Prime Minister Imran Khan launched the countrywide spring tree plantation drive on Friday and urged the whole nation to join it for their children’s future. The drive has started off from Jilani Park and will target the plantation of 51 sites of Miyawaki urban forests in Lahore.
It is clear what has motivated this drive—the PTI government has always held environment protections as one of its priorities and their previous accomplishments in this regard have been connected to the KP version of the Billion Tree Tsunami. Even for climate change sceptics, the events of the last two years, namely the heavy smog which blankets the largest city of Punjab, causing many health and hazardous defects, have convinced them of the need for environmental reform. The country-wide Billion Tree Tsunami drive, “Plant for Pakistan”, has been a response to the increasingly worse pollution in Pakistan, aiming to make the air of our country more breathable.
Continuing the tree tsunami is a good decision which can have a substantial impact on mitigating the effects of climate change and pollution. Over the past decade, Lahore has lost about 70 percent of its tree cover as the city became an urban centre, which has seriously compromised its air quality. The government should be lauded for its consistency to environment-friendly policies—however, the solution should not be construed merely in terms of planting trees.
A substantial amount of our environmental damage comes from agriculture. From a macro-perspective, crop burning, growing carbon emissions and unbridled population growth inflict much more damage than can be countered by more trees. The government needs to plan for a more organised and institutional focus on the various ways that climate change and pollution damage Pakistan, and how that can be prevented with a ten or twenty-year goal. Pakistan has incurred more than Rs5 trillion in losses due to climate-induced disasters during the last decade. the air quality in Lahore is so dangerous that it could reduce a person’s life by 6 to 11 years.
The prime minister has asked citizens to work alongside the government to solve this problem, essentially by planting more trees, which could help absorb pollution and release oxygen into the air. The prime minister has begun the plantation of 51 artificial forests in Lahore beginning with one at Jelani Park, on Jail Road in the city. However, at the same time, environmental activists have been protesting the cutting down of a large number of trees in the Gulberg area of the city next to Kalma Chowk, where nurseries selling plants of various kinds are located. The trees have been cut down to ‘develop’ the area and put up buildings and other sites, including possibly a plaza or housing. It is this policy which will have to be changed so that the trees which already exist in Lahore are not cut down.