Tree-planting takes root as a new trend in eco-conscious Davos

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg addresses a panel session during the 50th annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Jan 21, 2020. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

DAVOS (AFP) - It's a green policy that everyone can get behind. In Davos this year, leaders and tycoons, including the world's leading climate sceptic, United States President Donald Trump, offered to plant trees to help the planet.

Finding common ground on global warming was no small accomplishment on the first day of this year's World Economic Forum (WEF) that was dominated by speeches by Mr Trump and teenage climate warrior Greta Thunberg.

The most obvious example of the new found tree love was from Zurich Insurance, which every year hands out box-loads of blue ski bonnets to any Davos-goers foolish enough to come to the snow-cloaked fest without a hat.

But this year, the insurance giant innovated, promising to plant a tree for every winter hat offered. On Tuesday afternoon (Jan 21) in this Swiss ski resort, the meter read 5,250.

Some of the world's most powerful CEOs take planting trees incredibly seriously.

"We are facing a planetary climate crisis and trees are one of the most effective ways to sequester carbon and stop the worst effects of climate change," cloud giant Salesforce chairman Marc Benioff said in Davos.

A Davos regular, Mr Benioff helps on the trillion tree campaign, a major reforestation project launched by WEF that Mr Trump in his speech said he would back.

Chinese Vice-Premier Han Zheng spoke of his country's "high-value" reforestation programme and said Beijing was "willing to share its experience with other countries".

Environmentalists view corporate tree-hugging with suspicion.

"We are not telling you to 'offset your emission' by just paying someone else to plant trees in places like Africa while at the same time forests like the Amazon are being slaughtered at an infinitely higher rate," Ms Thunberg told her Davos audience.

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US President Donald Trump used his Davos speech against climate activists while pledging to join a multinational tree-planting initiative. Greta Thunberg told world leaders that the project ignored the catastrophic realities of environmental damage.

"Planting trees is good, of course, but it's nowhere near enough of what needs to be done, and it cannot replace real mitigation or rewilding nature," she said.

The executive director of Greenpeace International, Ms Jennifer Morgan, also stressed that trees are not compensation for pollution.

"We need to change our industrial agriculture system, we need to absorb a massive amount of CO2 in order to have a chance of avoiding true catastrophe. But the idea of planting trees to potentially compensate the continued pollution from fossil fuels, emissions from fossil fuels, it's just not credible," Ms Morgan told AFP.

"The fact that the Forum has put something forward as planting trees rather than reducing the problem just shows how out of touch (they are), how much they are not internalising what it means to leave a sustainable and liveable society for their kids," she added.

Many of the companies represented in Davos, such as the oil giants Shell and Total, long ago launched carbon offset projects through tree planting, and the scheme is also being implemented by airlines.

Some experts, however, cautioned against the use of fast-growing species such as eucalyptus or pine, which could disrupt local ecosystems.

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