Plantation and Preservation: Pakistan’s Weapon against Climate Change

Author Name: Ali Haider Saleem       17 Aug 2021     Environment

In the lead up to the UN Climate Change conference (COP26), the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has released its report and issued dire warning regarding the severity of environmental challenges faced by our planet, and it urges world leaders to implement plans to bring down carbon emissions. Greenpeace UK’s Chief Scientist, Doug Parr, warns that ‘we don’t need more pledges, commitments and targets - we need real action right here right now.’

While many leaders around the world have not fully endorsed the Paris Agreement, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan has been advocating for climate change mitigation for many years and has also taken several initiatives to curtail the threat. The most notable of his actions in this regard is a nationwide tree-plantation campaign.

Pakistan is considered a forest-poor country, since human activities have been detrimental to their growth, while the arid and semi-arid regions are not conducive for growth of forests. Whereas the global average is 422 trees per person, Pakistan only has five. According to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), ‘population boom coupled with poverty and lack of awareness has led to illegal and unsustainable logging, overharvesting of wood for fuel and charcoal, and increased small-scale farming that continues to reduce the forest cover of Pakistan.’ Depletion of forests has exposed Pakistan to severe natural and economic losses. For an agriculture-intensive economy, excessive deforestation is calamitous as it leads to increased soil erosion, silting of reservoirs and increased variability of water flows.

Realizing the massive scale of deforestation in the country, Pakistan launched the Billion Tree Tsunami campaign in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) province after the 2013 elections. The milestone of planting a billion trees across the province was achieved in August 2017 and earned worldwide acclaim. By doing so, the government of KPK also fulfilled its commitment to the Bonn Challenge which targeted restoring 150 million hectares worldwide by 2020.

The project also boosted local economy as 13000 private nurseries were set up across the province. This made way for greater community involvement in the project, which was identified as a key factor in the project’s success. The 10-Billion Trees Tsunami Project builds on the success of this earlier model and its objective is to ‘revive Forest and Wildlife resources… improve overall conservation of existing protected areas, encourage eco-tourism, engage local communities,’ and generate green jobs.

Trees provide multiple benefits which include carbon storage, improvement in air quality and protection against soil erosion. The increase in forest cover also serves as a barrier against landslides and floods so it is much needed for Pakistan as it has frequently suffered from natural calamities. For example, the economic loss inflicted by the 2010 floods was estimated to be USD43 billion. Many cities across the country have seen their green spaces vanish and are struggling with pollution. Rapid urbanization and increase in number of vehicles has also affected the environment adversely.

Akira Miyawaki observed that modern cities will not allow the necessary time needed for traditional forests to be restored, and so he came up with a faster method to restore forests in urban settings. Under the 10-billion tree tsunami project, Prime Minister Imran Khan is also extending the Miyawaki method in Pakistan. 18 Miyawaki forests have been developed in Islamabad, while 160,000 saplings will be planted over an area of 100 kanals in Lahore, which will considerably improve the environment of these cities. According to the Ministry of Climate Change, the key advantages provided by this forest are faster growth rate, greater density and capacity to absorb significantly more carbon emissions. Moreover, these saplings will grow organically which will eliminate the harmful effects of pesticides and fertilizers.

The Miyawaki method has proven to be a success in different parts of the world. In 2000, the approach was adopted in an Italian town where traditional methods failed to reverse deforestation. Within a few years, significant improvement in tree cover and biodiversity was observed.

Along with nationwide tree plantation, it is necessary to conserve the present natural resources and forests that are under threat from growing human activities. In Sindh, mangrove forests cover ~600,000 hectares, but rising population and reduction in freshwater from the Indus River have damaged their ecosystem. Mangroves are a critical defense against natural disasters along coastal areas and provide protection to communities living nearby. They are also rich in biodiversity and a source of livelihood. If Karachi continues to expand without adequate regulations then it would be devastating for the coastal environment.

In 1933, former US President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order which led to plantation of 3 billion trees and creation of parks that are still proving valuable for the US economy and conservation efforts. He famously said, ‘forests are the lungs of our land, purifying the air and giving fresh strength to our people.’ Given the magnitude of the climate crisis and Pakistan’s vulnerability to it, forests must be established and protected as part of our economic security.

 

The author is a researcher at the Centre for Aerospace & Security Studies (CASS). He can be reached at cass.thinkers@gmail.com.

 

Image Source:  Climate change: Planting trees in Pakistan during the lockdown. The Brussels Times. May 17, 2020.