Pakistan is one of the world’s low forest countries [1], [2]. Its natural forests are spread over nine ecological zones across the country, covering an area of 4.47 million hectares, or 5.1% of the country’s total land area in 2019. Despite its low cover, Pakistan’s forests are of high significance, providing livelihoods to millions of rural poor. They also provide important ecosystem services, including continuous water flow, ecotourism, and the provision of timber, fuelwood, fodder, and non-timber forest products [3]. In 2019-20, the forestry sector contributed approximately 2.13% in agricultural and 0.41% in overall GDP, though these figures did not account for many forest products and almost all forest services. The actual share of the forestry sector in GDP may be substantially larger [4]. The World Bank reports that rangelands and forests combined contribute services estimated at 13% of GDP [5].    

Over the past few decades, the country has lost a great deal of its forest [5]. As reported in the country’s National REDD+ Strategy and its Implementation Framework, during the period 2004 to 2012, Pakistan lost an average of about 11,000 hectares a year. From 2008-2012, an increasing trend of more than 17,000 ha was observed. According to the National Forest Reference Emission Levels (NFREL) analysis, deforestation has had the highest average annual rates in riverine (34%), scrub (20%), dry temperate (19%), pine (13%), thorn forests (9%), moist temperate (3%), mangrove (2%), and sub-alpine forests (0.5%) [4].

Deforestation and forest degradation is the second leading cause of anthropogenic atmospheric CO2 emissions globally [4]. According to the GHG Inventory in Pakistan’s Updated Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), the Agriculture, Forestry & Other Land Use (AFOLU) Sector emitted 223.45 Mt of CO2e emissions in 2018, constituting 45% of the Pakistan’s total national emissions. Of which, forest land emitted approximately 25.08 Mt of CO2e emissions [1], [6].  


The direct drivers of deforestation and forest degradation in Pakistan include the conversion of forest land to agricultural land, expansion of rural infrastructure, overharvesting of forest products, high fuelwood demand and consumption, poor harvesting practices, overgrazing and forest fires.

The indirect/underlying drivers of deforestation and forest degradation encompasses high population growth, rural poverty, unclear land tenure, the flaws in the existing policies, and limited financial resources for the green sector. The indirect drivers of deforestation are complex, and issues like poverty and population pressure can only be addressed if appropriate policies and mechanisms are adopted at the national level [3].


Key policies and governance approach

The primary legal regime determining the legal categories of forest land in Pakistan and their governance is the Forest Act 1927 (‘Forest Act’). The Forest Act is applicable in three of Pakistan’s four provinces, as well as having been extended to Gilgit-Baltistan (GB). Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) has repealed the Forest Act and replaced it with the KP Forest Ordinance, 2002 which co-opts the major legal categories of forests laid down in the Forest Act itself. The other provinces have made periodical amendments to the Forest Act, with Punjab having made the most significant overhaul of its provisions [4]. Under the Gilgit-Baltistan Forest Act 2019, the cutting of trees will be met by a punishment to violators in the form of heavy fines [1].

In 2017, Pakistan adopted its first National Forest Policy, 2015, after approval from the Council of Common Interest. The goal and objectives of this policy are the expansion, protection, and sustainable use of national forests, protected areas, natural habitats, and watersheds for restoring ecological functions and improving livelihoods and human health in line with the national priorities and international agreements [2].  It has two main policy objectives: (a) the expansion of forest cover and (b) the curbing of deforestation and promotion of forest conservation. Forestry operations of KP, Punjab and GB are governed under their own provincial policies [4].

Other policies outside the forestry sector directly or indirectly linked to or influencing forests, include the Climate Change Policy 2012, the Environment Policy 2005, the Minerals Policy 2013, and the Power Policy 2014, among others [4]. For instance, Pakistan’s Climate Change Policy 2012, emphasizes the conservation of natural resources and promotes sustainable management of scarce forestry resources. The scope of this part of the policy is to recommend adaptation measures to prepare Pakistan’s forestry sector to withstand present and possible future impacts of climate change [3].

Further, through its updated NDC, Pakistan seeks to expand Nature-based Solutions (NbS) by implementation of the Ten Billion Tree Tsunami Programme (TBTTP), Recharge Pakistan, and the Protected Areas Initiative. Pakistan’s emissions, as per 2018 are 489.87 MtCO2e; if implemented fully, the Billion Trees Afforestation Project (BTAP) and TBTTP will sequester CO2 around 500 Mt CO2e by 2040 [6].

Additionally, the country is implementing its National REDD+ Strategy (NRS), which specifies a set of policies, actions and measures for forest ecosystems restoration, which Pakistan aims to implement to reduce its emissions and enhance removals of carbon from the forestry sector. The implementation of these actions will also yield multiple non-carbon benefits and livelihood and employment opportunities for the local communities as well as support in managing the forests’ resources for biodiversity conservation, economic prosperity and climate change mitigation. The NRS proposes Six Strategic Options and Nine Strategic Policies and Measures based on institutional assessment, needs of the forest dependents, and analysis of direct and indirect drivers of deforestation and forest degradation, to achieve the overall vision “Forests in Pakistan provide ecosystem services and livelihood support on a sustainable basis[4].


