PESHAWAR -- The success of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) government's Billion Tree Tsunami Afforestation Project (BTTAP) demonstrates Pakistan's serious commitment to the environment and the resolution of global issues, observers say.
The KP government launched the BTTAP in 2014 and set the goal of planting one billion trees and increasing the province's forested area by at least 2 percentage points by 2020.
The project also simultaneously fulfills a pledge to the Bonn Challenge -- a global effort to restore 150 million hectares of deforested and degraded land by 2020, and 350 million hectares by 2030.
As its share, the KP government in 2014 pledged to restore 348,400 hectares by 2020.
Less than three years into the project, the province has made remarkable success, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the secretariat for the Bonn Challenge.
"The Billion Tree Tsunami initiative is a true conservation success story, one that further demonstrates Pakistan's leadership role in the international restoration effort and continued commitment to the Bonn Challenge," IUCN Director General Inger Andersen said in a statement released August 11.
She congratulated KP Province for surpassing its target by restoring and planting trees on 350,000 hectares of degraded forest landscapes three years ahead of schedule.
BTTAP achieved its restoration target through a combination of protected natural regeneration (60%) and planned afforestation (40%), according to the IUCN.
In addition, it has established 13,000 private tree nurseries, which have boosted incomes, created thousands of "green" jobs and empowered formerly jobless youth and women in KP.
KP is expecting to hit its goal of planting a billion trees by the end of September, also three years ahead of schedule, according to a September report by Geo News.
The KP government has spent $123 million (Rs. 12.3 billion) to fund the BTTAP and will allocate another $100 million (Rs. 10 billion) to sustain the project through June 2020, according to the IUCN.
So far, the BTTAP has come in at $80 million (Rs. 8 billion) under budget -- costing Rs. 14 billion ($140 million) rather than the originally planned Rs. 22 billion ($220 million), according to BTTAP Project Director Muhammad Tehmasip.
"This support makes the project one of the largest eco-investments ever made in Pakistan," the IUCN said in its statement of KP's effort.
In May, the Pakistani government made its own pledge to the Bonn Challenge, adding to the KP government's pledge, tipping the Bonn Challenge over its 150-million-hectare milestone.
"Pakistan is pledging 0.1 million hectares to the Bonn Challenge as part of the Green Pakistan Programme spearheaded by our Prime Minister," said KP Governor Iqbal Zafar Jhagra in May, according to an IUCN statement. "The costs of implementing this commitment will be shared equally by the government and provinces. Other provinces in Pakistan are likely to make their own additional pledges in the near future."
"The Bonn Challenge is not just a driver for forest restoration; it is also a means for green growth, a tool for climate change mitigation, and it creates green jobs," said Malik Amin Aslam Khan, IUCN vice president and chair of the KP Green Growth Initiative and BTTAP Pakistan, in May, according to the same IUCN statement.
"What started as a very good idea outside of the negotiation process is now a restoration movement that has shown remarkable results on the ground," he said in May.
"Apart from becoming the first country to surpass the Bonn Challenge [commitment], the success of the Billion Tree Tsunami is also in compliance with international conventions on global warming including the Paris Agreement, a global agreement signed in 2015 in France on reduction of climate change," said Tehmasip of the BTTAP.
"With the maturity of one billion trees in 2020, the temperature of KP will decrease by two degrees centigrade as required by the Paris Agreement," he told Pakistan Forward.
At the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, KP was honoured as one of the global "forest restoration leaders" -- along with Mexico, Honduras, Costa Rica and India -- for voluntarily carrying out large afforestation and forest preservation projects to tackle global climate change, Tehmasip said.
"This remarkable achievement of the KP government has produced a positive image of the country among the community of nations, [showing] that Pakistan is a responsible state and gives due consideration to global concerns," said Shamim Shahid, a Peshawar-based journalist and security analyst.
"The contributions made by our country in the ongoing war against terrorism also reflect the mindset of Pakistanis, that we are a responsible people and can make any sort of contribution for the eradication of this menace from the globe," he told Pakistan Forward.
"The success of the Billion Tree Tsunami Project has conveyed a positive image of Pakistan to the world community," agreed Shakil Ahmad Khan, president of the Peshawar Chamber of Small Traders and Small Industries.
"Pakistanis are pro-development and are a progress loving nation who want to make their own country and the whole world developed and peaceful, free of all prejudice, hatred and other elements of hazardous nature," he told Pakistan Forward.
This commitment to protecting the environment shows the world a different side of Pakistan, which for decades has battled violence and terrorism, he said.
"It has reflected our commitment to the resolution of issues of international concern including extremism," he said.