As climate change intensifies heat waves and droughts throughout Pakistan, the newly elected Prime Minister Imran Khan announced a campaign to plant 10 billion trees within five years, according to NBC News.
Khan hopes to improve air quality and prevent flooding through the effort. Pakistan is considered to be the seventh-most vulnerable country in the world to climate change, and flooding will be an ongoing problem as Himalayan glaciers continue to melt and inundate landscapes.
“It is now imperative to tackle climate change and reverse environmental degradation as Pakistan’s situation will only worsen as the economy grows,” Khan’s party, the Pakistan Movement for Justice, wrote in its 2018 manifesto.
In recent months, extreme heat waves have combined with electricity blackouts and water shortages to kill hundreds of people in Pakistan.
Planting 10 billion trees may seem like a pipedream — merely a symbolic gesture of climate justice — but Khan has orchestrated massive tree-planting feats in the past.
In 2017, a campaign started by Khan to plant 1 billion trees in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa achieved its goal ahead of schedule.
And Pakistan more broadly has a rich history of tree planting. In 2013, the country beat the previous world record or tree planting, held by India, by getting 8,47,275 saplings in the ground.
Over the past several decades, however, deforestation has become an accelerating problem in the country, greatly increasing the severity of landslides. In 1947, trees covered 33% of the country; today they cover just 1.9%.
Globally, the world loses 18.7 million acres of forest each year, the equivalent of 27 football fields of trees every minute.
Environmental advocates have applauded Khan’s announcement.
“It is extremely important also that we ensure we have enough fresh water and that our development does not destroy our own coastline,” Ali Tauqeer Sheikh, founder and CEO of LEAD Pakistan, an environmental think tank, told NBC News. “We have one of the largest deltas in the world, but it is dying because of climate change.”
“Irrespective of the number of trees planted, it is important for our country, which has so many other challenges, to have the lungs to support our environment,” he added. “We welcome Khan’s promise and we looking forward to holding him to account.”