How Planting Trees Helps All 17 Sustainable Development Goals

Meaghan Weeden | September 25, 2020 | 6 min read


IIn 2015, the UN established a set of Sustainable Development Goals to help businesses and governments build a more equitable and sustainable world. Since then, we’ve seen progress on every goal — but we have a long way to go. As we consider the full breadth of challenges and solutions, one surprising opportunity stands out as having the potential to positively impact ALL 17 Sustainable Development Goals: land restoration.

According to a report by the International Resource Panel (IRP), a global scientific panel hosted by the United Nations Environment Program, well-planned reforestation and related land restoration activities have a cross-sectional benefit. 


UN Sustainable Development Goal #1

1. Goal #1: No Poverty

Because 3 billion of the world’s poor live on less than $2.50/day and depend almost entirely on productive land for their livelihoods, reforestation can improve their lives by providing immediate employment, increasing the land's ability to produce food and building materials over time, and protecting infrastructure from extreme weather events.

Any efforts to eradicate poverty, then, should include building a solid foundation of healthy, well-managed forests, watersheds, and soils. 

UN Sustainable Development Goal #2

Goal #2: Zero Hunger

36% of cropland, forest, and pasture systems are experiencing declining productivity, which is bad news for the over 2.5 billion people that depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. This is a key driver of global hunger and food insecurity.

Restoring degraded forests, planting trees, and promoting sustainable agriculture through agroforestry in agricultural areas can address hunger by improving economic well-being and protecting the livelihoods of smallholder farmers.

UN Sustainable Development Goal #3

Goal #3: Good Health and Well-Being

Reforestation can improve human health by providing sustainable, high quality supplies of food and water over time — and by reducing the incidence and transmission of diseases. 

And the tree benefits don’t stop there: in addition to health benefits, forests provide traditional remedies and key ingredients in 25% of all western medicines. An added bonus is that spending time in or near them has been shown to significantly improve mental health. There's even a term for this: forest bathing

UN Sustainable Development Goal #4

4. Goal #4: Quality Education

In addition to providing jobs and restoring landscapes, many of our partners educate the reforestation communities about topics like sustainable agroforestry, land use practices, site monitoring, and micro-economics.

We’ve seen that planting trees and maintaining them directly promotes education by increasing incomes and reducing the time spent securing basic necessities like food and fuelwood. This gives parents more time and money to educate their children. 

UN Sustainable Development Goal #5

5. Goal #5: Gender Equality

Degraded landscapes with reduced ecosystem services place severe strain on the ability of women to get water, collect fuelwood, and gather food. 

Naturally, reforestation improves gender equity and empowers women by increasing their access to quality nutrition and improving their overall food security. By partnering with women-run and women-integrative cooperatives, we build on that empowerment by helping women restore their local landscapes and increase their family incomes with agroforestry crops. 

UN Sustainable Development Goal #6

6. Goal #6: Clean Water and SANITATION

Water is life, and access to clean, plentiful water could significantly improve the lives of approximately 2 billion people that experience water stress due to pollution and forest and wetland degradation.

Due to the links between land management and the water cycle — and the key role that trees play in capturing, filtering, and retaining water — reforestation can significantly improve water supplies. 

UN Sustainable Development Goal #7

7. Goal #8: Decent Work and Economic Growth

Name any energy source, and its extraction and infrastructure likely has a land impact, but bioenergy undoubtably has a larger deforestation footprint than wind, solar, and fossil fuels.

Reforestation and sustainable land management, then, can significantly improve their sustainability by reducing reforestation pressure on ecologically priceless primary forests. And it can also help to heal the land degradation impacts of mining for coal, gas, and petroleum-based fuels. 

UN Sustainable Development Goal #8

8. Goal #8: Decent Work and Economic Growth

Throughout history, human societies and economies have grown on the back of healthy ecosystems that provide food, fuel, and clean water — and little about that has changed today.

From collecting seed to growing and planting seedlings, managing projects, monitoring planting sites, and growing food crops via sustainable agroforestry, reforestation both directly and indirectly generates jobs and economic activity — and can have a profound impact on local economies. 

UN Sustainable Development Goal #9

10.Goal #9: Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure

The development of “quality, reliable, sustainable, and resilient infrastructure” requires healthy forests and land that is managed and restored sufficiently to minimize flooding, landslides, dust storms, and other threats.

Degrading land and deferring maintenance burdens new and existing infrastructure, shortening its life-span and minimizing its long-term effectiveness. In contrast, healthy ecosystems will support and complement them. That's where the simple act of planting trees can help create healthy thriving communities.

UN Sustainable Development Goal #10

10. Goal #10: Reduced Inequalities

Inequality often leads to land degradation as disadvantaged communities cut down forests for fuelwood, hunt wildlife for food, and clear land for agriculture.

On the other hand, reforestation can increase incomes, make land more productive, and reduce the need for migration to more fertile lands.

Done correctly, planting trees it’s a win-win for people and the planet!

UN Sustainable Development Goal #11

11. Goal #11: Sustainable Cities and Communities

Planting trees can help to restore important ecosystem services in urban and suburban areas — and the rural areas that supply them with food, water, energy, and raw building materials.

