Lipstick on a Fig Tree

A Virtual Dialogue at the World Biodiversity Forum Addressing Why Planting Trees Avoids the Real Problems

About the Session

Tree planting dominates political and popular agendas and is often portrayed as an easy answer to the climate crisis and effective mitigation for corporate carbon emissions. However, it is not a simple solution: Planting the wrong trees in the wrong place can cause considerably more damage than benefits, failing people and nature. Given that the botanical community is currently assessing the conservation status of every tree species on Earth ( and we grow over 18,000 tree species in botanic gardens and arboreta, Botanical Gardens Conservation International (BCGI) and University of British Columbia Botanical Garden (UBCBG) have an important role to play in helping to ensure that the right tree is planted in the right place and that diverse native species are part of tree planting portfolios. Surely it is common sense to incorporate biodiversity, botanical data, and botanical expertise into both the planning and practice of tree planting? This may not be the case.

On the virtual stage of the World Biodiversity Forum, this event saw panelists Dean Meigan Aronson of the University of British Columbia Faculty of Science, Patrick Lewis of the University of British Columbia Botanical Garden, and Paul Smith of Botanic Gardens Conservation International exploring a botanist’s rules of engagement in a rapidly changing world.


UN Sustainable Development Goals Addressed



Firstly, unlike carbon or timber, biodiversity is not a commodity. As long as this remains the case, market-based solutions to the loss of biodiversity are untenable. Secondly, few (if any) governments regard biodiversity as enough of a public good to commoditize it or fund it directly at the levels required. Thirdly, science itself has a credibility problem. Large parts of society completely misunderstand science and see it as a competing belief system or dogma (climate change is a case in point) rather than a process of testing and consensus.


Call to action

So what needs to change? Just about everything. Governments need to recognize biodiversity for the public good that it is and pull every lever at their disposal to either commoditize it or directly pay for it. Society needs to recognize the importance of science in informing the decisions we urgently need to make to ensure life on Earth is sustainable. Science needs to value and reward the practical as well as the intellectual. The botanic garden community needs to put the practical conservation of biodiversity first – in our seed banks, in our living collections, and most importantly, out there in the landscape.


Event Speakers


Event Material

Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) works with partners around the world to save tree species from extinction. In the past five years, BGCI has established and delivered tree conservation projects in 40 countries, conserved 190 threatened tree species, and trained 4,500 people in tree conservation techniques.