Irish missionaries champion 'great green wall' to boost parched African region
Irish missionaries are spearheading a bid to plant a million trees as part of the re-greening of one of Africa's most parched regions.
The Republic has been invited by the United Nations to take a leadership role in helping deliver the Great Green Wall and combat desertification in a massive swathe of land south of the Sahara known as the Sahel.
The Laudato Tree Project, run by the Society of African Missions (SMA), hopes to create a lasting legacy from the Pope's visit to Ireland this August.
President Michael D Higgins is expected to deliver a major speech on the issue of desertification and the country's response in Dublin on Monday.
Don Mullan, a spokesman for the Society of African Missions (SMA), said: "As the emerald island, Africa's Great Green Wall gives Ireland an opportunity to establish a new beginning and demonstrate a new commitment to achieving promises made during the Paris Accord."
Africa's green wall, when completed, will span 13 countries. It will measure 8,000km long (4,970 miles) and 15km wide (nine miles).
The UN's proposal would also involve schools, parishes and community groups in planting trees in Ireland, increasing biodiversity and contributing to atmospheric improvement.
Mr Mullan added: "We will be asking the government to consider matching every tree we plant in Ireland with 5-10 along the Great Green Wall."
The project takes its name from a 2015 papal encyclical by Pope Francis, Laudato Si', on caring for the environment, and is intended to be a visible expression of the encyclical's intervention.
The Pontiff is visiting Ireland this summer as part of the World Meeting of Families in Dublin.
Mr Mullan said: "We are hoping that this will become a legacy project for the World Meeting of Families with the hope that the groups coming will bring the idea of the Laudato Tree Project back to their respective countries with the intention of increasing biodiversity at home while championing the cause of Africa's Great Green Wall.
"We are hoping this might become a world movement in support of Africa."
The executive secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, Monique Barbut, will meet the president and members of the government this week.
Mr Mullan added: "The UN have put forward a major proposal to Ireland in terms of taking a leadership role in Europe and the international stage in helping progress, develop and accomplish the Great Green Wall."
He said: "Unlike the wall proposed along the US-Mexican border, this is a wall the whole world can believe in."
"It is about combating global warming and helping to provide food, jobs and a future for the millions of people who live in a region that is on the frontline of climate change."
Ireland has one of the lowest forest coverage levels in Europe and Mr Mullan said that needed to be increased to promote biodiversity and as a statement of intent that Ireland is serious about meeting its greenhouse targets and delivering on commitments made during the Paris Accord.
He and his colleagues are pressing for government support as a way of redressing perceived shortcomings surrounding green energy use.
A range of views have been expressed about whether Ireland is on track to meet its 2020 renewable energy targets.
Irish government chief whip Joe McHugh is to co-ordinate a high-level ministerial meeting this week in Dublin with those behind the plan.
He said: "This is a hugely ambitious project and when you think about it, it's exactly the type of global response that's needed to tackle climate change.
"I've seen the impact on rural communities in Africa and at the heart of it it's about protecting life and preserving livelihoods and communities in some of the hardest hit parts of the planet.
"It's time to open our hearts and minds to big ideas like this."