How an “Olympic Forest” can accelerate the Great Green Wall

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  • The Great Green Wall is an African initiative that aims to grow a mosaic of trees, vegetation and fertile land across the Sahel by 2030.
  • The Olympic Forest project, a partnership between the IOC and the charity Tree Aid, works with local communities to regenerate and sustainably manage forests.
  • The Olympic forest could represent a model of responsible carbon offsetting, which could be replicated throughout the Great Green Wall.

When the Olympic Games officially opened in Tokyo on July 23, after a year of delay due to the coronavirus pandemic, many saw them as a symbol of hope, unity and solidarity. And proof that we are stronger together.

This same unity and solidarity will now be essential in responding to the intertwined global crises of climate change, biodiversity loss and poverty. And 2021 is certainly a critical year to meet these challenges, with the United Nations Decade for Ecosystem Restoration, the signature of G7 Nature Compact and the 26th COP at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNCFFF) everything on the horizon.


Partnerships built on strong international collaboration and guided by local expertise will be at the heart of these global efforts. Olympic forest, a new initiative of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) – in collaboration with the charity Tree Aid – is an example of this approach.

Launched in June 2021, the project is based on Tree Aid’s experience in the fight against poverty and climate change in the arid zones of Africa and is inspired by the Olympic vision of “building a better world through sport”. The Olympic Forest will also contribute to one of the most important and daring climate solutions: The Great Green Wall of Africa.

The Great Green Wall is an African initiative with epic ambition; grow a mosaic of trees, vegetation and fertile land across the Sahel by 2030. Originally envisioned as an 8,000 km strip of trees, this ambitious project is now much more than that.

The Great Green Wall has become a beacon of hope for the entire Sahel region. But to achieve its goal by 2030, it needs sustainable and continuous investments, visibility and strong multisectoral partnerships.

This is where the Olympic Forest can help. By working with local communities and in particular women, the project will strengthen local capacities for regeneration and sustainable management of forests and land. Using a holistic community approach based on nature, the initiative aims to protect ecosystems, tackle structural inequalities and increase income to strengthen climate resilience.

Map of Senegal and Mali showing the regions where the Olympic Forest project will take place.

Map of Senegal and Mali showing the regions where the Olympic Forest project will take place.

Image: Tree aid

The Olympic Forest will work in 90 villages in Mali and Senegal, the area hardest hit by the climate crisis, but the least able to adapt to it. Temperatures across the Sahel have risen by almost 1 ° C over the past 30 years, nearly double the global average. For the communities living around the Olympic Forest venues, erratic weather conditions with increased droughts and flash floods are causing constant degradation of ecosystems and food sources. This exacerbates the cycle of poverty, increase the vulnerability of rural populations.

Restoring land and ecosystems – a powerful climate solution

The Olympic Forest is part of the The IOC’s broader strategy to become climate positive by 2024. It complements an organizational commitment to reduce emissions by 45% by 2030 in line with the Paris Agreement, offset more than 100% of residual emissions, and use influence to create and inspire climate action. This also comes in addition to the IOC’s decision in March 2020 to have all Olympic Games climate positive from 2030.

The project will involve the planting of approximately 355,000 indigenous and diverse trees to sequester 200,000 tonnes of CO2 over 2,120 ha in Mali and Senegal, or more than 100% of the estimated residual emissions of IOC for the period 2021-2024.

But it’s not about planting trees and walking away.

Carrying out the project on the ground, Tree Aid will use proven agroforestry techniques, governance, restoration and conservation of land and resources make the Olympic forest a high impact and sustainable project. Basically, the work is designed to help communities manage their own lands, so that they are better able to reap the benefits of the environment around them in the most sustainable way. Robust monitoring is at the heart of the project, and we will be working closely with local communities, using GPS tracking and industry standard tree survival rate systems. The entire project will be certified by Plan Vivo.

Neither Tree Aid nor the IOC believe that tree planting is the only answer to the climate crisis. However, we believe it can be a powerful part of the solution, providing ways to fight poverty, store carbon, protect soils and farmland, and build resilience to climate shocks.

Nature-based solutions: investing in innovation

The buzzword “innovation” will be familiar to anyone working in net zero transitions around the world. When politicians or business leaders speak of “climate innovations”, we can think of solar panels, technological start-ups or the creation of laboratories.

But perhaps climate innovations are too often associated with technology, science or engineering alone. Nature-based solutions to the climate crisis rely on the power and ingenuity of our planet’s ecosystems and resources; oceans, wetlands, forests, rivers and soil. Importantly, they also draw on the creativity, knowledge and engagement of global communities working with and around them. And that requires new investments and partnerships that cross borders.

Elvis Paul Tangem of the African Union Commission recently wrote that the future of the Great Green Wall will rest on the capacity for innovation. We couldn’t agree more. While what it looks like on the ground should be shaped and managed by the communities living along its path, as global supporters and beneficiaries of a promising nature-based solution (NbS), we all have a role. to play to help it develop.

To tackle the crises of climate change, loss of nature and increasing poverty even faster, we need urgent integrated solutions. High quality NbS, which rely on protecting and restoring ecosystems, can do just that. The Olympic forest is a real opportunity to show the potential responsible compensation‘to support these efforts.

It is quickly becoming evident to governments, businesses and civil society that initiatives that recognize, protect and finance the restoration of fragile ecosystems protect all of our future, wherever we live in the world.

Above all, the Great Green Wall is an African movement for change in which we can all take part. Contributions to achieving its goals come from all sections of global society – from the farmer choosing agroforestry to improve his crops, to partnerships like the Olympic Forest or the efforts of the national government to reforest entire regions. This is where the reach of carbon credits to help meet the Great Green Wall goals by 2030 becomes very promising.

With the right assessment and learning in place, the Olympic Forest could represent a model of responsible carbon offsetting, which could be replicated throughout the Great Green Wall. This could be a game-changer for large-scale NbS, where carbon sequestration through community land restoration can offer truly mutual gains for local people and other global actors.

Most of the countries of the Global North are still relatively immune to the shocks and effects of climate change. For communities living in the arid zones of Africa, the climate crisis is a daily reality – but it is our entire shared future. New partnerships like the Olympic Forest are realizing this and can hopefully inspire others as we work towards a shared vision of a greener and safer planet.


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