When water, soil, and air quality are improved, environmental risks and impacts like flash floods, respiratory illnesses, and the UHI effect are reduced. And reclaiming brownfield areas for urban forests can increase urban resilience and take pressure off of rural habitats, too.

UN Sustainable Development Goal #12

12. Goal #12: Responsible Consumption and Production

Reforestation and forest science have key roles to play in developing more sustainable ways to produce and extract agricultural goods, forest products, energy, and minerals from the land.

The interconnectedness and availability of resources informs decisions and drives innovation, helping us to do and be better.

UN Sustainable Development Goal #13

13. Goal #13: Climate Action

Healthy trees cool the planet by absorbing and storing harmful particulate pollutants and GHGs — in fact, a mature tree can absorb an average of 22lbs of CO2 per year.

Planting trees can increase the resilience of ecosystems, help minimize climate change effects, and buy people and governments time to adapt to changing conditions. Planting native seedlings in ecologically appropriate areas can also counteract soil and biodiversity loss and improve human well-being. 

UN Sustainable Development Goal #14

14. Goal #14: Life Below Water

Everything is connected — and that goes for terrestrial and oceanic ecosystems, too! In fact, everything that happens on land has implications for oceans — including surface run-off, sediment flows, and atmospheric emissions.

Land restoration then, reduces pressures on these underwater ecosystems, allowing them to keep providing economic and social benefits for coastal communities. That's what our Pacific Northwest reforestation project is all about: plant trees for the orcas!

UN Sustainable Development Goal #15

15. Goal #15: Life on Land

Reforestation and conservation are essential to building a better, more sustainable future where poverty is reduced, food and water are available, biodiversity is safeguarded, and sustainable livelihoods are possible.

Healthy forests = happy people!

UN Sustainable Development Goal #16

16. Goal #16: Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions

When land is degraded and food supplies run low, human populations necessarily focus on basic survival, which can lead to resource conflict and competition.

This “rush” then drives further degradation and deforestation. Restoring forests can help to reverse these trends and reduce the likelihood of clashing between communities. 

UN Sustainable Development Goal #17

17. Goal #17: Partnerships for the Goals

Reforestation can foster partnerships between organizations and governments, allowing local initiatives to be scaled up to regional, national, and so on.

The relationships that are built by working together to plant trees can make all of the difference in getting access to funding and other resources. 

See what we mean about how land restoration has a ripple effect of benefits? Not bad for a bunch of trees!

While it's true that a newly planted forest will never be quite the same as the one that was lost, what is possible is facilitating land restoration in degraded forests so that they are once again able to shelter biodiversity and provide ecosystem services like cleaning the air, capturing and filtering rainwater, and sequestering carbon.

Restoration looks different for every project and the ideal solution is largely dependent on the land’s history, condition, potential uses, and likely impacts of climate change and other stressors.

Inspired by all that trees can do? Plant a tree with us today!

Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most
Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most
Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most
Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most
Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most
Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most
Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most
Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most
Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most
Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most
Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most
Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most

Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most

As the need for reforestation is global and ever-changing, we feature where trees are most needed now. For Treecember, we're planting trees that support a global forest fire recovery fund. Learn more

With your help, we will:

  • Reforest lands damaged by record-setting fires
  • Support healthy habitat for iconic biodiversity
  • Plant tree species that will help reduce future fire impact
  • This holiday season, we’re planting trees in areas around the world that have been severely affected by forest fires and aren't able to recover a healthy ecosystem on their own. The most common naturally-caused wildfires occur during droughts or dry weather, and under these circumstances, trees and other vegetation are converted to flammable fuel. Human-caused forest fires can be a result of various activities like unregulated slash and burn agriculture, equipment failure or engine sparks, and discarded cigarettes.

    After wildfires, reforestation is essential in areas where the fire intensity burned off available seed supply within the soil, and/or where there are not enough healthy trees still growing and producing new seeds nearby. Reforestation starts once professional assessments have been made to determine where human intervention would be the most ecologically beneficial. Help restore these vital ecosystems by planting a tree. 🌿
  • Every year, forest fires are increasing in size and severity, damaging vital ecosystems and creating a need for millions of trees. Some major consequences of forest fires include significant loss of wildlife, loss of vegetation, soil erosion, air pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions.

    With so much fire damage, reforestation is essential to catalyze the environmental recovery process. The trees are carefully planted to prevent invasive species from colonizing burn scars and restore quality habitat for native biodiversity. One Tree Planted is connecting with on-the-ground partners to establish viable reforestation projects when the recently affected regions are ready for planting. This fund will contribute to planting projects in British Columbia, Idaho, Ghana, Portugal, and beyond. Let's get to work! 🌲
  • A personalized tree certificate (see gallery) to say thanks for your donation. We'll also send you updates about this project, so you can track the impact your trees are having on the community and environment.
  • To maximize the impact of your donation, our partners on the ground will determine the most appropriate species of tree and shrubs. We only plant native tree species that will restore the local ecosystem, re-establish wildlife habitat, and reduce the likelihood of future fires.

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