Nobel Winner Seeks Government Deeds to Match Words
MADRID -- A global campaign to plant a billion trees has highlighted a big gap between government aid pledges and action, African Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai said on Wednesday.
Kenyan-born Maathai, 66, who in 2004 became the first environmentalist to win the prize, inspired the U.N.-led campaign after decades leading the battle against deforestation and soil erosion in Africa.
Four months on, private citizens, companies, NGOs and governments around the world have pledged to plant 613 million trees, the U.N. website www.unep.org/billiontreecampaign/ said.
The United Nations, which says it checks all pledges are credible to make sure they are carried out, said to date only 3.5 million trees have been planted.
"It is one thing to pledge but another to plant. For me the greatest frustration is that people say yes but they don't take action," she told Reuters at a conference in Madrid, singling out governments for particular blame.
"Both developed and developing countries are guilty. We see at conferences, in the United Nations, governments always say yes and sign up to whatever convention is put forward. It is what they do when they get home that counts."
The U.N. has said planting a billion trees would soak up some 250 million tonnes of carbon dioxide warming the atmosphere. Changes in land-use, the bulk of it deforestation, is the biggest emitter of carbon dioxide after fossil fuels, releasing 7.5 billion tons of the gas in 2000.
Maathai said despite the frustrations, the campaign was a success, if only because it was raising awareness of the need to do something about climate change.
"I want to give people the idea they can do something, that it's not beyond the reach off any of us. Most people think "ah, trees, I can do that," so they are encouraged and don't feel overwhelmed," said Maathai.
"I'm very sure I'll get the billion trees but I want more people in Africa, especially governments, to pledge they will plant these trees."