(May 22, 2007)

UN wins pledge to plan more than a billion trees

By Daniel Wallis
From Reuters

NAIROBI (Reuters) - The United Nations has received pledges to plant more than a billion trees in a drive to help fight climate change and poverty, it said on Tuesday.

Launched in November by Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai of Kenya at a major U.N. climate meeting in Kenya, the "Billion Tree" campaign aims to roll back deforestation that is a top contributor to carbon emissions blamed for global warming.

"People talk too much. We are no longer talking, we are working," Maathai told a news conference in her native Kenya.

"The challenge now is to tell the world to go dig holes and plant seedlings. I've no doubt we will achieve our goal."

The United Nations says it checks all pledges are credible to make sure they are carried out. Its Web site www.unep.org/billiontreecampaign/ said 1.01 billion trees had been pledged, but only 13.95 million planted so far.

The pledges have come from companies and countries as well as individuals.

Maathai, 66, in 2004 became the first African woman and first "green" activist to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

The Nobel committee hailed the work of her Green Belt Movement -- which planted about 30 million trees in Africa -- as a step to help end poverty and avert conflicts over scarce natural resources.

Some 13 million hectares (32 million acres) of forest are cut down every year, mostly in Africa and South America.

The boss of the U.N. Environment Programme, Achim Steiner, said the speed the billion pledges came in was a remarkable demonstration of people's willingness to act on climate change.

"It is a billion statements by people across this planet saying time has run out for debating about whether to do something," Steiner told reporters.

Ethiopia on Tuesday said it planned to plant 60 million trees this year at a cost of $8.1 million as part of its millennium celebration. Ethiopia will celebrate its millennium on September 11, owing to its adherence to the Gregorian calendar.

Forest cover in the Horn of Africa country stands at around 4 percent at the last estimate taken in 2000, down from 35 percent in the early 20th century.

(Additional reporting by Tsegaye Tadesse in Addis Ababa)

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