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Malik Amin Aslam Khan

Pakistan’s super year for nature

Pakistan’s first institutional “National Parks Service” is now underway, which will protect and conserve the protected areas as biodiversity reserves and wildlife habitats. In the initial phase, almost 5,000 direct nature jobs will be generated for the youth to become trained guardians and custodians of these parks.

The year 2020 was expected to be the “super year for nature” designed to propel the climate and biodiversity agendas on the global stage. This planned outcome was, instead, substituted by a sudden and strong wake up call by nature. The two striking lessons emerging out of the ensuing COVID19 crisis are, firstly, that nature has an inherent capacity to quickly self heal - if allowed the time and space to do so - and, secondly, that a renewed and sustainable relationship with nature is possible and within reach but must be backed by political commitment and collective action. As the situation continues to unfold, with ongoing uncertainty, it is painfully reinforcing the fact that we no longer have a choice but to respect the natural limits and boundaries of our coexistence with other species. Nature, while reclaiming lost space, seems to be forcing a rebalancing of our relationship with it.

Over the past few months while most countries grappled to come to terms with this new normal, Pakistan was willing to think ahead and act out of the box - sensing a silver lining within the black cloud of confusion and uncertainty. The Government had already announced a 5-point green agenda built upon the premise of trusting and investing in nature – with the 10 Billion Trees Tsunami, Clean Green Pakistan, Protected Areas Initiative, Electric Vehicles shift and the Recharge Pakistan Program – and this had effectively created the launch pad for a directional shift of the economy towards sustainable growth.
Against this backdrop, the COVID19 crisis provided not only an ideal opportunity but a trigger for a renewed revival, and we seized it with both hands.

The successful implementation of the Billion Tree Tsunami in the KP province, generating half a million green jobs between 2014-18, had already proven that the revival of nature and economy could go hand in hand. The Government had been convinced that nature based solutions not only protect and preserve nature but also have the potential to spur an alternate green economy.

This created the foundation and internal momentum to break out from the COVID19 depression and reboot the ailing economy with a “Green Stimulus” focused on two objectives:  protecting nature and creating green jobs. The focal areas for intervention included planting more trees, expanding and reviving our protected areas and improving sanitation - with the targeted beneficiaries being the unemployed youth and women, along with the daily wagers suddenly out of jobs and migrating to rural areas. The three chosen intervention areas had approved work plans with joint federal/provincial ownership, could be easily made COVID19 safe, and all delivered climate compatible development. The green stimulus was designed to boost and upscale these ongoing activities across Pakistan.

In terms of implementation, we envisioned three financing phases all of which are now in place. The first ongoing phase is fully funded through budgetary provisions and got recalibrated and prioritized towards green job creation.
As a result, it has already delivered 85,000 daily wage jobs across the country in nursery raising, plant care, protection of natural forests and fire fighting activities. Through the provinces, we have further planned to raise this to 200,000 daily wage jobs within the next few months.

The second phase is the post-COVID19 recovery, for which substantial funds (U$180 Million) have been secured through multilateral donors, proving that if the right plan is in place the funds can always be generated. These funds will support the ecological preservation of the recently announced 15 national parks, covering a land area of over 7,300 square kilometers, spanning the mountains in the north to the scrub forests and the plains in the center and the virgin coastline in the south. Also, as a part of this initiative, Pakistan’s first institutional “National Parks Service” is now underway, which will protect and conserve the protected areas as biodiversity reserves and wildlife habitats. In the initial phase, almost 5,000 direct nature jobs will be generated for the youth to become trained guardians and custodians of these parks. Furthermore, this funding will also support sanitation activities in at least 20 main cities of the country, including storm water management and solid/liquid waste management, and generate employment in the hundreds of thousands. All this activity is designed to address the spike in Covid-linked unemployment across the country and, at the same time, link economic activity with the preservation of nature.

In addition, an ingeniously designed “Debt for Nature” swap scheme has recently been put in the pipeline. This is premised on a renegotiation of Pakistan’s burgeoning debt with countries seeking a green revival of the global economy. There are strong indications of a growing global appetite for supporting this directional shift and Pakistan has been recently chosen to pilot an impact-based nature bond.

This nature-positive pathway to rebuild the economy and stimulate sustainable growth, while employing the youth, is the need of the day and will allow the country to not only emerge from the economic recession but also build back better and greener. With guarded optimism, the world’s super year of nature has  only been pushed forwards to this year. Pakistan, meanwhile, carved out an opportunity amidst the crisis to live out its own super year of nature in 2020 – by rebooting the economy with a green stimulus and putting its faith in a nature based recovery.