Nestled within the heart of the Eastern Himalayas lies a monumental reforestation and conservation endeavour, ‘The Great People’s Forest’ (GPF), that aims to raise $1 billion to plant one billion trees. This ambitious initiative, which was first announced at G20 in India earlier this year, aims to restore one million hectares of land across Northeast India, Bhutan, Bangladesh, and Nepal.
Announcing the initiative at COP28, Saurav Malhotra, CEO of Ballipara Foundation, said, “Commencing Spring 2024, we will work together across India, Bhutan, Nepal and Bangladesh from the mountains to the mangroves across the Eastern Himalayas. In this first phase of work, we will plant 20 million trees restore and protect 61 thousand hectares of land and benefit 178,000 people.”
The Great People’s Forest is an immediate call to action over the looming specter of climate change that casts an ominous shadow over the region’s future. By 2050, a third of the Himalayan glaciers face potential extinction due to climate-induced alterations, spelling catastrophic consequences for those dependent on the life-giving rivers fed by these glaciers. The initiative also delves into the crucial role of forests in safeguarding communities. Under the GPF, a new Rural Futures Fellowship will train young leaders from rural and indigenous communities across the Eastern Himalayas to become next generation environmental leaders.
The Great People’s Forest is led in partnership by Conservation International and Balipara Foundation working with Friendship NGO, Bhutan Ecological Society, Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment, Bhutan Trust Fund for Environmental Conservation and TERI – The Energy and Resources Institute.
“All work will prioritise the lives and livelihoods of local people, and will be underpinned by a rigorous science agenda to monitor the impact and share knowledge as the Great People’s Forest Project grows to the ultimate aim of 1 billion trees and 1 million hectares of land,” added Saurav Malhotra.
Inspired by India’s G20 Presidency theme of ‘One Earth, One family, One future’, this unified endeavour will also allow local conservationists to magnify their efforts in safeguarding and restoring their precious lands and forests. A series of pivotal events took place at COP28, driving the agenda for The Great People’s Forest initiative. Starting with an action-focused panel at Expo City Dubai on December 4, the momentum continued with a high-level event hosted by the COP28 Presidency on ‘Nature, Land Use, and Ocean Day’ on December 9. The same day, restoration plans were further highlighted at the national pavilion of Bhutan in collaboration with the Bhutan Ecological Society and Bhutan Trust Fund for Environmental Conservation.