Bid to re-green Africa on Irish President’s agenda for meeting with Pope

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A bid to plant a million trees as part of the re-greening of one of Africa’s most parched regions was on the Irish President’s agenda for a meeting with the Pope on Saturday.

Michael D Higgins is backing the Laudato Tree Project and efforts to build a Great Green Wall on the continent.

The Republic has been invited by the United Nations to take a leadership role in helping combat desertification in a massive swathe of land south of the Sahara known as the Sahel.

A 1.2 million euro (£1.1 million) Irish Government investment is expected to kick-start the effort to create a lasting legacy from the Pope’s visit to Ireland.

The executive secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), Monique Barbut, said: “During our meeting in Dublin earlier this year, I was deeply impressed by the passionate commitment of the Society of African Missions’ in supporting worldwide efforts to achieve the 2030 Great Green Wall vision.

“In recognition of your excellent work, we would like to nominate the Society of African Missions (SMA) for the 2018-19 UNCCD Land for Life Awards, which provides global recognition to individuals and organisations whose work and initiatives have made a significant contribution to scaling-up action in protecting and rehabilitating land resources worldwide.”

The SMA has asked President Higgins to speak to Pope Francis about an invitation from the President and religious leaders of Burkina Faso to visit the Sahel region to see for himself the impact of global warming and how the people of Burkina Faso and the region are working to combat the impact of desertification through growing the Great Green Wall.

Africa’s Great Green Wall aims to restore 100 million hectares of land; provide food security for 20 million people; create 350,000 jobs; and capture 250 million tons of carbon by 2030.

When completed, it will span 13 countries. It will measure 8,000km (4,970 miles) long and 15km (9 miles) wide.

Ireland’s role would also involve schools, parishes and community groups in planting trees in Ireland, increasing biodiversity and contributing to atmospheric improvement.

The project takes its name from a 2015 papal encyclical by Pope Francis, Laudato Si’, on caring for the environment, and is intended to be a visible expression of the encyclical’s intervention.

It will transform donations into the planting of six trees in total: one tree in Ireland and five trees along the Great Green Wall.

This also includes the after-care of the trees and the training of Great Green Wall guardian communities who will plant and take care of the trees for future generations.

Each donation will be used to plant a tree in a woodland in Ireland and to plant five trees on Africa’s Great Green Wall, running through northern Ghana and Burkina Faso.

Some will be invested in Ireland, promoting climate justice, the planting of trees (including 10 years aftercare), and increasing Ireland’s biodiversity.

Ireland’s tree coverage is currently the lowest in Europe at 11%. The average tree coverage throughout the European Union is 37%.

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