Skip to main content
CampaignsEqualityHousingEnvironmentGeneral ElectionSupport Our WorkFixing BritainMigrationEducationRaceCultureWorkGlobal

While COP was talking, K-pop has been planting

Initiatives by K-pop fandoms have planted over 100,000 trees worldwide, making a palpable contribution to offsetting emissions. Now fans up the pressure on Korean record companies to commit to greener operations, and hope global leaders take note. 

November 19 2022, 09.51am

K-pop has been taking the world by storm for years. But now, a new platform offers a birds-eye view of how the K-pop craze has been changing the world in a different way—one tree at a time. 

Over the last few years, various K-pop fandoms worldwide have been planting trees in honour of their favourite pop idols, and  to offset carbon emissions.  Their ongoing collective efforts have recently been documented by KPOP4PLANET, a global climate activist platform launched by K-pop fans, via Fandom 4 Forest initiative, which maps out the number of trees planted by fans in different countries so far. 

The data suggests that global fans of BTS, Blackpink and other major K-pop stars, have planted an impressive 113,824 trees through at least 212 projects across 21 countries. 

These “K-pop forest” trees have reportedly absorbed more than 28,000 tons of carbon dioxide, according to an October 2022 analysis by Dr. Lim Song Tak, the research director of Econetwork, a South Korean environmental specialist consulting firm. The amount absorbed is the equivalent of total carbon emissions from a car travelling around the Earth 7,114 times, according to the analysis. 

In many ways, it came naturally for fiercely dedicated K-pop fans, long known to send gifts to their favorite artists and organize large-scale events to celebrate their milestones, to channel their devotion towards action against climate change. 

While some tree-planting initiatives go back as far as 2012, Nurul Sarifah, who launched KPOP4PLANET  with fellow campaigner Dayeon Lee from South Korea, told The Lead that it was the global pandemic that disrupted fandoms' other events and made them concentrate on environmental action: “During the COVID-19 pandemic, it became harder for fans to continue these practices. That’s when the fans started to undertake charitable activities, including planting new trees. Fans realized the importance of trees for absorbing carbon emissions and protecting habitats worldwide.”

“We aim to harness the activism at the heart of K-pop fan culture to drive governments and corporations to take action and be more ambitious in tackling the climate crisis,” Sarifah said. 

With K-pop fans being made up of mostly millennials and members of Generation Z, the 23-year-old campaigner noted: “We are the generation that is facing the immediate impact of the climate crisis, which is why it is important for us to start taking climate action together.”

Sarifah added that many fans are also based in vulnerable countries that are already being impacted by the climate crisis, experiencing floods, drought, wildfires and extreme weather events. 

So far, the most number of trees have been planted in Indonesia (52,636 trees, mostly mangroves) followed by South Korea (35,377 trees, including oak trees and bridal wreaths) and India (13,483 trees, including mango trees). 

The fandom that’s planted the most trees has been ARMY, the global fanbase of BTS, who has planted 44,508 trees. 

BTS fans 23-year-old Pranavy Yadav and 22-year-old Tulip Khanor, two women based in the Delhi NCR (National Capital Region) part of India, are the administrators of @aesthetics_of_bts (an Indian BTS ARMY fanbase) who organized two planting projects in India. 

Khanor told The Lead their project began to honor the BTS leader, Namjoon : “We started plantation drives for Namjoon's birthday in 2021 because we knew how Namjoon is a nature lover and we wanted to do something that would make him happy and something that would be good for the environment as well—in a way, to give something back after we've received so much from the band.”

“What's amazing for us is that in both our projects, each and every sapling was planted by ARMY volunteers and we are so grateful for our fandom's drive to do good,” she added. 

Yadav told The Lead: “To our surprise, we were able to plant 534 trees even though our aim was to plant 300 trees. What's also fun to note is that 5+3+4 = 12, and we wanted to plant three varieties but ended up planting 12! This truly was all a serendipity for Namjoon and us.”

According to Sarifah, more than 33,000 people from 170 different countries have supported KPOP4PLANET’s six climate action campaigns, such as “No K-pop On a Dead Planet” (calling for a more sustainable K-pop industry) and “Streaming, Heating, Melting” (urging streaming services to go green).

Following a year of campaigning, Sarifah said there’s been some movement in South Korea. SM Entertainment - the Korean management company behind major K-pop artists like EXO, NCT and Red Velvet - joined the UN Global Compact, an initiative encouraging companies to implement sustainability and socially responsible policies. JYP, another major Korean entertainment firm behind groups like Stray Kids and Twice, joined the K-RE100, the Korean arm of the global initiative of companies committed to using 100 percent renewable electricity, and published an ESG (environmental, social and governance) report. 

But KPOP4PLANET is now calling on leaders abroad to take more active steps towards addressing climate change, noting “deforestation and forest degradation continue to occur at alarming rates during the climate crisis,” Sarifah said.

Last week, fans wearing BTS masks joined other youth activists who staged protests during the COP27’s Youth and Future Generations Day event urging leaders to “take bolder action to protect the world’s forests.”

 “In the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration at the UN COP26 summit last year, more than 100 world leaders promised to end and reverse global deforestation by 2030,” Sarifah notes, before pointing out that Brazil - a key signatory of that pledge - massively accelerated its deforestation of the Amazon. “New research has also found that many other Glasgow signatories are failing to meet their commitments to protect the forests,” she added. 

It’s difficult to make a like-for-like comparison between COP and KPOP, of course. The sheer scale doesn’t allow for it. Asked for a definitive figure (or even an approximate one) for the total amount of carbon emissions reduced globally since the COP began in 1995, a spokesperson for the United Nations Climate Change pointed The Lead to several charts showing historical data on various greenhouse gas emission figures outlined across 45 countries in select years from 1990 to 2020 at the UNFCCC website.

But as COP leaders have been setting new targets on a global scale, K-pop fans have been busily taking practical steps at the local level in the efforts towards tackling the climate crisis.  And as COP27 draws to a close, with new goals and initiatives in place, only time will tell what will actually be achieved in the year ahead before the next conference. 

Yadav and Khanor, meanwhile, believe in continuing working on the ground and hoping the global leadership takes note.  “We certainly hope that world leaders will notice these small efforts that youth like us are making all over the world,” they wrote to The Lead. “So that they can learn where the priorities for all 8 billion of us should lie—towards bigger and immediate actions to protect our planet.”