On World Environment Day -- Pakistan showcases ecosystem restoration

Women working in government-owned nurseries in Haripur, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Pakistan. Pakistan has launched one of the largest reforestation initiatives in the world — the Ten Billion Tree Tsunami Programme. Credit: Zofeen T. Ebrahim/IPS
Women working in government-owned nurseries in Haripur, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Pakistan. Pakistan has launched one of the largest reforestation initiatives in the world — the Ten Billion Tree Tsunami Programme. Credit: Zofeen T. Ebrahim/IPS
  • by Zofeen Ebrahim (karachi)
  • Inter Press Service
  • On Saturday Jun. 5, Pakistan is hosting World Environment Day in partnership with the United Nations Environment Programme. IPS takes a look at the country’s progress in ecosystem restoration, which is this year’s theme of World Environment Day

The TBTTP is part of a series of "nature-based solutions" to fight the climate change crisis. Other initiatives include increasing the share of renewables in the energy mix to 60 percent by 2030 and to helping preserve the environment of national parks. In addition, Pakistan has provided over 85,000 green jobs (to be increased to 100,000 by the end of the year) through a Green Stimulus Package following COVID-19.

These strategies fit perfectly with this year's World Environment Day (WED) theme of ecosystem restoration (ER) as Pakistan readies to host, in partnership with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the event tomorrow, Jun. 5.

"This WED is of global significance as it kicks off the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021–2030 with focus on reversing the loss to natural ecosystems to fight the climate crises," Malik Amin Aslam, Minister for Climate Change and special assistant to the Prime Minister on climate change, told IPS.

"We hope to lead the world towards climate mitigation as well as restoration of ecosystems, " Aslam said via What’s App.

"Pakistan's agenda on environment has been validated and our role in ecosystem restoration has been accepted," a pleased Muhammad Irfan Tariq, Director General of environment and climate change at Pakistan's Ministry of Climate Change (MoCC), told IPS by phone from Islamabad. He was referring to the TBTTP, which aims to target one million hectares of forest restoration by 2023.  

"We are not doing this for show," said Prime Minister Khan, referring to the TBTTP. "We are doing this so that we can leave behind a better country for our future generations. The biggest impact of climate change is that it will affect our future generation," he said while addressing a TBTTP programme last week.

Incidentally, Pakistan contributes less than one percent to global emissions, yet it is among the top 10 most vulnerable countries to climate change.

Building a relationship with nature

Environmentalist Vaqar Zakaria, however, remained wary of the methods employed by the government saying "greenwashing done in the name of restoration" cannot bring the "bees and the birds" back.

But there must be something right about the TBTTP as Saudi Arabia recently announced its intention of planting 10 billion trees in the coming decades to reduce carbon emissions and combat pollution and land degradation. 

Still, Zakaria favours protecting over restoration.

"It is better to protect because nature will heal itself back," he said, explaining that restoration required sophisticated techniques and should be carried out with caution. "The right trees must be grown at the right place," Zakaria, who spends hours in nature re-establishing his "connection to nature”, told IPS via phone from Islamabad. He believes that only after spending time outdoors, will "our hearts be in it and will be able to guide our future decisions".   

Perhaps that is why the government is carrying out the Protected Areas Initiative (PAI), for "rebalancing" mankind's relationship with nature as Aslam pointed out with plans to increase Pakistan's terrestrial and marine protected area to 15 percent and 10 percent by 2023 respectively.

"Already our national parks have increased from 30 to 45 in number," said the minister.

Recharging aquifers

Recharge Pakistan is a project where the government, in collaboration with the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)-Pakistan, is building water storage that aims to benefit 10 million people.

"The focus is on building Pakistan's resilience to climate change in water-stressed areas," explained Hammad Naqi Khan, Director General, WWF-Pakistan. Along with increasing the water storage capacity, the project aims to restore the wetland ecosystem.

"But most importantly, it will benefit more than 10 million people (or five percent) of Pakistan's population directly and 20 million people across 50 vulnerable districts of Pakistan indirectly," Khan told IPS.

Minister Aslam emphasised these were not mere plans but are actually being implemented with "solid performance to show on the ground".

Simi Kamal, chair and CEO of Karachi-based think tank Hisaar Foundation that looks at water, food and livelihood security, said: it was "still too early to see results" in the project but that it would have to "be a huge programme to make visible impact".

Fortunately, the one-year project preparation phase has been approved by the Green Climate Fund (GCF) and Pakistan will be able to conduct site feasibility studies and prepare a detailed proposal.

"Going beyond the currently underfunded GCF, there is an urgent need for developed countries to establish a truly ambitious climate reparations financing mechanism to provide assistance for adaptation projects and building resilience in many developing regions faced with potentially serious impacts of climate change," A. Karim Ahmed, a board member of the Washington D.C- based Global Council for Science and the Environment, told IPS via email.

Blue Carbon

Another feather in Pakistan's cap is a comprehensive assessment on blue carbon (carbon stored in coastal and marine ecosystems) that was recently completed.

"Conservation, rehabilitation, and management of blue carbon ecosystems can provide one-third of the economic mitigation needed until 2030," climate change expert Hadika Jamshaid told IPS via What's App.

Among the coastal wetlands, mangroves provide a huge potential to sequestering carbon. "Pakistan has done tremendously well in expanding its mangrove plantation," said Tariq, Director General of environment and climate change at MoCC.

Pakistan has world's seventh-largest mangrove forest in Sindh, located along the Arabian Sea coastline in the Indus deltaic swamps, and comprising some 667,000 hectares.

But in the absence of data, this blue carbon remains precluded from both the reported mitigation potential and fiscal benefits for Pakistan.

"Protection of these forests can help Pakistan achieve the country's NDCs ," said Jamshaid, expressing his support of the MoCC in the revision and implementation process of its NDC document. 

Meanwhile, under the TBTTP the central government will plant mangroves over 40,000 hectares, of which 15,000 hectares have already been planted, Riaz Wagan, chief conservator of forests in Sindh province, told IPS.

In addition, the Sindh government, under a public-private partnership model, is doing its own bit to restore ecosystems. It has signed an agreement with Indus Delta Capital Private Limited under the Delta Blue Carbon to plant and protect mangroves over 350,000 hectares, said Wagan, who is also leading the this Indus Delta Mangroves REDD+ Project.

© Inter Press Service (2021) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service