Due to Pakistan’s wide variation in rainfall and geomorphology, it is one of the few countries in the world that has a vast diversity of ecosystems functioning over a relatively small area. The country’s ecosystems include coastal and marine ecosystems, mangroves, the Indus delta, forests, alpine pastures, glaciers, and permanent snow fields, among others. Additionally, Pakistan is blessed with over 200 wetlands of significance, including both natural and artificial wetlands, and 19 Ramsar sites .
Pakistan’s remarkable ecosystem diversity has resulted in high species diversity. According to Pakistan’s Sixth National Report to the Convention on Biological Diversity (2019), the country is home to 198 mammal species (6 being endemic), 700 bird species, 177 reptile species (13 being endemic), 22 amphibians (9 being endemic), 198 freshwater fishes (29 being endemic) and 5,000 species of invertebrates, as well as more than 6,000 species of flowering plants (over 400 being endemic). Moreover, Pakistan is rich in indigenous crop diversity with an estimated 3,000 taxa and around 500 wild relatives of crops .
Pakistan’s biodiversity provides a wide range of important ecosystem services that are crucial to the well-being of the country’s population. These services include clean water, pure air, pollination, soil formation and protection, crop pest control, and the provision of foods, fuel, fibers, and medicines . For instance, Pakistan’s coastline is very rich in marine resources  and the fisheries sector is the most important economic activity in the coastal area of Pakistan; it also makes a significant contribution to the national economy (around 1% to GDP) . Furthermore, Pakistan’s coastal ecosystems play a significant role in climate change mitigation and adaptation, protecting coastal communities from rising sea levels, storms, and flooding . Additionally, forest and rangelands provide numerous ecosystem services, including the regulation of water flow, the conservation of soil, protection from land erosion, the conservation of biodiversity and carbon sequestration (0.5 ton per ha per year). Rangelands and forests combined contribute to services estimated at 13% of GDP . Therefore, Pakistan’s management of natural capital significantly impacts the household income of the communities that rely directly on natural resources, as well as the overall economy .
Pakistan’s considerable natural capital is estimated to equal about 13-15% of per capita wealth. However, despite its importance, much of it is at risk. Pakistan ranks among the top 10 countries in the world most impacted by the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services . The country’s biodiversity is threatened by large scale anthropogenic activities and the degradation of natural habitats .
Various activities are causing biodiversity loss in Pakistan including deforestation, grazing and fodder collection, soil erosion, water diversion/drainage, hunting, overexploitation of plants, agricultural intensification, pollution, the introduction of invasive species, and climate change.
The diversion of water for irrigation has adversely impacted the ecology of mangrove and riparian ecosystems. The country’s game birds and animals are being heavily hunted. Pakistan’s fisheries are facing significant challenges, as fish populations have declined due to overfishing, habitat degradation, water pollution, and the impacts of climate change. In addition, agrobiodiversity has suffered due to soil loss, waterlogging, salinization, intensification of production, the introduction of higher yielding varieties, and the use of agrochemicals. Finally, pollution and the disposal of untreated sewage and industrial effluent into rivers and seas are major threats to aquatic and marine biodiversity , .
Key policies and governance approach
Pakistan has outlined the importance of conserving its biodiversity in various policies, strategies, plans and programs. In 1999, Pakistan developed its first Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) . Following this, for alignment with the Aichi Biodiversity Targets (ABTs: 2011-2020) and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Pakistan prepared its second National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP) 2017-2030 which was approved by the Prime Minister of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan in 2018. The objectives of the NBSAP are based on the five strategic goals of the ABTs: (1) address the underlying causes of biodiversity loss by mainstreaming an understanding of biodiversity across government and society; (2) reduce the direct pressures on biodiversity and promote sustainable use; (3) improve the status of biodiversity by safeguarding ecosystems, species, and genetic diversity; (4) enhance the benefits to all from biodiversity and ecosystem services; and (5) enhance implementation through participatory planning, knowledge management, and capacity building , .
