tree planting drive is being replicated all over Pakistan, where the government aims to plant 10 billion trees with the help of local communities.
On her first foray into tree planting drive, Laiba Atika forgot a key item — a shovel, which her mom later fetched.
But the 17-year-old is clear about why she is leading volunteers in the northern Pakistani city of Mardan to plant dozens of pine trees in a scrubby park.
“It’s our duty as citizens,” she says in formal English, “to implement actions that can make planet a better place to live in.”
Atika’s tree-planting drive is being replicated all over Pakistan, where the government aims to plant 10 billion trees over five years with the help of local communities. The reforestation initiative is central to a wide-ranging plan the Pakistani government recently adopted to change practices and cut emissions that drive climate change.
Like most developing nations, Pakistan is not a big emitter of heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But developing countries suffer harm disproportionate to their historically low emissions. Climate-fueled extreme weather events, from floods to droughts, could displace or kill tens of thousands of people, straining government resources and threatening political stability.
That urgency has prompted some nations, such as Pakistan, to craft ambitious plans to reduce emissions, even as the world’s second-largest emitter, the United States, shrugs off serious climate action.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan “knows the implications of climate change and is willing to take the lead in putting Pakistan on a green trajectory,” says Malik Amin Aslam, a senior climate change adviser to Khan and the leading proponent of the new policies.
Alongside tree planting, the government announced a new electric vehicle policy this summer and plans to get two-thirds of its electricity from wind, solar and hydropower by 2030. “That is a genuine step up in ambition for renewable energy,” says Simon Nicholas, an energy finance analyst who follows Pakistan at the U.S.-based Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis.
But the problems that have long hobbled Pakistan threaten its new climate goals, too, environmental activists say. Plans are undermined by corruption and lax implementation, according to Afia Salam, an activist in Karachi. Environmentalists point to other ambitious policies the government announced since it took power, such as a ban on plastic bags in Islamabad, which has gone widely ignored.
Khan’s own broad-tent party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, includes powerful business interests that have carved out loopholes for themselves from the climate policies.
“What Pakistan has done, despite resource constraint, is aspirational for many countries,” Salam says. But she adds, “There’s so many conflicting interests within the party itself.”
The world’s fifth most populous country, Pakistan is one of the most vulnerable to global warming. Already, summer temperatures in its southern cities often surpass 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Rainfall has grown more erratic, and in August, unprecedented monsoon rains drowned parts of Pakistan’s largest city, Karachi, turning roads into rivers and killing dozens of people across the country.
Northern glaciers nestled in mountains are the country’s main water source, and they are melting faster than ever. Highland communities now face occasional water shortages and flash flooding that sweeps away their lands. If the growth of global greenhouse gas emissions continues on its present trajectory, the water supply for Pakistan’s 220 million people will be imperiled within 50 years, scientists say.
“This is, in a nutshell, is sort of the unfairness, the inequitability of climate change, magnified in a place like Pakistan,” says Rachel Cleetus, policy director of the climate and energy program at the Union of Concerned Scientists in the United States.
Like large Western democracies and other big greenhouse gas polluters, Pakistan must move on multiple fronts at the same time to rein in emissions. But in Pakistan, the frailties of the state are graver, complicating efforts to make big, swift changes.
Take the mass tree-planting project. Satellite data suggest it is expanding tree and mangrove cover, which barely covers 2% of Pakistan, according to Salam. Auditing of the project hasn’t begun yet. But Hammad Gilani, a forestry data scientist at Islamabad’s Institute of Space Technology, says: “If this is going to be sustained, then definitely, we will get better tree cover.”
But even as planting continues, loggers cut down mature trees. “We are not saving our trees, our existing ones,” Gilani says. “Anybody can go and cut a tree.”
Deforestation is a problem across Pakistan: The poorest fell trees to burn for cooking and to stay warm. Farmers quietly widen their lands by nibbling at the trees at their perimeters. Loggers sell wood to the large furniture and construction industries.
Mohammad Faseeh, a 22-year-old student planting trees in Mardan, says he’s unsure the baby pines, planted in a neglected park in an upscale suburb, will survive what he calls “the timber mafia.”
The trees will take years to grow, he says, “but it will take a few seconds to chop them down.”
It’s the same in remote districts such as Batakundi, a six-hour drive north of Mardan toward the Himalayas. Potato farmer Shan Mukhtiyar Mughal gestures to the denuded hills behind him.
There are laws banning tree felling, but residents say they are rarely enforced, often due to widespread corruption. “The forest is almost finished,” Mughal says. “They are cutting the trees, not planting them.”
Other policies hold loopholes that undercut how substantially Pakistan might curb carbon dioxide pollution. The government’s new electric vehicle policy aims to lessen Pakistan’s terrible air pollution, and it reduces taxes on imported parts to incentivize sales. It covers motorbikes, rickshaws, buses and trucks, vehicles that dominate the road in Pakistan.
But cars are exempt – a move that critics argue could make the electric vehicle policy almost useless, or “like a wedding without the groom,” says Shaukat Qureshi, general secretary of Pakistan Electric Vehicles and Parts Manufacturers and Traders Association.
The article is originally published at iowa