A commendable achievement
Pakistan has achieved the Sustainable Development Goal of protecting the environment and holding off climate change impact before the set deadline of 2030. For this purpose UNDP had provided technical support. However, the achievement of SDG-13 has been made possible by virtue of vigorously implementing the Billion Tree Tsunami Programme (BTTP) by the previous PTI led government in Khyber Pukhtunkhwa.
The programme of reforestation in deforested areas and bringing new ones under forests was launched in 2014 to restore the province’s depleted forests and to mitigate the effect of global warming. At that the leaders of PML-N, ANP and other allies of ruling party in the center and Punjab ridiculed the BTTP in addition to leveling allegations of financial irregularities in the programme. However, tree plantation programme in one small province proved instrumental in achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goal-13 target within 6 years.
The reforestation project was extended to the rest of the country when PTI formed government in the center and provinces of Punjab and Khyber Pukhtunkhwa. Under the expanded programme 10 billion saplings shall be planted across the country. The merciless cutting of forests by timber mafia under the political patronage since 1986 reduced the total under forests to less than 2 percent by 2016 at the national level. This is well below the UN calculated benchmark of 12 percent. The province-wise break up shows that area under forest in Khyber Pukhtunkhwa is 6 percent; in Punjab it is5 percent; in Sindh 3 percent; and in Baluchistan less than one percent. In Punjab the lands reserved for forestation face a twin threat of soil erosion by floods and land grabbing by influential feudal class. According to a recent probe report of Forest Department, in the district of Rajanpur alone 1827 acres were reserved for forestation in Rak Khanwan. Out of it 882 acres were submerged by river water due neglecting protective work by the provincial irrigation department. And the remaining 945 acres were grabbed by influential land gentry for illegally growing different crops.
The issue of global warming is caused by the deteriorating air quality index due carbon emission from industries, thermal power plants and increasing vehicular traffic. In Pakistan, there has been no appreciable progress in these areas, although it is signatory of Paris Agreement on Climate Change. The last PML-N government had signed memoranda of understanding for setting up 13 coal based thermal power plants, two of which are operational now. The present government had no intention to set up the reaming 11 coal fired thermal power plants. However, it had to opt for setting two such health hazardous and air polluting plants. The NDTC proposed policy of power generation also put great reliance for electricity generation from coal instead of exploiting environment friendly clean renewable sources such as hydel, wind and solar.
The petroleum products used in vehicles have the sulphur content more the 50 particles per million. The outmoded oil refineries would need fast track modernisation to provide fuel with relatively lower sulphur content. Hopefully, federal and provincial government will have greater coordination in combat against climate change as the country has been placed at 5th spot in the Global Risk Index.