World Environment Day: we must conserve and restore our ecosystems, for the benefit of future generations

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Editor’s note: Imran Khan is the Prime Minister of Pakistan, which is organizing World Environment Day 2021 in partnership with the United Nations Environment Program. The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers.

Today the sites remain, but Lahore is not the same. Cars and concrete buildings replace the city’s sprawling mango and guava trees, while previously clean canals are marred by countless single-use plastic water bags.

Congested and polluted urban spaces are not only ugly, they also pose serious health and economic risks, with plastic pollution entering water sources and fine particles of toxic sulfur circulating in the air. As cities lose vegetation and encroach on the forests around them, they become more vulnerable to flooding, which Pakistan is familiar with. These and other extreme weather events are proliferating due to climate change, causing untold suffering, loss of property and damage to infrastructure.

Unfortunately, it goes beyond cities. All of Pakistan – with its rich landscapes and biodiversity – has become one of the countries most threatened by climate change. All of its ecosystems are degrading due to human actions.

What is true for Pakistan is true for the world in general. A third of the world’s agricultural land is now severely degraded, in part due to the overuse of pesticides and fertilizers, and the creation of monocultural landscapes. Forests are disappearing at an alarming rate in Pakistan and across the globe. Global economic development, food security and peace are also threatened by the degradation of freshwater sources, oceans, mountains, grasslands, savannas and peatlands.

Decade on ecosystem restoration

Historically, we have looked to a solution to environmental problems: the protection of our remaining natural treasures. The growing number of protected areas in Pakistan counts snow leopards, wolves, honey badgers, gazelles, rare Sindh wild goats and Marco Polo sheep among their 177 species of mammals and 660 species of birds. We were not wrong: such conservation investments play a crucial role in peace with nature. In the past decade alone, humanity has made major strides towards the internationally agreed goal of the Convention on Biological Diversity of protecting at least 17% of land and inland waters and 10% of coastal and marine areas.
Such investments not only save flora and fauna, but increasingly benefit ordinary people. The Protected Areas Initiative I launched to develop 15 model areas across Pakistan not only retains over 2,818 square miles in area, but also generates over 5,500 green jobs.

Yet we must recognize that now humanity’s war on nature has gone too far for conservation to be sufficient. If we have a chance to meet the challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss, we also need to fix some of what has been broken.

That is why Pakistan is honored to host World Environment Day 2021 with the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), which this year marks the launch of the United Nations Decade for Ecosystem Restoration. 2021-2030.
It’s also why the government of Pakistan is already engaged in one of the world’s most ambitious efforts to expand and restore its forests, having already planted 1 billion trees and mangroves as part of its campaign. of 10 billion trees.
In addition, Pakistan’s mangrove cover has increased by 300% over the past decade, making it the only country in the world with expanding mangrove cover. During the first phase of the Bonn Challenge 2020, Pakistan pledged to restore 865,000 acres of degraded landscapes in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province – a target already exceeded. Now, we are voluntarily committing to a much broader national goal under the Bonn Challenge to restore nearly 2.5 million acres of degraded / deforested land across the country by 2023, including in cities, where they help lower temperatures, filter air and water, and improve people’s quality of life. be mental.
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Here too, social and environmental justice must go hand in hand. Our ecosystem restoration campaign provides income for some of our poorest citizens. Our nature-driven green stimulus has already created more than 85,000 jobs in nature during the pandemic and is targeting 100,000 more by the end of 2021.
To achieve recovery on the scale required, governments and financial institutions both need to engage in innovative ways. Indeed, Pakistan is currently working with international creditors on a debt-for-nature swap agreement, in which aid will be linked to achievements in biodiversity conservation. Pakistan also recently launched the country’s first green bond, worth $ 500 million, which has been well received in the global market.

We have been deciding the Earth’s natural resources for generations, but the good news is that nature has an extraordinary capacity for renewal. In order for future generations to savor the beauty of Lahore Gardens as we did as children, but above all for their health, prosperity and peace, we must devote the years to come to conserving what is whole and restoring what is. broken.


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