AstraZeneca pledges $400m to fight deforestation

Maksim Shutov

AstraZeneca has said it will plant 200 million trees across six continents by 2030 in an effort to fight escalating rates of deforestation around the globe that is contributing to climate change and loss in biodiversity.

The drugmaker is committing $400 million to the AZ Forest project and expanding its scope, with new planting projects in Brazil, India, Vietnam, Ghana, and Rwanda, in addition to existing programmes in Australia and Indonesia.

The move comes as concern about the pace of deforestation is rising, with new research from environmental group Forest Pulse showing that 4.1 million hectares of tropical primary forest were lost last year to logging and wildfires linked to climate change.

That is equivalent to 11 football fields every minute and a 10% increase on the destruction recorded in 2021, according to Forest Pulse, and produced 2.7 gigatonnes (Gt) of carbon dioxide emissions, which is around the same as India’s annual fossil fuel emissions.

Depressingly, that loss came right after the COP26 summit in the UK in 2021 saw the heads of 145 countries vow to halt and reverse forest loss by the end of the decade.

AZ’s project is singlehandedly trying to contribute to that effort with a project that spans more than 100,000 hectares and involves some of the countries worst affected by deforestation.

AZ Forest was first started in 2020 with the aim of planting 50 million trees by 2025, with the effort well underway in Australia, Indonesia, Ghana, the UK, the US, and France. Crucially, the project isn’t just about tree numbers – its aim is focused on a wide range of tree species as well, with around 300 different types used to restore biodiversity and natural habitats.

“The twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss are damaging the planet and harming human health,” said AZ’s chief executive, Pascal Soriot.

“Through AZ Forest, we are working with local communities and ecological experts to deliver reforestation at scale, as well as support biodiversity and sustain livelihoods,” he added.

“We are taking a science-based approach, and AZ Forest will remove around 30 million tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere over about 30 years.”

That ties into AZ’s Ambition Zero Carbon initiative, which has the target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) from its operations and fleet by 98% by 2026. Adding in the forestation programme will help AZ “remove its residual emissions from the atmosphere from 2030 onwards,” said the company.

In a related move, AZ has also joined forces with the European Forest Institute (EFI) and Circular Bioeconomy Alliance (CBA) to publish a playbook for sustainable, resilient, and locally appropriate landscape regeneration, helping other organisations follow its lead.

Pharma is one of the world’s biggest contributors to climate change, and the industry is increasingly understanding that it is morally obliged to adapt its processes and operations.

Photo by Maksim Shutov on Unsplash.