SHORTLY after taking office, Prime Minister Imran Khan planted a deodar sapling in Haripur to inaugurate his government’s ambitious ‘10 billion tree tsunami’ plantation drive in 2018. To counter the threat of climate change, the PTI government announced that it would plant 10bn trees within five years. Three years later, the prime minister returned to the site he launched his campaign from to inspect progress and speak to the media about his government’s commitment to protecting the environment. Even if the figure is contestable — 10bn trees means planting millions of seeds a day over a five-year tenure — there is little denying the importance of large-scale tree plantation drives, as sea levels rise and the planet warms at an alarming rate. Climate change is one of the most pressing issues of our times, and a transnational one, and yet not many governments around the world treat it with the urgency it deserves, prioritising short-term economic growth over the planet’s well-being. The previous year saw record high temperatures, melting glaciers, flash floods, wildfires, and a host of other disasters, which can only be described as apocalyptic, especially when combined with a global health crisis. Several cities across the United States experienced their hottest summers in recorded history, while Siberia went through a six-month-long heatwave, with temperatures rising up to 38˚C. Bushfires raged through Australia, exterminating billions of animal species, destroying thousands of buildings, and taking at least 34 human lives. In Brazil, the Amazon rainforest saw its worst fires in a decade. Here in Pakistan, Karachi was paralysed under record-breaking monsoon rainfall, receiving 223mm of rain in a single day, while several parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa experienced flash floods, and Gilgit-Baltistan was shaken by a massive landslide following heavy rain. At the end of the year, in his State of the Planet speech, UN Secretary General António Guterres put it bluntly: “The state of the planet is broken.” Can it be repaired?
According to FAO’s Global Forest Resources Assessment 2020, 440m acres of forest has been lost in a span of one decade — “an area about the size of Libya”. Pakistan is said to have one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world, and it is also one of the most vulnerable countries to the effects of climate change, so it is encouraging to see the government put the environment on top of its agenda.
Published in Dawn, May 31st, 2021