- The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the need for humans to nurture a more harmonious, rather than adversarial, relationship with nature.
- Pakistan is committed to the challenge of initiating a green recovery to protect nature and create much needed employment.
- The green stimulus package focuses on innovative financial tools to help build sustainable, responsible economic growth.
The year 2020 was expected to be a “super year for nature”, designed to propel the climate and biodiversity agendas onto the global stage. Nature itself, however, had other plans. The two striking lessons emerging out of the ensuing COVID-19 crisis are firstly, that nature operates with limits and thresholds which demand respect, and when crossed, have consequences. As humans pushed the thresholds of their existence, nature reacted and triggered the zoonotic pandemic which has now engulfed a shocked world.
The second lesson emerged with hope – that a renewed and sustainable relationship with nature is possible, and within reach, but needs to be backed by political commitment and collective action. Both lessons are forcing a rebalancing of our relationship with nature.
Over the past few months, while many countries grappled to come to terms with this new normal, Pakistan was willing to think ahead and act out of the box – sensing a silver lining emerge around this black cloud of confusion and uncertainty. The government’s green agenda, built upon the successful implementation of the Billion Tree Tsunami (2014-18), had already accepted the premise that nature based solutions not only protect and preserve nature but also have the potential to spur an alternate green economy. More importantly, it had effectively created the launch pad for a directional shift of the economy towards sustainable growth.
Against this backdrop, the COVID-19 crisis provided an opportunity and Pakistan seized it to break out of the depression and reboot a stressed economy with a “Green Stimulus” focused on two objectives: protecting nature and creating green jobs. The focal areas for intervention included planting more trees, expanding and reviving our protected areas and improving urban sanitation – all of which could generate quick employment while also allowing the country to come out of the crisis on a nature-positive pathway.
1. Green jobs creation
In terms of financing, we envisioned three phases, all of which are now in place with specialized funding options. The first ongoing phase is fully funded through “self budgetary provisions” which had to be recalibrated and prioritized towards green job creation. This was necessary to show total government commitment and ownership. As a result, the purely government financed activities, amounting to Rs10 billion have already delivered 85,000 daily wage jobs across the country in nursery raising, plant care, protection of natural forests and fire fighting activities and we have further planned to raise this to 200,000 daily wage jobs within the next few months.
2. Launch of ‘Ecosystem Restoration Fund’
For the second phase, the post-COVID-19 recovery, a new platform “Ecosystem Restoration Fund” was launched to allow willing partners (public and private) to credibly and transparently join Pakistan’s green recovery. Substantial support funds of $180 million have been secured through multi-lateral partners (led by the World Bank) proving that if the right plan is in place with full ownership, the funds can always be generated.
These funds will support the expansion of the tree planting initiative as well as the ecological preservation of the recently announced 15 national parks – all of which got announced during the COVID-19 crisis, as the country increased its protected areas coverage by 50%.
Pakistan’s first institutional National Parks Service is now underway, targeting 5,000 nature jobs to be generated for youth people who will be trained to become guardians and custodians of nature. All this activity is designed to address the unexpected spike in unemployment across the country and, at the same time, link economic activity with the preservation of nature.
3. ‘Debt for Nature’ swap scheme
In the medium term, an ingeniously designed “Debt for Nature” swap scheme has recently been put in the pipeline, targeting $1 billion funding. This is subject to a renegotiation of Pakistan’s burgeoning debt with countries supporting a green revival of the global economy. There are strong indications of a growing global appetite for supporting this directional shift and Pakistan has been recently chosen to pilot an impact based nature bond – linking debt retirement with quantifiable performance on biodiversity protection.
4. Designing a ‘Green Euro Bond’
Finally, during the pandemic, the country made a bold announcement to shift away from a coal-based pathway towards renewable energy by announcing a target of achieving 60% clean energy mix by 2030. Pakistan quickly followed up this announcement by shelving 2600MW of imported coal projects and replacing them with 3700MV of hydroelectric projects. Sensing a growing appetite for green and low-carbon investments in the international capital markets, Pakistan is all set to launch its first “Green Euro Bond” for $500 million this month. This will announce the country’s entry into an expanding and eco-conscious marketplace.
While treading this pathway, Pakistan also realized very quickly that to preserve nature you need to value nature – in economic terms. Subsequently it has taken the lead by initiating a first of its kind “Natural Capital Valuation” exercise to determine the true value of the natural asset that it is protecting and preserving, not only for itself but also a world besieged by the growing crisis of climate change and biodiversity loss.
This nature-positive pathway to rebuild the economy and stimulate sustainable growth, while employing young people, is a pressing need and will allow the country to not only come out of the economic recession but also build back better and build back green.
Pakistan has carved out an opportunity amidst the crisis, through rebooting the economy with a green stimulus and putting its faith in four diverse nature based financial instruments – all premised on the belief that the economic framework of the 20th century will not get us through the 21stcentury. Nature is demanding a rethink and Pakistan has heeded the call.