Islamabad: Pakistan was once home to beautiful and endless stretches of lush green trees but now most of its regions have a deserted look as the country has one of the highest deforestation rates in Asia. The forest cover of Pakistan has diminished to 5 per cent per cent as against the expected minimum of 25 per cent.

To restore the green cover and minimise the effects of climate change, Pakistan joined REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) in 2015, which has 47 developing countries in its pool.

The new initiative will discourage deforestation and increase the green cover, says Federal Minister for Climate Change Mushahid Ullah Khan who has called forests “our precious natural resources”,

“REDD+ is a long-term evolutionary process that required a long-term planning. However, it has been in place finally,” Khan announced in Islamabad. The new mechanism will not only improve the forest monitoring but also incentivise the forest owners and forest communities to reduce pressure on our precious natural forests.

REDD+ is a valuable tool for both minimising climate change and conserving forests. Kamran Hussain, Pakistan’s National Forest Inventory expert, explains: “Forests and trees store carbon. When these trees are cut or burned, the carbon is released back into the air, which contributes to climate change.”

REDD+ is a global initiative to reduce carbon emissions from forests, which is one of the leading cause of global warming. This mechanism pays communities that depend on wood from forests for sparing the trees to curb deforestation, Hussain says.

“Every year 27,000 hectare [of] land is deforested and degraded in Pakistan,” according to data by the Government of Pakistan, which calls for serious and timely measures, Mohammad Afrasiyab, GIS Expert at Pakistan REDD+ office, told Gulf News.

In Pakistan’s current situation of fast depleting forests and severe threats by climate change, “REDD+ is the best option” as it offers modern techniques to monitor forests and restore them, Afrasiyab maintains. “By providing a compensation value for not cutting down the trees, REDD+ provides a way out to save the forest resources without disturbing the livelihoods of the local communities and their rights.”

Pakistan is currently in Phase-I of REDD+, which is called Readiness Phase. The next two phases are demonstration and implementation, he added.

This is just one initiative to restore the country’s green cover. Pakistan needs to invest more in green projects and promote plantation at all levels, experts say. Afrasiyab believes Billion Tree Tsunami and Green Pakistan Programme are excellent initiatives that would help Pakistan tap international climate funds and curb climate change effects.

Pakistan’s Billion Tree Tsunami campaign, under which one billion trees were planted in two years, is a huge success story of reforestation that will benefit current and future generations.

“The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) has successfully demonstrated a model of development which is both climate compatible as well as environment friendly,” claims Malik Amin Aslam, Chair of Green Growth Initiative of KP. The province was globally acknowledged for successfully achieving its pledge for forest restoration under the “Bonn Challenge” by surpassing 35,0000 hectare of forests. International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) termed the achievement a “momentous milestone”.

“KP aims to achieve over 60,0000 hectares of forest restoration under the Green Growth Initiative which will increase the forest cover to 25 per cent of its land area,” Aslam who is also Global Vice-President of IUCN, told Gulf News.

The initiatives such as Green Growth and REDD+ intend to increase Pakistan’s depleting forest cover and slow down climate change. Small initiatives can bring big changes. “Some countries like China have made tree planting mandatory for graduating students. If Pakistan also initiates such activities, it will indeed help increase the forest cover and offer a healthier environment for future generations.”