Pakistan tries ambitious climate action A new electric vehicle policy. Renewable energy. 10 billion trees: Pakistan launches ambitious green policies. Will they succeed?

With Glaciers Melting And Temps Soaring, Pakistan Pursues Big Action On Climate Change

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Pakistan has been experiencing extreme weather events for years, and the government's consensus is that climate change is to blame. As NPR's Diaa Hadid reports, it's responded with an ambitious program.

DIAA HADID, BYLINE: I'm here in a park in the northern Pakistani city of Mardan. Beside me is Laiba Atika, and she scrapes the scrubby ground with a small trowel. She's hoping to plant dozens of pine saplings with the help of a few friends.


HADID: But what she really needs is a shovel.

LAIBA ATIKA: My mother is coming in a while, and she'll bring a shovel with her.

HADID: Laiba might be a teenage rookie, but she's clear on why she's doing this.

ATIKA: It's our duty as a citizen to implement actions that can make the planet a better place to live in.

HADID: Laiba got her baby pines for free through a government project called Plant for Pakistan. The goal is to plant 10 billion trees - 10 billion - within four years to combat deforestation. This is the Prime Minister Imran Khan speaking about the project at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in January.


PRIME MINISTER IMRAN KHAN: Why is it important for us to grow trees? For two reasons. Pakistan is vulnerable to global warming. Secondly, in our cities, pollution has become a silent killer.

HADID: The massive tree planting program is just one part of Pakistan's broader environmental ambitions. This summer, Khan's government announced a new electric vehicle policy and said it would get two-thirds of its power from renewables within the decade - from solar, wind and hydro. Pakistan is not a high emitter of heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But as the prime minister said, it's feeling the effects of global warming. To the north, its glaciers are melting faster than ever before. In its southern cities, residents live through searing heat waves.

RACHEL CLEETUS: This is, in a nutshell, is the unfairness, the inequitability of climate change, magnified in a place like Pakistan.

HADID: That's Rachel Cleetus, a climate expert at the U.S.-based Union of Concerned Scientists. She praises Pakistan's efforts. But Pakistani environmentalists say their government's ambitious plans are hobbled by corruption. The tree planting initiative, for instance, exists alongside illegal logging, the wood sold to the construction and furniture industries. It's so widespread that residents call the loggers the timber mafia. Besides corruption, activist Afia Salam says Pakistan's ruling party is under the sway of powerful business interests.

AFIA SALAM: That is what makes it so frustrating to even support, you know, some of the very good things that they do.

HADID: The government, for example, has reduced taxes on electric motorbikes, rickshaws, trucks and buses, but not cars. And critics say a powerful gas vehicle lobby carved out the loophole. And then there's coal. While Pakistan aims to have two-thirds of its power from renewables within a decade, the remaining third will come from coal-powered plants.


HADID: Back in that park in Mardan, a young student, Mohammad Faseeh, helps Laiba Atika plant baby pines. And he's already worried they won't survive the timber mafia.

MOHAMMAD FASEEH: (Non-English language spoken).

HADID: Laiba Atika won't be discouraged. Her climate activism is unusual for a girl in this conservative town where many women wear burkas. She says her mother encourages her.

ATIKA: She says that - be an example to the girls. And if you set a very good example, then other people will also permit their sisters and daughters to go out and do such prestigious works.

HADID: As Laiba works, a little girl runs up and grabs a baby sapling. She wants to plant it herself.


HADID: But outside the park, an open-backed jeep filled with logs trundles down the highway.

Diaa Hadid, NPR News, Mardan.

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