World Environment Day (WED) has been celebrated under the UN since 1972. Several countries have in the past hosted WED including India in 2018, with “Beat Plastic Pollution” as the theme of that year’s edition. Today Pakistan will be officially hosting it for the first time with ‘Ecosystem Restoration’ as the theme.
It goes to Prime Minister Imran Khan’s credit that he took more interest in ecosystem restoration than any of his predecessors. The PPP government did not go beyond announcing a policy statement on climate change and that too in the last year of its rule. The PML(N) government was initially unconvinced of the need to have a full-fledged minister for climate change and turned the ministry into a department, slashing its budget by 60 percent. It was only months before the 2015 Paris climate change conference that it revived the ministry .
Soon after forming the government in KP, the PTI government initiated a Billion-Tree Tsunami campaign on Mr Khan’s directives. It was claimed that the target was achieved in 2017. The claim however could not be verified independently. Less than a month after taking oath as PM, Mr Khan kicked off the 10 Billion-Tree Tsunami which was supposed to achieve the objective in five years’ time. Again there is no independent assessment of how much of the target has so far been achieved. Pakistan is however badly in need of expanding its forest cover, which is one of the lowest in the region, well below the 12 percent recommended by the UN. The mere determination to plant a mindboggling number of trees deserves praise and encouragement.
The problem with Mr Khan is that he often gets possessed by a single idea, ignoring a host of other relevant issues connected with a problem. The ecosystem in Pakistan has been consistently degraded over the last serval decades. Its restoration demands a comprehensive policy encompassing various spheres, tree plantation being an important part, but not the only one. Environmental issues in Pakistan include air pollution, water pollution, climate change, plastics and pesticide misuse, desertification and flooding. It is estimated that almost 500 million gallons a day of untreated effluent are released into the Arabian Sea from Karachi, posing hazards to marine life. While tree planation remains a vital measure, ecosystem restoration needs a holistic approach.