How Wales is tackling rainforest destruction

Sarah Jenkinson on a project the size of 2 million rugby pitches that is protecting the breath of life

How often have we heard the alarming news that an area of rainforest the size of Wales is being cut down? Now we are turning a disempowering deforestation measurement on its head, and instead, inspiring a whole nation to protect an area of tropical forest ‘the size of Wales’ or two million rugby pitches, as part of a national response to climate change.

A practical, people-led initiative which matches forest projects in Africa with forest partners in Wales, Size of Wales aims to protect two million hectares of rainforest and forge lasting links with forest communities in Africa.

Trees in the tropics hold the key to slowing down climate change. Annually they absorb nearly a fifth of the world’s man-made CO2 emissions. They are crucial for storing water, regulating rainfall, and preventing floods, droughts and erosion, as well as producing much of the oxygen which we all need to breathe. When you simply fell or burn a tree, it releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. It is the destruction of the rainforest that accounts for a quarter of the world’s carbon emissions. This is more than the entire world’s transport put together. In fact, we could fly the population of Wales to New York and back, twice, and make fewer emissions than is made every single day by rainforest destruction.

In terms of action on climate change, protecting existing tropical forests is a ‘no brainer’. It is, in fact, the cheapest way to cut carbon emissions fast. It will cost $10-$15 billion per year to tackle deforestation globally. This is only a fraction of the overall costs of stabilising global temperatures at the two degree danger threshold. The Stern Review calculates this will cost $650 billion per year (that is 1 per cent of GDP).

It is for these reasons that rainforest protection will be high on the agenda at the UN climate summit in Cancun, Mexico at the end of this month. As ministers, including Environment Minister Jane Davidson AM, attend these crucial talks on carbon reduction targets, Wales has become the first nation in the world to mobilise a ‘hands on’ approach to climate change and forest destruction. We hope the Size of Wales project will raise awareness to the importance of tropical forests in stabilising the global climate and inspire other countries to emulate the model.

The ambitious target of conserving an area of forest the size two million rugby pitches, will not be possible without the support of the people of Wales. At Size of Wales, we are already celebrating the launch of our first fully funded forest project in Uganda. What started as a grass roots community link between Mbale in Uganda and Pontypridd has paved the way for a major project on climate change between the government here and there. As part of this Wales / Mbale partnership the Cardiff-based Waterloo Foundation has given funds for the planting of one million trees as a contribution towards Size of Wales’ two million hectare target. Together with the General Counsel, John Griffiths, I have just returned from the deforested region of Mbale, where we visited small scale tree planting projects, and met with very poor communities already suffering the impacts of climate change and keen to restore tree cover in an area now vulnerable to landslides. We hope the ‘One Million Trees’ initiative in Mbale will inspire other organisations, companies and community groups to get on board.

Since the Prince of Wales launched Size of Wales at the Botanic Garden of Wales in September this year, a range of partners have already embraced the project. They include over 3,550 hectares of rare and biodiverse rainforest in the Rubeho Forest, Tanzania, where Size of Wales partner Deloitte is helping local people in their attempt to save more than 1.7m tonnes of CO2 every year.

Other partners include: the Welsh Government; RSPB Cymru; Countryside Council for Wales; Cynnal Cymru; Environment Agency Wales; Wales Environment Research Hub at the University of Bangor; PONT (Partnerships Overseas Networking Trust); Lampeter-Bore Link and WWF Cymru.

Working closely with Leeds University, we have selected 25 projects in Africa. Now we need businesses or organisations to ‘adopt’ and fund one of these projects. Whether you are a company, charity, local council, school or individual, you can help put Wales on the map by showing what one small nation can do to sustain an area of African rainforest by working with these forest communities on the ground. By directly assisting the sustainable management of forest resources, via a project of your choice, you are also making a significant contribution to reducing global carbon emissions.

Size of Wales was born from discussions at the WalesMillennium Development Goals Task Force as part of Wales’ response to the dual challenges of climate change and international poverty. Forest projects encompass a range of approaches to the challenges of forest loss and forest degradation. Some encourage new tree planting, some are setting up community forest management areas and protected areas within existing forests, and others will be securing forest land rights for local people. For a full list of forest projects visit

The IWA is a supporting member of Size of Wales. Sarah Jenkinson will be speaking on this topic at our Coffee Shop Debate on 1 March at Chapter Arts Centre. For more information about this free event, click here.

Sarah Jenkinson is Development and Communications Director for Size of Wales. 

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