Mr. Bilal is an agronomist student at the University of Agriculture, Faisalabad. He has been writing blogs on national and international politics and international relations since 2017.
(Relatively) Humble Beginnings
The humble beginnings of the 10 Billion Tree Tsunami project can be traced back to 2013 when the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party revealed its ‘Green Development Agenda’ which was aimed at turning the economy green by integrating true environmental costs into the economic decision-making. Pakistan had faced two mega-floods & cyclones in previous years and needed this timely initiative towards clean air, affordable energy, resource conservation, and green jobs.
Imran Khan formally kicked off the 5-year long Billion Tree Tsunami Plantation drive in February 2015. Apart from planting trees, it also encompassed an aggressive crackdown against the timber mafia, responsible for cutting 100 billion worth of forests.
The Billion Tree Tsunami Project had several unprecedented and creative features.
- It created small-scale ‘eco-preneurs’ and a hundred thousand jobs partly through establishing youth nurseries with 12-18 thousand rupees monthly income for local villagers.
- Outsourced forest growth to the private sector, ensuring tree survival with performance-based payment systems spread over a three-year duration.
- Empowered and financed local communities to recruit ‘Forest Nigahbans’.
- Announced regulations for REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation-plus)
- Enforced an absolute ban on cutting of KPK’s reserved forests.
- Completed third-party monitoring through GIS and Global Forest Watch to ensure transparency.
The government also led the revolutionary step to use modern GPS technology to monitor the planted saplings to curb their illicit cutting and effectively punish the culprits. “The cutting of a tree is a crime similar to killing a human being,” stated then Chief Minister Pervez Khattak.
An Overwhelming Success
In April 2015, Al Jazeera reported that Pakistan’s massive $150 million investment in the billion tree reforestation campaign could potentially shift the region’s ecology in the wake of impending climate change. In June 2015, the KPK government with the International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN) joined the Global Bonn Challenge on World Environment Day. It called for the restoration of 150 m hectares of deforested land by 2020.
At the UN Climate Change Conference 2015 or COP21, “the only positive news coming out of Pakistan at the conference was KP’s ‘Billion tree tsunami'”. In 2016, Christian Science Monitor acknowledged the plantation of 250 million saplings amid the continued deforestation since independence which reduced Pakistan’s forest cover from 33% to a mere 3-5%.
In May 2016, Washington Post also published an op-ed on Billion Tree Tsunami, outlining prevailing deforestation in the past as the cause of deadly landslides. “This is not just about planting trees but about changing attitudes,” commented Rab Nawaz, the senior director of programs at World Wildlife Fund Pakistan, who assisted in auditing the initiative.
In July 2017, WWF Pakistan published the final third-party monitoring report after the completion of Phase-II of Billion Tree Tsunami and acknowledged the government announced figures of planted sapling and tree survival rates. In August 2017, the KPK became the only sub-national entity in the world at the IUCN to reach and exceed the Bonn Challenge milestone by restoring 350 million hectares.
In the words of Director General of IUCN, Inger Andersen, “The Billion Tree Tsunami initiative is a true conservation success story, one that further demonstrates Pakistan’s leadership role in the international restoration effort”. WWF Pakistan experts called the project an “environmental, economic and social success” with 13,000 private nurseries and the highest tree survival rates of 70-90%.
The Sequel: 10 Billion Tree Tsunami
Al Jazeera termed the Project ‘Green Gold’, and the World Economic Forum joined the institutions to recognize the project as a ‘Green Success Story’. In September 2018, Prime Minister Imran Khan launched another ambitious 5-year project to plant 10 billion trees across the country. With the Billion Tree Tsunami project having had created 0.5 million jobs, he hoped that the 10 billion tree tsunami would create even more.
In December 2018, researchers at Ocean University of China published their research on the significance of the billion tree project, its contribution to the Bonn Challenge, and in capturing 0.04 Gigatons of CO2 by 2020 with $120 million in economic benefit. In March 2019, a report from the Global Environment Facility located in Washington came out on how with its Sustainable Forest Management Project in three provinces through the United Nations Development Programme, was assisting the Government of Pakistan in its ‘broader ambitious goal’ of ten billion trees.
In August 2019, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) acknowledged the Billion Tree Afforestation Campaign with ‘Pakistan: Green Again’ and its environmental and socioeconomic benefits in addressing the unemployment issue in KPK. Researchers from renowned forestry and technology institutes in China and Indonesia published their paper on Socioeconomic Impacts of the Billion Trees Afforestation Program and found them ‘satisfactory and beneficial’.
The paper observed increasing social sustainability by 69% between 2014 and 2018, positive economic effects on rural households, a net income of 6.9 million USD in the three districts of KPK, and concluded that the majority of respondents had benefited from participation. In November 2019, the United States embassy also joined hands in Pakistan’s ambitious project.
In December 2020, Bloomberg addressed the role of the 10 Billion Tree Tsunami in contributing to the restoration of the country’s forest cover and how the government had planted 3.5 billion trees in the first stage. The project has also increased olive planting in Pakistan. In June 2021, Red Sea Search acknowledged the success of both billion tree projects in view of the United Nations’ sustainable development goals (SDGs) outlined in 2015.
The United Nations Environment Programme appreciated the pioneering project to fight climate change. Last month, Prime Minister Imran Khan pledged to plant over 600 million saplings under the Spring Tree Plantation Campaign. Currently, the 10 Billion Tree Tsunami (2019-23) tree count stands at 1.424 billion with an overall target of 3.23 billion to be achieved by 2023.
These plantation drives have covered 1.36 million acres with more than 9500 plantation sites. The wildlife and forest department also created 84,609 green jobs during the Covid-19 pandemic alone. These billion tree projects also had a massive impact in inspiring various countries and institutions to kick off their own versions of massive plantation drives.
Last year, Canada pledged 2 billion trees, while the European Commission announced the plantation of 3 billion trees. The World Economic Forum had set the biggest aim ever in 2020 by launching the campaign to gift back one trillion trees to the environment we all owe so much. It is the least all of us can do.
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