Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Planting trees to stave off global warming

By: Shanahan Chua - Journal Online

AL Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” has fired up global awareness and discussions on the critical issue of Climate Change. Over the years, we have seen and felt the adverse effects of global warming, as we experience worsening storms and unpredictable weather patterns. With the heightened awareness on climate change, peoples of all nations are taking action to mitigate the degradation of the environment and aspire for sustainability.

Unilever Philippines has taken up the mantle of pro-actively addressing Climate Change through various environmental activities, notable of which is its .partnership with ABS-CBN Foundation - Bantay Kalikasan in the reforestation of La Mesa Watershed.

Unilever’s first step to partner with Bantay Kalikasan was made in 2001 with the adoption of 50 hectares of forest land. Twenty-five (25) more hectares were added in 2004 in celebration of Unilever’s 75th year of manufacturing and marketing operations in the Philippines. In 2007, 25 hectares were adopted additionally, with the Memorandum of Agreement being signed by Unilever Chairman-CEO Sanjiv Mehta and Ms. Regina Paz Lopez, Managing Director of ABS-CBN Foundation, in a symbolic program at the La Mesa Eco-Park.

The adoption of 100 hectares of the forest land, a significant contribution to the rehabilitation of that strategic fresh water resource for Metro Manila, was capped with 120 managers conducting a tree-planting activity in the La Mesa Watershed.

This watershed, consisting of 2,000 hectares of land surrounding a 700-hectare reservoir, is spread out over portions of Quezon City, Caloocan City and Montalban, Rizal, and is critical to the pre-eminence and development of Mega-Manila in Philippine economic and social life.

La Mesa Dam, which can store up to 50.5 million cubic meters and through which 1.5 million liters pass through everyday for filtration and ultimate distribution to households and industries, is a vital link to the freshwater requirements of 11.3 million people (6.2 million served by Maynilad Water in the West Zone and 5.1 million served by Manila Water in the East Zone) in Mega-Manila.

Seventy-three (73) Philippine endemic tree species have been planted in the La Mesa forest by volunteers from various industries, institutions and individuals. So far, the planted trees have manifested a survival rate of 92.5 %. It is expected that once fully forested, the 100 hectares adopted by Unilever will have a total of 40,000 trees standing tall in the area.

For the tree-planting program, seedlings of the Ipil, Banaba, Molave, Narra and Kupang trees - all Philippine hardwood species that are expected to have a life of 100 years — were prepared. These indigenous species have much better chance to develop over the years, inasmuch as they have adapted to local climatic conditions.

It is noteworthy to state that carbon sequestration of planted species at La Mesa is being measured by Korean scientists, in a cooperative venture being undertaken by Bantay Kalikasan, College of Forestry of the University of the Philippines in Los Banos and the South Korean Government. The scientists’ report is being finalized.

Trees — First Line of Defence against Climate Change

Time Magazine in its Global Warming issue in April 2007 suggested the planting of more trees in the tropics to prevent the worsening of climate change. This is a direction validated by climate scientists, who distinguished the action in tropical regions from planting trees in high-latitude/temperate locations. Trees are important tools in the fight to stave off global warming because they absorb and store the key greenhouse gas before the latter has a chance to reach the upper atmosphere where it can trap the heat around the Earth’s surface.

In essence, trees, as kings of the plant world, have much more “woody biomass” to store carbon dioxide. As a result, trees are considered nature’s most efficient “carbon sinks.”

In Zerofootprint, blogger Ron Dembo said “...we’ve got inexpensive, environmentally friendly, beautiful carbon machines with ancillary benefits at our disposal right now...I call them trees. We know they work, as they are already storing billion tons of carbon — ...more than what is currently in the atmosphere, heating up the planet. Not only that, they breathe out oxygen as part of the process of photosynthesis. In fact, every ton of sequestered carbon means two tons of oxygen (had been) released into the atmosphere. Moreover, these carbon machines provide habitat for flora and fauna, protect watersheds and release water into the atmosphere to help regulate rainfall patterns.”

As Unilever gears up towards implementing its Environmental Road Map, I suggest we keep in mind that each of us has a role to play in the protection of our environment. We can all do our part in minimizing our carbon footprint, as we support the mission to “To become a lead and role model for SLOWING, STOPPING and then REVERSING the growth of greenhouse gas emissions.”

(Shanahan Chua is Corporate Social Responsibility Communications Manager of Unilever Philippines.)

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