A green, biodiverse, and climate-resilient Bangladesh can be achieved by the implementation of the following five measures, all of which involve tree planting: The lives and livelihoods of billions of people throughout the world are in jeopardy due to the deterioration of global biodiversity and the warming of the global climate. As a major contributor to the destruction of plant and animal habitats and the disruption of the natural carbon sink, whose atmospheric emissions contribute to global warming, the cutting down of trees and the clearing of forests are often cited as causes or barriers to addressing these crises.
The right way to plant trees
However, the rate at which the world’s trees and forests are being cut down is increasing. The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization projects that, between 2015 and 2020, people will remove nearly 10 million hectares of forest each year.
Stopping and reversing the continuous loss of trees and forests is, therefore, a major focus of modern environmental activism. The solution lies in reforesting agricultural land and restoring damaged forests to their natural state.
The United Nations has designated 2021–2030 as the “Decade on Ecosystem Restoration,” the World Economic Forum has pledged to plant 1 trillion trees by 2030, and every year on June 5 (World Environment Day), the Bangladesh Forest Department hosts the “National Tree Fair” to raise public awareness about the importance of tree planting in combating environmental crises.
While the concept of planting trees is centuries old, doing so with the goal of improving biodiversity and the local climate is more recent. The former prioritizes harvesting trees for their timber, whereas the latter works to establish a biodiverse and climate-resilient ecosystem.
Traditional tree plantations, such as those that include the widespread introduction of exotic Acacia to forested areas, are productive in terms of timber production but offer little in the way of environmental or climatic benefits.
Similarly, tree planting in natural grasslands is often lauded despite the fact that it threatens grassland biodiversity and causes soil carbon to escape into the sky. Choosing the incorrect trees or planting them in the incorrect locations can have negative effects on biodiversity and the environment.
So, how should we go about tree planting to help solve the planet’s warming and extinction crises? The following are some approaches I would recommend for creating a biodiversity-friendly and climate-resilient plantation; the details would depend on the intended planting site.
As a first step, only use native plant species and never buy or import any.
It’s been said that reintroducing native plant species is difficult because of the high demand for non-native ones, such as Acacia and Eucalyptus. But I disagree that the desire for alien species in the marketplace did not just appear out of thin air; rather, we made great strides to popularize them, and only recently have we realized that they impair native biodiversity.
We need to correct this oversight and begin actively promoting native species. Rather than focusing just on economically valuable species, the ideal species combination would comprise both common and uncommon species. This method will provide a biologically varied baseline state for the plantation, which is essential as we move our policy focus from production to conservation forestry.
Second, functional diversity among plant species
Species selection based on functional features can shed light on whether or not the chosen species will aid biodiversity and contribute to adaptation and mitigation of climate change.
For example, plants that produce nectar are more likely to attract insect pollinators; plants with dense foliage are more likely to provide a suitable nesting format for birds; and species with high wood density sequester more carbon than species with lower wood density.
Therefore, while planting trees for climate change adaptation, it is important to choose species with extensive roots and bushy physical structures, as they will provide additional support in the event of a coastal disaster.
Third, areas that used to have trees should be given top priority for tree planting.
It’s widely accepted wisdom that forests benefit from tree planting everywhere. Planting trees in areas where they might disrupt natural grasslands, wetlands, or seagrass beds is a bad idea.
We need to be careful when planting trees in natural habitats that aren’t already wooded, with the exception of recently accreted chars in coastal areas or artificial ecosystems. Keep in mind that all natural ecosystems are invaluable and that eliminating habitat variety by tree plantation is an unanticipated consequence of this practice.
Fourth, before beginning tree plantings, it is important to carefully analyze the land tenure and benefit-sharing systems.
These days, tree-planting is a standard part of any conservation or adaptation project, and community-based, short-term tree-planting initiatives are often established by semi-governmental and non-governmental groups in regions with complicated and unsettled land ownership concerns.
It’s possible that a scheme like this may cause people to encroach on forests or cause social unrest. That’s the case with many tree-planting initiatives in the Chittagong Hill Tracts’ unclassified state forests (USFs). The legality of beginning tree-planting efforts in Rohingya refugee communities is also an issue of contention.
In contrast, the social forestry program on forest land in Bangladesh, implemented by the Bangladesh Forest Department, is a model of efficiency and fairness in its benefit-sharing structure. The legal authority of the planting agency or community is an important consideration since tree planting is a long-term operation.
Fifth, a biodiversity-friendly and climate-resilient plantation must focus on regenerating both planted and unplanted species through natural means.
Aerial sowing or seed broadcasting across the plantation are two examples of novel methods that may be used to create biotic heterogeneity in the plantation.
While it’s true that certain tree plantations can help battle biodiversity loss and climate change, the vast majority of them can’t. Careful consideration must be given while deciding which species to plant and where. The advantages of a tree plantation, however, will not be seen for quite some time.
Therefore, contemporary tree-planting initiatives must take into account not just the immediate but also the potential long-term benefits to the ecosystem, say, 40–50 years down the road.
In order to create a green Bangladesh that is both climate-resilient and rich in biodiversity, we need a well-planned and meticulously executed tree-planting program.