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100 nations pledge to end deforestation by 2030. Environmentalists are skeptical

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

At the climate summit in Glasgow, about 100 governments have signed a pledge to end deforestation by 2030. This is, in theory, a big deal because these governments cover about 85% of the world's forests. A similar agreement in 2014 did very little to slow deforestation. But this time, the U.K. at least seems to be taking the commitment seriously. Willem Marx is in Wales.

WILLEM MARX, BYLINE: The U.K. has far fewer forests than most of Europe, but now a massive new effort seeks to re-blanket Britain with trees.

JIM LEE: We're the largest land manager in England.

MARX: Jim Lee is head of woodland creation at Forestry England, a government agency that aims to plant 5,000 acres of trees in the next five years.

LEE: It's a relatively modest contribution from Forestry England, but it allows us to start on that journey to be a serious force in woodland creation in England.

MARX: Within a few years, U.K. authorities want to be planting an area the size of Manhattan every 10 weeks.

LEE: It's a tenfold increase in woodland creation targets, really. And we've got a government which is foursquare behind that and driving it.

MARX: Is it achievable?

LEE: It is. The offers that we have available are really revolutionizing, I think, the approach to woodland creation in this country.

MARX: The U.K. government set aside almost a billion dollars in subsidies for groups like Forestry England to select suitable sites and then either lease and manage the land themselves or pay landowners to plant trees. This past summer, the ancient city of York bought 150 acres of farmland that it will transform into forest. Paula Widdowson oversees the city's environmental efforts.

PAULA WIDDOWSON: It will be a carbon sink. It's also massive on biodiversity. So the more plants we can get, the more animals we'll get, the more insects we get, the better it is.

MARX: It's a small start, but Widdowson says it will encourage action elsewhere.

WIDDOWSON: If we wanted to mitigate everything that's going on, we would have to do a hundred of these woods. So we've done 1%. However, by putting it up, by making it happen, we've introduced people to the idea they can make a difference.

MARX: When it comes to capturing carbon, not all trees are created equal. Scientists at the Glyndwr forest project in central Wales are trying to get the best bang for their bark. Charles Nicholls is with The Carbon Community, the nonprofit that runs Britain's largest tree carbon capture experiment.

CHARLES NICHOLLS: It really started with a big idea, which is could we make new forest creation fundamentally better at sequestering carbon? And if we could, then all of those national initiatives to plant so many thousands of acres could be made dramatically more effective.

MARX: There are eight treatment zones here with different tree types and soil additions so researchers can identify the best combination for carbon capture.

NICHOLLS: You need to take multiple samples. You need to take them as a baseline before you plant and after you plant. You basically have to burn the sample in order then understand how much energy is in it. And that will tell you how much organic carbon is stored in the soil.

MARX: Elsewhere in Wales, a carbon capture giant from California helps capture young imaginations.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #1: Wait, can I fill it in?

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #2: Let's do it together.

MARX: These kids are planting a Sequoia that could grow 250 feet tall and lock up hundreds of tons of carbon dioxide over thousands of years.

GRAHAM BOND: That talks to me.

MARX: Graham Bond's recently recovered from brain tumor surgery, and he's planting a Sequoia to celebrate life and offset a lifetime of emissions.

BOND: If one tree can soak up 1,400 tons of carbon, it's an amazing thing the planet can do to replenish itself.

MARX: Bond paid around $700 to a for-profit enterprise called One Life One Tree to create the legacy he's leaving on this hillside. The group's Henry Emson says that represents real value for money.

HENRY EMSON: Managing to do something to take out your entire lifetime carbon footprint is an affordable price for the outcome. What I want to see is people thinking more pragmatically around what we can do with the land that we've got to do carbon capture.

MARX: It would take an area twice the size of Britain to plant enough trees to offset all U.K. emissions. But the government here hopes reforesting available land will help them hit their net-zero carbon targets. For NPR News, I'm Willem Marx in Abergavenny, Wales.

(SOUNDBITE OF EPIC45'S "THE STARS IN SPRING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.