Successes and remaining challenges

According to the Inclusive Wealth of Pakistan report, the last five years have shown evidence of an environmental turnaround in Pakistan, with forests growing in area since 2015. This is likely to be due in part to the successful implementation of the Ten Billion Tree Tsunami Programme (TBTTP), which is the fourth largest afforestation and restoration initiative in the world. The TBTTP has the target of planting 3.2 billion trees by the end of Phase - I in June 2023. Between 2018 and April 2021, a total of 859.426 million plants had been planted/regenerated over an area of 381,374 hectares over Pakistan. In addition, an estimated 85,000 jobs had been created through paying unemployed community members to work in tree nurseries [7]. As of March 2022, the government is reportedly on track to achieve its 2023 target [8]

Momentum for the TBTTP arose from the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), which in 2014 became the first entity worldwide to complete the Bonn Challenge, a global effort to restore 350 million hectares of degraded and deforested land by 2030. Moreover, it did so in half the planned time and on half the initial budget. This achievement was largely due to the joint efforts of the province’s communities and the KP forest department. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, these efforts led to an increase of 6.3% of forest cover in KP province from 2014 to 2019 [7].

Despite these achievements, Pakistan still faces several challenges related to forestry governance that it will need to overcome for the sustainable management of its forest resources. Weak forestry governance encompasses poor policy implementation, weak enforcement of laws, gaps in the land use planning, weak institutional capacities, and a lack of sector coordination due to conflicting sectoral priorities. Furthermore, the forestry sector has always received low priority in terms of budget allocation when compared to other revenue generating development sectors (e.g., agriculture, infrastructure, energy), both for the federal and the provincial governments [4].


Initiatives and Development Plans

The Ten Billion Tree Tsunami Programme (TBTTP) is built on the successful Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Billion Trees Afforestation Project (BTAP). Through the TBTTP, the government has decided to set a goal of planting 10 billion trees across the country. The programme was approved by the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council with the project cost of Rs. 125.184 billion. During Phase-I of the programme, the plantation/regeneration of 3.29 billion plants will be completed. This project is expected to deliver environmental dividend in preserving atmospheric health, reducing greenhouse gas effects, lowering cases of random floods, lowering rains, droughts and enhancing other biodiversity supportive actions. Additionally, it is anticipated that approximately 1.5 million jobs will be created directly or indirectly [9].

The REDD+ Indus delta (2019-2030 Delta Blue Carbon Phase I) aims to restore 350,000 ha of wetlands in the Districts of Thatta and Sujawal in Sindh province through plantation over a period of 60 years via a multi-phase public private partnership. Phase 1 aims at restoration of 224,997 ha of degraded land through large scale reforestation. Of which, 75,000 ha was restored by 2020 through mangrove plantations [6].

The GoP has also launched an Eco-System Restoration Initiative (ESRI) that aims to facilitate the transition towards an environmentally resilient Pakistan by mainstreaming adaptation and mitigation through ecologically targeted initiatives covering afforestation and biodiversity conservation. The initiative aims to attain Land Degradation Neutrality by restoring at least 30% of degraded forest. The initiative also seeks to establish an independent, transparent and comprehensive financial mechanism in Pakistan called “Eco-system Restoration Fund (ESRF)” to finance the projects and programmes under the initiative [1].


[4], [5]  

  • Strengthen forest-related policies, laws and regulations at provincial and national level to ensure that they do not lead to or encourage deforestation or forest degradation e.g., Forest Act, Mines Act, Climate Change Policy, water, energy and other relevant policies.
  • Develop national and provincial land-use policies to reduce pressure on forests as well as other land types and to regularise land conversion.
  • Strengthen capacity of relevant institutions to carry out law enforcement and forest monitoring, including judiciary with regards to forestry.
  • Enhance awareness and capacities among stakeholders to carry out their respective mandates.
  • Strengthen community governance of forests.
  • Strengthen economic incentives for community action to conserve and restore forest ecosystems.
  • Promote Payment for Ecosystem Services schemes.
  • Develop a communication strategy to raise awareness on sustainable forest management, especially among the rural population.
  • Strengthen intersectoral coordination and awareness of the forest sector.
  • Create and/or strengthen institutions for land use planning at national and provincial level including use of modern technology and participatory approaches.
  • Build capacity for natural capital accounting of key forest biodiversity resources.
  • Create awareness and understanding on values of ecosystem services and key forest biodiversity resources among policy makers.
  • A dedicated unit within the provincial forest departments could be established to deal with land tenure issues.
  • Policies, programs and institutional frameworks should be reviewed to ensure they are gender sensitive, to allow women to participate in the decision making and benefit sharing mechanism.