An Earth Day message for a sustainable future

Trees for the Earth is the theme of this year's Earth Day.

Today, Friday 22 April 2016, is Earth Day and this year’s theme is ‘Trees for the Earth’. AECOM’s Andy Wakefield comments on the significance of a day which also sees the historic signing of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

It is fitting that the historic Paris Agreement on climate change will be signed by a record 155 countries at the headquarters of the United Nations in New York on Earth Day 2016. ‘Trees for the Earth’ is this year’s theme, making the chosen date all the more appropriate given the vital role trees and forests can play in a sustainable future. 

One of the goals of Earth Day is to plant 7.8 billion trees by 2020 – one for every person on the planet. It is an admirable aim, not only from an ecological perspective. Trees also bring economic and social benefits that are often overlooked, such as pollution removal and flood prevention, in addition to absorbing atmospheric carbon dioxide. The recent London iTree Eco Project revealed that the capital’s 8.4 million trees yield over £132 million of benefits annually.

For planting to reap the full benefits, however, it must be carefully planned. An estimated 25% of landscape tree plantings in the UK ultimately fail. Putting a diverse range of trees in the right locations, and looking after them as they grow, is critical for long-term success. 

Larger trees provide the greatest benefits, but are more likely to create problems if planted in the wrong place. And an over-emphasis on a limited range of species can make new plantings and existing trees vulnerable to pests or disease. Worse still, trees imported for planting may bring with them foreign infections, setting back rather than improving our forests and treescape. All these factors need to be considered in planting initiatives. 

Approached correctly, renewed forestation and increased tree cover can be a true win-win for environment, society and the economy. But as with the Paris Agreement, it will take work and understanding to ensure that the best intentions don’t go to waste.

Happy Earth Day.

Andy Wakefield is senior arboricultural consultant at AECOM.