Speech of U.S. Ambassador Stephanie Sullivan
at Tree-Planting Ceremony, Sakumono Ramsar Site
Tema, Greater Accra, June 5, 2021
Event Chair, Nii Alabi Bene II, Sakumono Mantse,
Honorable Greater Accra Regional Minister Henry Quartey,
Honorable Member of Parliament Carlos Ahenkorah,
Madam Metropolitan Municipal District Chief Executive Mrs. Adwoa Amoako,
Fellow Heads of Diplomatic Missions and
Representatives of United Nations agencies,
Nii me, Naa me,
Assembly Members of Tema West,
Forestry Commission representatives,
Lions club members,
Representatives of Cargill,
Overseas Commerce Ghana Limited,
and other private sector representatives, members of the media,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
All protocols observed:
It’s an honor to be invited to the Sakumono Ramsar Site today to speak and take part in this tree planting with my diplomatic colleagues, representatives of Ghanaian business,
accomplished musicians and other distinguished guests. In fact, this is my first time coming here.
I commend the Tema Metropolitan West Municipal Assembly, Municipal Chief Executive Ms. Adwoa Amoako, Ghana’s Forestry Commission, and the Waste Segregation & Composting Movement for bringing us together to call attention to the critical need to protect our important wetlands or risk losing a key piece of our biodiversity forever.
While this may be a ceremonial event, it actually represents an ambitious and noble effort by the Government of Ghana to plant 5 million trees during the 2021 planting season.
At this site alone, the local chapter of Lions Club International and others have pitched in over the past couple of weeks to help meet the goal of planting 10,000 trees here in Tema.
I’m sure I can speak on behalf of my diplomatic colleagues and all those gathered today by saying we are proud to have a hand in helping Ghana meet that goal.
And I am also pleased to note that the United States has rejoined the Paris Climate Agreement.
There are three simple but important questions I would like to address in my remarks today:
First: Why plant trees?
Second: Why plant them here?
And Third: Why plant them today?
First, it is no coincidence that trees are called the lungs of the Earth because, quite literally, they help the planet and the humans on the planet breathe. Living trees absorb carbon dioxide,
the most prominent of the greenhouse gases, and are a critical tool in our fight against climate change. By taking carbon out of the air, trees help slow the rise in global warming.
Today, forests are under threat on so many fronts:
– Rapid urbanization and the need for more housing for a growing population.
– The need for more agricultural land to feed more people. – The desire for economic development and exploitation of land for timber harvesting, mining, cocoa production, or oil palm plantations.
– Changing climate patterns that bring less rainfall less often.
These all lead to the loss of tree cover. It is all part of a vicious cycle that threatens life as we know it.
As we lose trees to cutting or climate change, we lose the ability to take planet-warming carbon dioxide out of the air. That in turn leads to a warmer climate, less rainfall, worse air quality, and loss of more trees.
And on and on it goes.
The goal of 5 million trees set by the Government of Ghana is ambitious. But it is necessary.
The nongovernmental organization Global Forest Watch estimates that between 2001 (when my family and I last departed Ghana) and 2020, Ghana lost about 1.3 million hectares of tree cover, an area equivalent to about half of the Ashanti Region. That means in 2020, there was 19 percent less tree cover compared to two decades earlier.
With that loss of trees, Global Forest Watch says, Ghana lost the capacity to absorb 676 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide, equal to the annual emissions from more than 141 million automobiles. A critical component of the world’s arsenal to combat climate change is gone.
Today, with these seedlings, we are doing our part to reverse that trend. But it will take a concerted effort on the part of citizens, political and traditional leaders, international development partners, and private enterprise to ensure we win the fight by pursuing sustainable policies for resource development.
We cannot continue to exploit our natural forests for financial gain without careful planning and oversight and a commitment to reforest, if we suffocate the planet in the process.
Second, it is fitting that we are undertaking this tree-planting here at the Sakumono Lagoon.
This site of 1,400 hectares was designated an internationally important wetland site in 1992 under the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, a treaty negotiated under the auspices of UNESCO and signed in 1971 in Ramsar, Iran.
Over 70 waterbird species, estimated to number 30,000 birds, depend on the Site’s resources during migratory and reproduction periods.
Today, this wetland is under threat. The area has one of the highest urban growth-rates within the coastal zone. Because of human activity in and around the lagoon, the site has become polluted from waste water and solid waste, and it can serve as a conduit carrying plastic waste into the sea.
I note that less than three years ago – in September 2018 – the Forestry Commission pledged to demolish illegal structures that had been built on the site to stop the encroachment. According to one news report, the commission estimated at the time that some 620 acres of forest had been razed.
The spread of urbanization, if allowed to continue, will threaten the entire lagoon and disrupt the lives of tens of thousands of migratory birds,a vital part of the ecosystem.
And just two years ago, a conference of the parties to a UN convention on land-based marine pollution called for enhanced protections of marine ecosystems. That was a call to action.
Third, let me note the importance of the day. Today, June 5, is not only World Environment Day, but it is the beginning of what the UN Environment Program has termed “The Decade of Ecosystem Restoration.”
So why bother to restore the ecosystem? According to the UN Environment Program, biodiversity loss is already costing the global economy 10 percent of its output each year.
So it’s not just a question of saving nature for the sake of saving nature. It’s a question of saving nature for the sake of saving humanity and our ability to live healthy and prosperous lives.
In launching The Decade of Ecosystem Restoration, the UN implored:
Quote: “This is our moment. We cannot turn back time. But we can grow trees, green our cities, rewild our gardens, change our diets and clean up rivers and coasts.
We are the generation that can make peace with nature.
…Let’s get active, not anxious. Let’s be bold, not timid.”
This is our call to action.
Are you ready to plant some trees?
Thank you for your kind attention.