Additionally, in recent years, the country has integrated biodiversity concerns into different policies and planning processes. In this regard, the National Climate Change Policy (2012) suggests policy measures to conserve natural resources and protect forests, biodiversity, and vulnerable ecosystems. The National Forest Policy (2015), National Food Security Policy (2018), and the draft National Wildlife Policy (2018), provide recommendations for expanding the national forests cover, protected areas, natural habitats, sustainable agriculture, and green areas for restoration of ecological functions. However, poverty alleviation needs a comprehensive strategy, which includes long-term sustainable management practices for food production systems (agriculture, livestock, fisheries and aquaculture) that remain the main source of income and nutrition for the country .
Further, Pakistan has developed a comprehensive national and sub-national legislative framework for biodiversity protection and conservation, which includes the Pakistan Trade Control of Fauna and Flora Act, 2012, Marine Fisheries Act, Maritime Security Act, 2016, and the Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) Law .
Successes and remaining challenges
In 2021, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) launched the Inclusive Wealth of Pakistan report, a first-of-its-kind accounting of the country’s natural, human and produced capital, marking a great leap forward towards measuring the contribution of the country’s natural resources and systems , . Incorporating these biodiversity values into national accounting and reporting systems will be a necessary step in Pakistan towards limiting the unintended negative consequences of policy decisions on biodiversity . The report revealed that in the last 5 years, Pakistan has shown evidence of an environmental turnaround, with forests, grassland, sparsely vegetated areas and water bodies all growing in area since 2015. This is likely boosted by Pakistan’s efforts on restoration, such as the Ten Billion Tree Tsunami Programme .
One of the main mechanisms for conserving biodiversity in Pakistan has been the creation of protected areas. Pakistan has also made significant progress on this front, with a protected area network that extends over 13% of the country's total area. In addition to this, Pakistan declared its first marine protected area, Astola Island, in 2017. Despite these improvements, progress towards achieving ABT 11, of declaring 17% of land and 10% of marine as protected areas, is slow and the country faces challenges related to the management effectiveness. For example, most of the country’s protected areas (PAs) have no management plans with specific goals and targets , and there has been no assessment to determine their biodiversity status or management effectiveness. Further, the country's protected areas system is fragmented and lacks coordination, making it difficult to effectively manage and protect wildlife populations .
The NBSAP is comprised of 74 proposed actions across five strategic goals and requires 74.8 million USD for its implementation . However, funding options available for biodiversity conservation and management operations in Pakistan, in both federal and provincial budgets, are relatively low. Inadequacy of financial resources has been a major constraint in pursuing the implementation of the NBSAP and most biodiversity management authorities in Pakistan face serious financial constraints .
In order to minimize the unintended negative consequences of policy decisions on biodiversity, it is important for decision makers to have a clear understanding of the values of nature so they can create an enabling environment to mainstream biodiversity protection. However, during development of the NBSAP, it was realised that there is a general lack of understanding on biodiversity and its values amongst key stakeholders in Pakistan. This lack of understanding has led to inadequate investment in biodiversity conservation and a lack of awareness amongst the public on the need for conservation efforts in the country .
Additional challenges to the implementation of Pakistan’s NBSAP include fragmented decision-making processes, weak coordination among different stakeholders, inadequate capacity and resources, inadequate legislation and enforcement, and a lack of data and information on the status and distribution of many species, making it difficult to develop effective conservation strategies .
Overall, Pakistan faces significant challenges in conserving its biodiversity, and addressing these challenges will require a concerted effort from all sectors of society, including the government, private sector, civil society, and international organizations.
Initiatives and Development Plans
There have been many exciting recent developments in Pakistan’s management of natural capital. Afforestation across the country as part of the Ten Billion Tree Tsunami Programme (TBTTP) is expected to boost the nation’s renewable natural capital resources, particularly in the decades to come. The TBTTP, initiated by Prime Minister Imran Khan upon his election, has helped to make Pakistan a global pioneer in forest restoration by combining community participation, green job creation and strong political commitment. Overall objectives of the initiative, as stated by Pakistan’s Ministry of Climate Change, were to improve the quality and extent of protected areas, encourage eco-tourism and promote community engagement and job creation .
