Who remembers Arbor Day, June 5 every year? I have very fond memories of it as a schoolboy at Napier Central, which has now had five generations of my family pass through its doors.
Like treasured family histories, some traditions are worth keeping. One of those is Arbor Day. As Forestry Minister, I am backing a new initiative that will see thousands of primary school children get the chance to plant native trees in their communities.
The initiative is open to more than 2400 primary schools. It is a partnership between Te Uru Rākau/NZ Forest Service and the conservation charity Trees That Count. Every primary school will be offered five native trees to plant, through the new Trees for Schools programme.
Kiwis have celebrated Arbor Day for more than 130 years, since the first tree-planting ceremonies in Greytown in the winter of 1890. Many community groups keep the tradition alive on June 5 every year but it has not been widely promoted in the past few years.
We want to bring back the celebration of Arbor Day across the country as part of our push towards a sustainable and low-carbon future. Tree planting is one of the best ways to slow the effects of climate change, restore and enhance the environment and improve biodiversity.
This is connected to the report this week from the Climate Change Commission. It's a big report – well over 400 pages, so read it online to save paper! My "too long, didn't read" summary for you is as follows:
The Commission has confirmed we are making good progress to reduce emissions, but a "step-up" is now required. It says we are taking action to reduce emissions in all the right areas.
It says the transition to a low emissions future will create jobs and new opportunities for Kiwi businesses. Signalling our direction now will provide business with certainty to invest in new technology or processes. This report is about a 30-year transition.
It's achievable and progress is being made. Delaying action will only make the transition harder and more expensive. If we don't take action now, it will cost us 2.3 per cent of GDP by 2050, almost double the cost to our economy of acting now.
Looking ahead 30 years and recognising future decision-makers, we particularly want to encourage children to adopt Arbor Day. The trees we plant and the actions we take now will influence their lives.
By planting trees, they learn more about the importance of the environment for our way of life, culture and economy. It is estimated around 10,000 native trees could be planted this year as a result of the new Arbor Day programme.
Native birds and insects thrive in our indigenous forests, tree planting protects waterways and prevents erosion in rural and provincial New Zealand. Exotic trees also contribute around $7 billion in annual export revenue - the third-largest primary sector by value.
Forestry and wood processing create jobs, training and skills opportunities and keep up the momentum of economic recovery in our regions. Greater use of wood in our buildings and innovative products and industries can also support our drive to a low-carbon future.
Schools who wish to be part of the Arbor Day initiative should register an interest before June 30 through a new portal on the website of Trees That Count. Trees will be delivered to schools from July onwards. The portal is https://www.treesthatcount.co.nz/forschools
Whether you're a student, teacher, a farmer, a landowner, a community group or iwi, or a gardener supporting your local nursery, I would like to encourage every New Zealander to get involved in reviving the traditions started by Arbor Day, to plant trees.
* Stuart Nash is MP for Napier