ISLAMABAD: Pakistan cannot raise its forest cover percentage to 12 per cent as recommended by international standards, Secretary of the Ministry of Climate Change Arif Ahmed Khan told parliamentarians on Friday.

“Given the soil and weather conditions and the availability of water in the country, we might be able to increase wooded areas from five to seven or eight per cent and that too, with a lot of hard work,” Mr Khan told the Senate Standing Committee on Climate Change.

Arif Khan told the committee that an estimated 50 per cent of saplings may have survived out of more than 400 million planted over the past five years.

International environmental bodies recommend maintaining 12 per cent forest cover, said Mr Khan, adding that Pakistan needed to first stop destructing forests before work on expanding them can start.

He said: “Provincial governments should look after the forests in their areas and severe punishments should be imposed on those harming wooded areas.”

He told senators that forest reductions continued because of ‘vested interests’

The secretary told the committee about the National Forest Policy, 2015, which has been drafted over the past five months. The policy, he said, does not just focus on the expansion of the forests.

“It is a comprehensive document which addresses the overall ecological setting of the country and the conservation of wild life. It makes different communities come together to bring an end to deforestation.”

Giving an example of such partnerships between communities, the secretary stressed on the importance of bringing together public and private sectors to increasing green areas.

He said: “It is obvious that government departments have failed to deliver. It is time to ask private organisations to help increase forest cover to generate money from them and help local communities earn money. It is a workable process worldwide.”

The secretary said Pakistan is a vulnerable country in this respect and needs support from the international community to tackle the impacts of climate change.

He added: “Pakistan will ask for climate change funding when it presents its case in the United Nations conference on climate change in Paris at the end of November.”

Senator Saeedul Hassan Mandokhail informed the committee that Juniper forests in the west and north of the country had also been destroyed. Pakistan has the second largest concentration of Juniper trees in the world.

The slow growing Juniper tree could take a few hundred years to grow to its full size. Some trees in Pakistan are more than 5,000 years old.

Published in Dawn, November 7th, 2015

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