Good news, Green Monsters! It looks like our beleaguered planet is finally about to catch a break, as the governments of more than a dozen African countries have pledged to restore the continent’s natural forests! At the United Nations Climate Conference (COP21) talks on Sunday, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda, Madagascar, and others, all pledged to carry out a brand-new AFR100 initiative, aimed at restoring 100 million hectares (386,000 square miles) of the continent’s forest by 2030.

This change cannot come soon enough, as The World Resources Institute (WRI) estimates that the Earth has lost more than half of its forested areas over the course of human history. The systematic deforestation of the world’s tropical forests has also been a significant driver behind climate change, producing up to 15 percent of global carbon emissions.

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The organization recently reported that between 2001 and 2013, carbon dioxide emissions from deforestation equated to about 2,270 million metric tons every year. Andrew Steer, chief executive and president of WRI, said, “As the world forges a climate agreement in Paris, African countries, which bear the least historic responsibility for climate change, are showing leadership with ambitious pledges to restore land.”

Wanjira Maathai, chair of the Green Belt Movement founded by her late mother, the Kenyan Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Wangari Maathai, added that “the truly inspiring, continent-wide” plan to restore Africa’s lost forests “will empower and enrich rural communities while providing downstream benefits to those in cities. Everybody wins.”

During the Global Landscapes Forum at the U.N. climate talks, this amazing new reforestation initiative received over $1 billion in funding from the World Bank and the German government, in addition to a further $540 million in private funding.

It is hoped that the project will help combat the ever-increasing problem of desertification in West Africa, which has destroyed much of the region’s arable land. “Restoring our landscapes brings property, security and opportunity,” Vincent Biruta, Rwanda’s Minister of Natural Resources, said. “With forest landscape restoration we’ve seen agricultural yields rise and darners in our rural communities diversify their livelihoods and improve their well-being. Forest landscape restoration is not just an environmental strategy. It is an economic and social development strategy as well.”

However, environmental protection group Greenpeace has warned that in order for the AFR100 pledge to succeed, Africa’s illegal logging industry, as well as corruption in the Congo Basin, must be adequately addressed. Victorine Che Thoener, leader of Greenpeace’s Congo Basin project, has cautiously welcomed the announcement, but added, “many of these African countries make these pledges in the hope that they will receive funding.

There’s a lot of talk, but not a lot of action on the ground.” In order to deal with this issue, the World Research Institute is working on a monitoring project that will include satellite and ground-level observation, in order to assess what is actually being done to ensure that Africa’s forests can flourish once again.

Let’s hope the initiative meets with success, Green Monsters … because our planet needs it now more than ever.

Lead image source: AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell

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