Pakistan has also launched an Ecosystem Restoration Fund to support nature-based solutions to climate change and facilitate the transition towards environmentally resilient, ecologically-targeted initiatives covering afforestation and biodiversity conservation .
In addition, a “Debt for Nature” swap scheme has recently been put in the pipeline, targeting USD 1 billion in nature-based bonds. Supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Pakistan aims to design the first-of-its-kind nature performance bond (NPB) .
In 2020, Pakistan’s government launched the ‘Protected Area Initiative’. The 3 main objectives of this initiative are (i) to expand the protected area coverage to at least 15% of Pakistan’s area by 2023; (ii) to effectively “protect what is notified” with proper management plans, legislative interventions as well as standardised eco-infrastructure designs; and (iii) to link this initiative globally by getting at least seven leading national parks registered under the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) “Green List of Protected Areas”, which accords the gold standard for nature protection .
Pakistan has also set up a special program to protect the snow leopard. The Snow Leopard and Ecosystem Protection Program (PSLEP, 2018-2023) has the following end of project targets: at least 1,500,000 hectares of critical snow leopard habitat have been effectively managed under integrated participatory management landscape approaches, and 4,000 households have benefitted from sustainable resource management approaches .
- Pakistan’s policymakers should invest adequate resources to ensure positive growth of natural capital continues.
- When making policy decisions that promote sustainability, it is crucial to understand the trade-offs, which occur both temporally and across types of asset bases (i.e., capital stocks).
- To protect Pakistan's fishing economy and the livelihoods of coastal communities, there is a need for increased investment in the sector and improved management and governance. This should include measures to promote sustainable fishing practices, protect coastal habitats, and support the resilience of fishing communities to the impacts of climate change.
- Protecting coastal ecosystems is also highly essential in preventing climate change. Pakistan should boost the protection of its blue carbon ecosystems, through reviewing and improving institutional arrangements, working further on capacity building, advancing climate change adaptation and mitigation options, and seeking different sources and modalities of financial resources options.
- Improve biodiversity-related laws and their enforcement.
- Create awareness among the general public about the importance of biodiversity and the need to protect it. This can be done through education programs and campaigns, as well as through partnerships with conservation organizations and local communities.
- Encourage sustainable development practices that take into account the needs of local wildlife and ecosystems. This can include measures such as regulating the use of natural resources and promoting sustainable agriculture and forestry.
- Invest in research and monitoring programs that can provide important information about the state of biodiversity in Pakistan and help identify areas of concern. This can help guide conservation efforts and ensure that they are effective.
- Work closely with other governments, international organizations, and non-governmental organizations to share information and expertise, and to coordinate efforts to protect biodiversity on a global scale. International cooperation is very necessary to achieve the objectives of wildlife conservation.
 Christophe Crepin, Rahat Jabeen, Sachiko Kondo, WORLD BANK BLOGS (2022). Pakistan’s Coastal Ecosystem and Opportunities to Tackle Climate Change. [Online]. Available: https://blogs.worldbank.org/endpovertyinsouthasia/pakistans-coastal-ecosystem-and-opportunities-tackle-climate-change.
 World Bank Group. 2022. Pakistan Country Climate and Development Report. CCDR Series;. World Bank, Washington, DC. © World Bank Group. https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/38277 License: CC BY-NC-ND.
 Mohsin, M., Hengbin, Y., Luyao, Z., Rui, L., Chong, Q. and Mehak, A., (2022). An Application of Multiple-Criteria Decision Analysis for Risk Prioritization and Management: A Case Study of the Fisheries Sector in Pakistan. Sustainability, 14(14), p.8831.
 UNEP (2022). Pakistan’s Ten Billion Tree Tsunami leading the way in ecosystem restoration decade. [Online]. Available: https://www.stockholm50.global/news-and-stories/pakistan-leading-way-ecosystem-restoration.
 Qamar-uz-Zaman, The Third Pole (2021). Pakistan eyes world’s first ‘nature performance bond’. [Online]. Available: https://www.thethirdpole.net/en/nature/nature-performance-bond-pakistan/.