We believe universities can be a major part of ‘The Forest the Size of Anywhere’ movement. Universities are some of the UK’s longest standing institutions, proud to be world leaders in the objective of making the world a better place, whether that’s in science, medicine, human rights, or technology. Now they have the opportunity to be world leaders in sustainability; can British universities become globally renowned institutions in directing money and resources to parts of the world in need of reforestation? With The Forest the Size of Anywhere now is the chance!
Our proposal is that every university in the UK, would fundraise to reach three targets for tree planting: first, a forest the size of which will completely offset the university’s annual carbon emissions. Second, a tree for every student. And third, a forest the size of the total aerial footprint of the campus or university buildings.
Starting with the University of the West of England (UWE) in Bristol, a three step fundraiser could be set up. UWE could aim to meet one of these targets, cumulatively meet all three, or set up an entirely different target (costs calculated from The Converging World’s campaign donation page):
1. Absorb my CO2 A forest the size to offset UWE’s 15,282 tonnes of annual CO2e emissions: £45,020
2. Tree peeps: A tree for all 34,424 students and staff: £112,566
3. Forest cover your area: forest the size of the aerial footprint of UWE’s Frenchay Campus: £163,500
It would be up to the universities like UWE on how to raise this money, but these targets could be reached through a combination of staff and student donations, and the creation of ‘forest the size of’ funds which utilise the wealth that many universities have at their disposal. It’s the reward of a university becoming carbon neutral that would be so profound, which could cause a domino effect of encouraging other universities and institutions to do the same. After Bristol City Council recently declared a climate emergency and has aimed to be the first city to become carbon neutral by 2030, UWE could align with the city’s ambitions to become the first university to become carbon neutral. Donating to plant the forest the size of UWE would go a long way in this ambition.
What is really amazing about reforestation and the chance it gives to universities, is that carbon neutrality will just be the beginning. Once we achieve full divestment from fossil fuels and an increase to 100% of energy coming from renewable sources, with reforestation universities can actually become carbon negative. The last time carbon dioxide concentrations were this high, global temperatures were 2 degrees higher and sea levels 10-20 metres higher than they are today, therefore actively reducing atmospheric carbon is something the planet will need to avoid climate breakdown and unfathomable levels of sea level rise. It cannot be one or the other – it must be both reforestation and carbon emission reduction to limit climate change.
Once forests the size of universities are planted, in the long term we would encourage university departments to keep links with the forest location. This could provide a valuable resource for research, whether into sustainable development or earth system sciences. It could provide opportunities for students to go on international placements for conservation, researching to what extent these rewilded areas improve biodiversity. Or students could go to work and research with local people, particularly women, who rely on forests for livelihoods such as forest harvesting for medicinal plants or nature-based tourism. Not only could universities donate to plant forests, but they could monitor the long term growth of forests and gain evidence for the potential that reforestation has in helping solve global 21st century challenges of climate change, environmental degradation, poverty and women’s empowerment.
There can be major social, environmental and climate benefits to planting trees and rewilding landscapes which favours local people and wildlife. It is known that planting and regenerating a diverse mix of native trees will improve carbon sequestration, biodiversity, ecosystem resilience and water storage, while bringing livelihoods to many of the world’s poor who live off sustenance. We believe these benefits are achievable, where in the developed world we have more than enough wealth and resources to make this happen on the scale required. By fundraising for the Forest the Size of Anywhere campaign, universities can lead the way in making the UK’s institutions carbon neutral, and eventually carbon negative.
Written by, Will Eden Environmental Science undergraduate in his final year at UWE