India smashed the record for most trees planted in a day, as 800,000 volunteers worked for 24 hours to plant 80 different species.

Western Ghats – one of India’s biggest forests. Image by Karunakar Rayker

India is taking its part of the Paris Climate Agreement seriously. They have a $6 billion plan to reforest 12 percent of the country’s land and work has already started.

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Trees play a key role in fighting global warming, as they take carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and capture it. Conversely, deforestation releases carbon into the atmosphere. It is estimated that 15% of all greenhouse gas emissions are the result of deforestation. Trees also play a role in clearing out pollutants from the air.

Like many developing countries, India has lost much of its forest cover in the past century, either for firewood, pasture or to make room for development.

So earlier this year, in July, they rounded up volunteers and gave them specially grown saplings. All in all, 49.3 million were planted in a single day. The previous record was 847,275 trees set by Pakistan in 2013. For such massive plantings, the expected survival rate is 60%, so authorities will monitor the trees with aerial photography to see which areas need additional support.

“The world has realized that serious efforts are needed to reduce carbon emissions to mitigate the effects of global climate change,” Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav said at an event promoting the planting.

Still, while this effort is clearly laudable, it’s important to put it into perspective – it’s only a small piece of the puzzle. Edward Parson, environmental law professor at the University of California, told the Christian Science Monitor:

“This initiative can be a step towards progress on some level, but it is at best a small contribution to India’s greater climate commitments.”

“The biggest contribution of this tree planting project is, apart from the tokenism, that it focuses on the major issues,” added Dr. Anit Mukherjee, policy fellow with the Center for Global Development. “It addresses many of the big issues for India: Pollution, deforestation, and land use.”

India isn’t the only country rolling out reforestation programs. In December, African nations pledged to reforest 100 million hectares. In China, extensive replanting programs have existed since the 1970s, with overall success. Still, in a global context, we’re losing much more trees than we’re planting. It has been estimated that about half of the Earth’s mature tropical forests have been destroyed,