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EDITORIAL: For the COP26 at Glasgow this past Tuesday was a great day. More than 100 world leaders promised to end and reverse deforestation by 2030, and among them were Brazil, Canada, Russia, Indonesia, China, Democratic Republic of Congo, the US and the UK who cover 85 percent of the world's forests. Felling trees contributes to climate change because it depletes forests that absorb vast amounts of warming gas CO2. In 2014 also a UN gathering in New York had declared to halve the rate of deforestation by 2020 and end it by 2030. But that did not happen. Since there was no financial incentive to discourage deforestation the New York declaration did stem growing pace of deforestation. But that is no more the case now - under the Glasgow agreement 12 countries will provide $12 billion of public funding and at least $7 billion by the private sector investors. That is a great step forward in the fight against deforestation. For timely payoff, the Glasgow declaration needs to be backed by stiff domestic laws and policies which should recognise the land rights of local and indigenous peoples, properly protect forests, eliminate deforestation through supply chains and start to phase out industrial meat and dairy. So, if properly spent, the promised funding can make tangible change on the ground. And for that the recipient governments must agree to UN inspection to verify that deforestation has ended and the allocated funds are not being diverted to other exigencies. The UN inspectors must receive the host countries' unhindered cooperation. Also, the work on this project must begin as soon as possible, because there are quite a few sceptics who question the genuineness of such a high profile UN promise as the COP26 made on the issue of deforestation.

The Glasgow declaration is of particular interest to the government and people of Pakistan. Pakistan is a severe casualty of climate change but for none of its fault - except the one that it is grossly under-forested. Its forest cover is one of the lowest in the world. Against the global average of 31 percent only 5 percent (UN FAO however puts it at 2.2 percent) of its land is covered by forests. And it is dwindling by the year - in 2020 its forests covered 37,259sq kms as against 44,695 kms in 2001. Of course there are undeniable proofs that the timber mafia, patronized as it is by political mafia, is behind deforestation. But the nature of country's landscape too is generally hostile to extensive afforestation. Most of the area falls in arid and semi-arid regions where low precipitation naturally deters growth of forests. But that may soon be in the past - the incumbent government is conscious of impending threat of climate change and is set about triggering the '10 billion-tree tsunami'. There are now instances that deserts have been converted into forests. Now that Prime Minister Imran Khan's reservation, expressed in his op-ed of The Times that COP26 would be a failure without the developed countries meeting their financial commitments, is proved to be wrongly placed Pakistan would receive the donors attention it deserves. Pakistan direly needs more trees, in the urban areas as well. The ever thickening air pollution and massive concrete-built housing have turned the major cities into suffocating dens. A micro Miyawaki forest has been planted in Lahore and more such forests are on the way. But these rapid growing green patches cannot be the natural forests.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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