UNITED KINGDOM — Pascal Soriot, the CEO of AstraZeneca, the largest pharmaceutical company in Britain, has sounded the alarm on the detrimental effects of climate change and biodiversity loss on the planet and human health.
In response to these pressing issues, AstraZeneca has unveiled a bold plan to invest US$400 million (£310 million) in planting 200 million trees by 2030.
This ambitious tree-planting program stands as one of the largest initiatives of its kind worldwide. In 2020, AstraZeneca initially committed to planting and maintaining over 50 million trees by the end of 2025.
To date, they have successfully planted 10.5 million trees comprising 300 different species across various regions, including Australia (in collaboration with Aboriginal communities), Indonesia, Ghana, the UK, the US, and France.
Expanding on their earlier commitment, AstraZeneca has now allocated a substantial investment of US$400 million towards reforestation efforts, with a primary objective of planting more than 200 million trees by 2030 and ensuring their long-term survival.
The new trees will be planted in Brazil, Vietnam, Ghana, Rwanda, and India, countries that harbor crucial tropical forests known for their significant carbon dioxide absorption capabilities. These regions play a vital role in the global fight against climate change.
Disturbingly, deforestation escalated last year, resulting in the clearance of an area equivalent to the size of Switzerland from pristine rainforests, despite the world leaders’ pledge at the 2021 Cop26 summit to halt such destruction.
Figures from the World Resources Institute and the University of Maryland reveal that forest loss in tropical regions increased by 10% compared to 2021.
This rampant deforestation contributed to a staggering 2.7 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, equivalent to the annual fossil fuel emissions of India.
AstraZeneca’s tree-planting initiative aims to remove an estimated 30 million tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, contributing to global efforts to combat climate change.
Additionally, the company intends to offset a portion of the carbon emissions generated by its supply chain contractors, as part of its commitment to achieving net-zero emissions by 2045.
To ensure accountability and avoid double counting, AstraZeneca will share carbon credits with the governments of the countries where the trees are planted.
While carbon-offsetting schemes have gained increased scrutiny due to concerns that many projects fail to have a tangible positive impact on the climate, scientists are urging urgent reform in the unregulated system.
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In light of this, Pascal Soriot, the CEO of AstraZeneca, emphasized the detrimental impact of climate change and biodiversity loss on the planet and human health.
He made these statements ahead of an event during London Climate Week, chaired by former Bank of England governor Mark Carney.
As part of its commitment to addressing these crises, AstraZeneca announced plans to invest in reforestation projects, which not only create local employment opportunities but also support up to 80,000 livelihoods.
To ensure transparency and accountability, AstraZeneca will collaborate with NGOs and subject its projects to auditing and assessment by independent experts, including the European Forest Institute.
Recognizing the importance of planting the right tree species in suitable locations and monitoring their progress over the years, Soriot highlighted that AstraZeneca’s approach goes beyond simply planting “the same trees … in big lines.”
The company aims to restore biodiversity, incorporating a diverse range of 300 tree and plant species. By doing so, AstraZeneca seeks to recreate forests in their natural states, considering the unique characteristics of each country and even regional variations within countries, as exemplified in Australia.
AstraZeneca intends to leverage advanced technologies in its reforestation efforts. Drones will be used to assess tree growth and health, while high-resolution satellite imagery will monitor the condition of trees and the impact of the projects on water, soil, and carbon stocks.
While tree-planting initiatives can effectively sequester carbon from the atmosphere, many projects fail to track tree survival rates.
A global review of tropical and subtropical tree-planting initiatives since 1961 revealed that out of the reported 1.4 billion trees planted by various organizations, only 18% mentioned monitoring, and a mere 5% measured survival rates.
Experts often argue in favor of natural regeneration, where trees grow from naturally fallen seeds in situ, as it tends to result in higher survival rates compared to planted trees, despite being a slower process.
Research indicates that natural forest restoration without tree planting can absorb up to 40 times more carbon than plantation-based approaches.
However, businesses are unlikely to claim these natural regeneration schemes as offsets.
Soriot acknowledged the potential of natural regeneration but explained that the areas AstraZeneca is working in are typically highly degraded, making it impractical for trees to recolonize naturally within reasonable timeframes, if at all.