After a week in Glasgow, Scotland, for the 26th United Nations Conference of Parties (COP 26), the annual climate conference, I’m even more passionate about the work TreePeople does every day to build community resilience. More than ever, I am convinced that we need trees and we need them now.
On day two of the conference, world Leaders doubled down on efforts to conserve forests and accelerate their restoration by 2030. This declaration affirms what you may already know: trees have a critical role to play in securing global net zero and keeping the global average temperature to below 2°C. That’s why 141 countries, including the United States have signed on to accelerate reforestation actions across the globe. To put it into perspective, this commitment covers 91% of forest or 14,252,996 square miles of forest covered by the endorsing countries.
Another key takeaway from COP26: California will become the first state in the nation to institute a ranking system for heat waves, much the way weather authorities categorize hurricanes or how fire and air quality officials warn of wildfire and pollution risks. This would help warn communities and encourage policymakers to craft prevention strategies and risk-reduction measures. The effects of these worsening heat waves fall disproportionately on low-income communities and communities of color. I look forward to working with Ricardo Lara, California’s Insurance Commissioner, and other legislators to make this idea a reality.
Despite these key areas of progress, it was disappointing to see the lack of people of color, women, and indigenous people at the conference. Only 12% of global environmental ministers are women. This fact is even more egregious when you consider that 80% of climate refugees are women and children. This lopsided impact of the climate crisis is yet to have garnered the international attention it so urgently requires. If the global community is serious about urgently adapting to protect communities and natural habitats, then these voices must be at the table. Data shows that when women lead on policy, more effective policy making follows. Any future conferences must be led and centered on the people most impacted by these decisions.
The world seems smaller to me after COP26. Regardless of the corner of the globe we occupy, everyone at COP26 agreed that we must end deforestation and accelerate tree planting. In so many ways, trees bring people together: they are a tangible, nature-based, community-led solution to the climate crisis that anyone can take part in. They are truly nonpartisan. If we’re serious about climate change and climate solutions, we need to offer everyday actions and solutions that are accessible to all. Everyone can plant an oak tree—whether it’s in San Fernando or Scotland. Everyone. Trees are a unifying solution that the world should adopt now.
Beyond empowering individual and community-driven actions, we also must invest in reforestation efforts. And there is a prime opportunity in front of us through the Build Back Better Act (also known as the budget reconciliation bill)—which would inject $2.5 billion into the U.S. Forest Service’s Urban and Community Forestry Program—to expand urban tree canopy and advance equity. Congress must act now to pass this critical legislation. Planting trees in forests, mountains, and urban communities is one of the most impactful investments our nation can make and we must seize the momentum of COP26 now to pass this critical legislation, invest in trees, and protect communities from climate change.