price Albert of Monaco are one of them). The reason behind may be “the future” is an academic question to adults, but for today's children, 2100 is still within their lifetime, so they aim to take their future in their own hands, and planting trees is a most widely recognized activity.


You may have participated in tree planting activity, but how effective it is in easing climate change? How many trees are there on earth now? How many more shall we plant to offset the deforestation around the world and make a difference? These questions challenge many scientists.


Tom Crowther, a researcher in Yale University spent two years studying the topic and published the results in the academic journal Nature in 2015. It turns out that there are three trillion trees in the world, which is seven times of the previous estimates. It is also found that the number is only half of that 12,000 years ago when farming activities just started. The loss of trees is now at a rate of 10 billion per year. Therefore, planting one million or even one billion trees a year will not help much.

e-Map for planting trees


Surprisingly, Felix was not discouraged. Instead, he and over 60,000 ambassadors aged 9 to 12 worldwide decided to scale up their plan and set a target of planting one trillion (12 “0” after “1”) trees each year. The trees can absorb 10 billion tons of carbon dioxide each year, which is one quarter of the carbon emissions we produce a year. They worked hard to contact the billionaires, governments, and companies of various countries to raise resources. At the same time, they also strived to make the planting plan scientific. This led him to connect with Jack Dangermond, President of Esri.


Esri is one of the 50 largest software companies in the world and is specializing in geographic information system (GlS) software. The 73-year-old Jack appreciates and recognises Felix's philosophy. The old man and young person, with age gap of over 50 years, worked together to build a global tree planting electronic map platform, which is opened to all tree organisations for uploading data. Riding on the unique features of GIS software in consolidating multiple layers of information to visualize analysis results, it helps the planning of the global tree planting. On the GIS platform, the type of tree and sequence of planting in different places under various climate, soil, topography, environment, urbanization, and land use are detailed.


Serious felling and excessive harvesting hurt


On the other hand, we adults are not entirely looking on without lifting a finger. For example, the Earth Day celebrated on 22 April every year is an event promoting environmental protection. Many countries around the world hold different types of activities on that day each year to lend support to the initiative.


It originated in the United States in the 1970s. At that time, a group of enthusiastic people recognized the increasing pollution of the earth and the ecological environment was being threatened. They launched a large-scale campaign to protect the earth and called for the attention of the public about pollution. The result was a swift support from all over the world.


In fact, apart from deforestation, over-harvesting also causes extinction of species. The beautiful orchids are diverse in colour, but some wild species such as slipper orchids are on the verge of extinction. At the same time, certain bees in the nature rely on the pollen of a particular type of orchid to reproduce. When that type of orchids decreases, the associated type of bees will also decrease.


Incense tree has high medicinal value, and thus is considered as a treasure. Unfortunately, it is often illegally felled by poachers. Country parks in Hong Kong are said to be “almost stripped bare” of these rare incense trees. Recently, a 60-year incense tree in the Chinese University of Hong Kong was cut down. Hong Kong was once covered with these trees, but due to serious illegal felling, the number has dropped sharply. Now the natural stock is near extinction in Hong Kong.


Protecting the earth starts from every individual


Although Hong Kong is small, it nurtures many species. We have nearly 3,000 species of flowering plants which should be our pride. However, if people do not treasure and respect the ecology, these species will disappear one after another.


The Conservation E3 Foundation's Tree Adoption Program teaches young people tree knowledge. It helps to cultivate a caring attitude towards the nature and the earth. Although it is generally difficult for the Hong Kong people to plant trees on their own, we can cherish the nature as much as we can to protect the earth.






Dr. Winnie Tang

Chairman of the Conservation E3 Foundation