Sun | Nov 17, 2019

Andrew Holness | We can do it: 3m trees in 3 years

Published:Sunday | October 13, 2019 | 5:45 AM
Andrew Holness

The recent observance of National Tree Planting Day was about investing in our future. We planted trees ‘today’ for a prosperous ‘tomorrow’.

The protection of the environment is critical to our survival as a nation.

The Forestry Department has been doing a very commendable job in securing our forested areas and I use this opportunity to thank them for the work they have been doing in protecting and conserving the forestry resources of Jamaica and in educating the public about the value of trees.

Our trees and forests are critical to our sensitive ecosystems that produce our clean air and water. The global research on climate change confirms that small island developing states like Jamaica account for less than one per cent of greenhouse gases.

But small island developing states are among the most affected by climate change. Indeed, small island developing states, you would say, are on the front line – literally.

These are the states most likely to lose their coastlines and are more vulnerable to hurricanes or cyclones.

They are the states, however, that are least prepared, both in terms of institutions, and in terms of their fiscal ability to respond to disasters that may occur as a result of climate change.

Jamaica is in the forefront of climate action leading through the United Nations (UN) in raising awareness and resources to aid in climate action.

Recently, I was involved in the UN’s Climate Action Summit and the 74th Session of the UN’s General Assembly.

Jamaica continues to face, as a small island developing state, the threat of external shocks, particularly natural disasters.

CLIMATE CHANGE IS REAL

Climate change is real and we must address it in order to secure our future. Our children are depending on us.

Indeed, climate variations have resulted in our intensified drought and now the unpredictable rains we have been having recently.

At the UN General Assembly recently, I announced that Jamaica would embark on a national tree-planting initiative through which we will plant more than three million trees in three years.

I believe we could do it faster if we all make solid commitments. Based upon what I’m hearing, we’ve gone almost a million trees already.

Planting trees is one of the ways in which Jamaica is taking deliberate, strategic and decisive actions to mitigate the effects of climate change.

The National Tree Planting Initiative, which will include the Blue Mahoe, will see the expansion of existing forested areas publicly and privately owned forests as well.

Our aim is to improve the resilience of our coasts, hillsides and plains while also improving the beauty of our urban centres, major thoroughfares, parks, and the added effect of offsetting greenhouse gas emissions.

We will focus on three areas with this national tree-planting exercise. We will be replanting our mangroves, and it is said that mangroves are the most effective in sequestering carbon from the atmosphere.

We will be doing a programme of urban forests – that doesn’t mean that we’re going to knock down buildings and plant trees – but where buildings and urban spaces exist we will integrate more trees in those spaces so that the trees complement the built environment that already exists.

RESPONSE TO CLIMATE CHANGE

We are not saying we’re planting trees because it sounds good or it is now the political flavour of the month. We’re planting trees because it is a strategic part of our response to the issues of climate change.

While forests cover 40 per cent of the island, only 19 per cent of that amounts to what is called closed broad-leaf forests or primary forests.

The closed broad-leaf forests, or the primary forests, would be what Christopher Columbus saw when he came to Jamaica, so from that time until now, only 19 per cent of it remains.

Of course, there are other forms of forests, degraded forests, where the tree cover doesn’t form a canopy and that is still good, still effective, especially if you have it on hillsides, but we need to increase that.

We need to increase the primary forests cover and we need to protect even the degraded forests that we have.

Between 1998 and 2013, we measured that we have had a net gain approximately 0.41 per cent of forest cover. You see how small that is?

But the trend in other countries is that you don’t have a net gain.

In other countries, they are cutting down more trees than they are replacing, but in Jamaica, we’ve had a programme in place and that has been effective in replacing what we’ve cut down.

But with this initiative, I’m hoping that we will see a net gain in excess of five per cent. I have been told that we will not achieve that, but I’m still ambitious because, who knows, maybe every single Jamaican citizen will get the message and seek to plant two trees instead of one.

It is for this reason that the Government is protecting more than 74,000 hectares of the Cockpit Country.

This area comprises the majority of the vulnerable ecosystems in that region of Jamaica, as well as sensitive hydrological and ecological assets and cultural assets that exist there.

While the country continues to develop, the Government’s aim is to ensure that there is no net loss of Jamaica’s forest cover.

Two million timber seedlings will be planted on, or over, three hectares of land and the remaining one million timber or ornamental tree seedlings will be distributed to the public for planting, as well as planting in parks, along roadways and major thoroughfares in major towns across Jamaica.

We are committed to this initiative; three million trees in three years, we can do it. We can do it for ourselves and we can do it for our children, we must do it for our future.

- Andrew Holness is the prime minister of Jamaica. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.