Climate experts are urging Shehbaz Sharif’s government to continue Khan’s flagship forest restoration initiative
Pakistan’s ambitious tree-planting programme faces a major setback after prime minister Imran Khan was ousted by a no-confidence vote in parliament last week.
The former cricketing star launched the first phase of the “Ten Billion Tree Tsunami” in 2019 to increase forest cover and mitigate impact of climate change on the South Asian nation of 220 million.
The programme was moving fast with 1.5 billion trees planted so far in March against a target for 3.2 billion by 2030. However, there could be a snag. Climate action has not been historically a priority for Shehbaz Shariff or the parties that he will rely upon to govern.
Malik Amin Aslam was the former climate change minister under Khan. He told Climate Home News that tree-planting programmes were not a luxury, but a necessity for Pakistan and urged the new government in Pakistan to continue them.
“Climate change remains oblivious to political circumstances in Pakistan, therefore, projects like these need to be above the political divisions,” Aslam said.
The scheme had received 125 billion Pakistani Rupees ($680million), of which 30 billion rupees had already been spent to plant 1.5 million saplings at 9,500 locations across Pakistan.
“Prime Minister Imran Khan kept the project at the top priority even in Covid-19 times and provided all the required funds for it,” said Aslam. “The initiative has helped develop a green image of Pakistan globally.”
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Khan was expected to remain in office until August 20,23. However, Khan’s government was toppled by an opposition alliance comprising ten parties after they had proved their majority in Parliament.
The country listed the project as part of its contribution to the Paris Agreement. It estimated it would store 500,000,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent in 2040 if fully implemented. In 2018, the nation’s emissions totalled 489.87 MtCO2e.
“We were in the final stages to secure around one billion dollar [$1 billion] financing for the project from the World Bank under its nature policy based lending,” the ex-minister said. “But this will certainly be at risk now after dismissal of our government.”
Experts have lauded the project as a “game changer” to boost the country’s forest cover and meet international obligations to cut greenhouse gas emissions. They have also demanded an audit of the funds for transparency over how taxpayers’ money has been spent.
“This massive tree plantation scheme is a flagship programme of the outgoing government and it must continue at the same pace to fulfill our national and international commitments,” said Aisha Khan, executive director for Civil Society Coalition for Climate Change in Islamabad.
She said the project had helped increase the country’s forest cover, created green jobs and cracked down on deforestation by the “timber mafia”. This was helping offset rising emissions from a rapidly growing population and industry.
“The new administration should try to plug loopholes in the scheme to further strengthen it like identification of appropriate tree species for specific areas and soils before the plantation drive,” she suggested, and present the project at international forums to secure green financing. “This is a project of national importance and [should] hence be owned by each political party irrespective of their position in the parliament.”
Pakistan had 648,000 hectares (0.74%) of tree cover in 2010, which covered 648,000 hectares. In 2020, it lost 69.2 hectares of tree cover, equivalent to 26,100 tonnes of CO₂ emissions, according to the Global Forest Watch.
The project was “an excellent step in the right direction” but required transparency and a complete audit of its funds, said Ali Tauqeer Sheikh, climate change expert and former chief-executive of think-tank LEAD Pakistan.
“There is no city wise data available on allocation, utilisation of funds and subsequent tree plantation,” he said, raising questions over the previous government’s data on afforestation and emissions.
Khan’s party piloted the tree tsunami initiative in Khyber Pakhtunkwa province in 2014, where WWF judged it an environmental success but many complaints of corruption were raised.
“The new administration should have a financial audit of the project to unearth embezzlement in it, if any,” Sheikh said. “And then try to achieve a national ownership for the scheme which remained missing during the previous government.”
Former climate change minister Aslam insisted the project was “completely transparent” and the new government should not try to “reverse or slow down” the initiative.
“The project is globally acknowledged, and it’s designed for Pakistan’s climate compatible future,” he added.
Source: Climate Change News