Pakistan is considered one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to climate change — with particular threats to water, energy and food security, according to a recent report by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)-Pakistan. In fact, the UNDP’s country director says that the economic losses faced by Pakistan due to climate change are significantly higher as compared to terrorism: “Pakistan may be facing $6 billion losses due to climate change whereas losses due to terrorism may be around $1b”. Yet, despite all these losses and the very real threats of glaciers melting, annual devastating floods and damages to crops due to erratic rains and droughts in the near future, most of the country’s political leaders are still not talking about climate change at the national level.
The last time PM Nawaz Sharif spoke about climate change at any length was at the Paris Summit back in December 2015; PML(N)-appointed minister for climate change, Zahid Hamid, is now also the law minister, and he is too busy with the Panama leaks to bother about climate change. While the last PPP government, to their credit, did come up with formulating the comprehensive National Climate Change Policy, since then they have largely been quiet on the topic.
The only major exception in the political arena seems to be Imran Khan, chairman of PTI, who is not only talking about climate change but is also increasing spending on trying to tackle it. In fact, the UNDP report appreciated the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province’s efforts in making substantial increases in climate-related spending. In this year’s provincial budget, the KP government has allocated Rs2b for environment and forests.
Despite planting trees and moving to protect forests, the KP government need to tackle brick kilns and polluting vehicles
Since coming to power in 2013, the PTI-led KP government has, in fact, focused on what it calls its “Green Growth Initiative”, which aside from their Billion Tree Tsunami project, also entails the creation of management plans for six national parks and the installation of 365 micro hydel projects in various districts of KP. Last week, Imran Khan gave a press conference in Islamabad exclusively dedicated to climate change and green growth. He actually refused to answer any questions about Panama leaks as he wanted to devote the time allocated to speaking only about forests, protecting the environment, creating renewable energy and how all this ties to our future well-being.
Addressing the jam-packed news conference, Imran Khan pointed out that the increase in global warming is causing the rapid melting of glaciers, which will have an adverse effect on our future water needs. Pakistan can try to protect its water resources and contribute to mitigation by planting trees and protecting its forests. “KP has taken important steps to save future generations from the dangerous effects of environment changes”, he explained, detailing how the KP government plans to increase the forest cover in the province from 22pc in 2013 to up to 27pc by 2018 through the billion tree tsunami and the creation of new national parks in forested areas like the Palas Valley in Kohistan.
Imran Khan is currently touring these “undiscovered” valleys of KP in a helicopter, scouting places that could be developed into hill stations, national parks or resorts for tourists. Three new national park sites have already been scoped and will be established this year. He plans to continue his travels in the next two years, to spot and develop the maximum number of places that will not only attract tourists, but will also benefit the local communities of these remote areas. Documentaries on his trips are being filmed by his media head, Faisal Javed Khan, and the first film will feature the picturesque Kumrat Valley in Upper Dir District of KP.
At the Paris Summit, their Billion Tree Tsunami project had shown enough success to be recognised and registered with the Bonn Challenge, which is a global partnership aiming to restore 150m hectares of the world’s deforested and degraded lands by 2020. According to Imran Khan, “40pc work of the Billion Tree Tsunami Project in KP has been completed” and that an independent monitoring organisation, WWF-Pakistan, has found that the planted saplings have a survival rate of 85pc. In addition, he declared that the 365 small hydel projects initiated at the village level in KP to provide clean energy would be increased in number to 1,000 in the coming years. In his view, the federal government’s proposed coal power plants will only “destroy Pakistan’s environment. Why are we not exploring the 50,000 MW potential of clean hydro energy that we have in our north?”
Imitation, they say, is the best form of flattery; despite criticising the Billion Tree Tsunami earlier the federal government, in its new budget, has announced the “Green Pakistan Programme”, a forest and wildlife protection and conservation programme, allocating an amount of Rs 2b (for two financial years 2016-17 and 2017-18). Under the directives of PM Nawaz Sharif, a total of 105m trees will be planted across the country.
Imran Khan’s efforts to protect the environment and highlight climate change in Pakistan are already paying dividends. Of course, a lot more needs to be done. Peshawar has been ranked amongst the worst cities in the world in terms of air pollution, and the KP government needs to tackle this urgently by taking action against brick kilns and polluting vehicles.
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, June 26th, 2016