Imran Khan says Pakistan will plant 10 billion trees

The former cricketer and newly elected prime minister is set to promote tree-planting and green jobs, although coal use will continue to expand

Cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan is set to be the next prime minister of Pakistan (Pic: Heinrich Boell Foundation/Stephan Röhl)

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Imran Khan is aiming to plant 10 billion trees in five years as prime minister of Pakistan.

It is a scaling up of the “billion tree tsunami” his party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) carried out in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, restoring 350,000 hectares of forest.

The cricketer-turned-politician claimed election victory on Thursday, although PTI is expected to rely on coalition partners to govern. While his campaign focused on anti-corruption, it also promised several environmental initiatives.

Malik Amin Aslam, who drafted the climate change section of the PTI manifesto and is tipped as environment minister, told Climate Home News green growth was key.

“PTI is the one party which has taken a bold initiative on the green platform,” he said. “Pakistan is facing the brunt of climate change, so I think climate preparation, making sure our development is totally climate compatible, our infrastructure is resilient to climate shocks, is going to be very high priority.”

In one of its first acts following the election, PTI circulated a list of 10 calls to action for Pakistanis, including “plant a tree” and “save water and electricity”.

Report: Pakistani senator calls for climate cooperation with India amid water crisis

Its manifesto pledges include dam-building and water conservation initiatives to tackle drought; introducing green building codes and supporting clean energy.

Citing a desire to reduce reliance on imports, it also promotes increased use of domestic coal reserves from Thar province. Much of the investment in coal has come from China, which is described as a “golden opportunity” for Pakistan.

Aslam said these projects were already in progress and PTI’s focus would be to make sure they complied with environmental standards, while developing Pakistan’s hydro, wind and solar resources.

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This had been the approach for the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial government, he said, where PTI drove the installation of 300 micro hydropower units.

In a 2015 interview with Climate Home News, Khan criticised the federal government of the time for allocating “paltry funds” to its climate change ministry – less than $400,000 that year.

Khan also spoke about the impact climate change was already having on Pakistan and called industrialised nations to account for their historic pollution.

“We unfortunately do not have the luxury to waste time on our side as far as climate change is concerned. We in Pakistan are actually living through the age of urgent climate adaptation,” he said.

“Rich countries should not only assist Pakistan in mitigation and adaptation efforts but also compensate us for the tremendous economic losses we face each year.”

Ali Tauqeer Sheik, chief executive of Islamabad-based thinktank Lead Pakistan, urged the new government to do more to protect poor and marginalised people from the impacts of climate change.

“His emphasis on forestry is a very encouraging one – we hope that the area under forest increases,” said Sheik. But he added: “Mr Imran Khan’s [acceptance] speech did not even mention the climate challenge and climate vulnerability… The most important thing for a developing country that is as vulnerable as Pakistan is is to first have a clear vision.”

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