Naheed Shah Durrani — The Green Stimulus planting 10 billion trees and creating jobs

The Innovation Dividend explores how innovation in society and government are paying off. Over the coming weeks, we’ll be exploring how ‘policy frontliners’ are innovating in real time in the COVID-19 pandemic and asking which of these changes and “raw learnings” might become part of our new normal. You can see the backstory by Kal Joffres here, Podcast EP 1, Podcast EP2, Podcast EP3, Podcast EP4, Podcast EP5, Podcast EP6, Podcast EP7, Podcast EP8, Podcast EP9, and Podcast 10

While so much of the global conversation about climate change supposes slowing economic growth, Pakistan is showing us how investing in the environment isn’t just a source of economic growth — it can provide employment to those who have lost jobs during COVID-19. We speak with Naheed Shah Durrani, the Federal Secretary for the Ministry of Climate Change in Pakistan on the country’s ambitious programme to plant 10 billion trees. We’ll also hear about how making such a large investment in climate change became politically feasible and how Pakistan’s “debt for nature” swaps that reduce national debt in favour of investments in the environment might work. This interview was recorded on July 8, 2020.

Naheed Shah Durrani: [00:00:00] Sections of society may have had misgivings as to how does this type of a program impact economy? How does it lead to employment? That conversation has been highly beneficial in terms of sensitizing, an ordinary citizen across the country. It is not just going to help the environment and the air quality, et cetera. It has an impact on people’s income.

[00:00:27] Kal Joffres: Hi, I’m Kal Joffres.

[00:00:28] Milica Begovic: And my name is Millie Begovic.

[00:00:30] Kal Joffres: Welcome to the Innovation Dividend. The podcast that explores how innovation in society and government is unleashing new solutions and approaches to stubborn development problems.

[00:00:40] In today’s episode, we speak with Ms. Naheed Shah Durrani, the Federal Secretary for the Ministry of Climate Change in Pakistan. Globally, the conversation around combating climate change has often been one of trade-off. So to keep the planet safe, we have to slow economic growth. Pakistan shows us that fighting climate change isn’t just a source of economic growth. It can be done in a way that benefits the most vulnerable. We hear about Pakistan’s ambitious program to plant 10 billion trees and how it’s being accelerated during COVID to generate more employment in a safe way for people who might have lost their jobs.

[00:01:13] We’ll also hear about how making such a large investment in climate change became politically feasible and how Pakistan is debt for nature swaps that reduce national debt in favor of improvements to the environment might work.

[00:01:25] Milica Begovic: Minister N., good afternoon and welcome to The Innovation Dividend podcast.

[00:01:31] Naheed Shah Durrani: Thank you very much. Thank you for inviting me.

[00:01:34] Milica Begovic: We are thrilled to have you on the podcast, because some of the efforts that you have been leading on behalf of the government of Pakistan have been absolutely exemplary and have gathered quite a bit of attention globally.

[00:01:48] And we wanted to get into quite a bit more detail to understand the mechanics behind them.

[00:01:53] Naheed Shah Durrani: The 10 Billion Trees is a $800 million or Pakistani Rupees 125 billion-rupee investment that the government of Pakistan wants to take forward as a central major investment. In its overall objective of addressing various components of climate change.

[00:02:17] In the context of the green stimulus that has been lately announced by the government of Pakistan as a response to COVID-19, as a response to the type of economic downturn that we are facing.

[00:02:32] Milica Begovic: I think this would be very useful to hear about how the program has been tweaked and pivoted to continue achieving the objectives that were originally set, but also address some of the issues that have arose as a result of the pandemic.

[00:02:46] Naheed Shah Durrani: The main feature of this particular program at the heart of it as the massive forestation and containing the degradation of the forest sector.

[00:02:56] But it is not just restricted to forestry. It is much larger rehabilitation and expansion of the country’s ecosystems. And when I say ecosystems, it includes forestry. It includes biodiversity. It includes various other components of wildlife: protected areas, national parks reserves, and it also includes botanical gardens. You know, massive nursery plantation, and has a further context in terms of type of plants.

[00:03:30] It will be number one, it’s a national program. It has full participation of all the provincial governments in the country.

[00:03:39] We are now gradually going to involve some other stakeholders in the implementation as well as oversight. At this point in time, the way it has been designed it is titled as a 10 Billion Tree Tsunami.

[00:03:54] But in terms of phase one, the overall number of trees that have to be planted in the next five years’ time, it is 3.2 billion. But we are looking at it as just a phase one and hopefully in coming phases with various other interventions, we plan to gradually scale it up in the coming one decade.

[00:04:18] During the implementation, there is going to be an engagement with the communities. There’s going to be involvement of youth and women in various components at the grassroot level and the number and the tentative number that was being envisaged was approximately one million jobs.

[00:04:38] When we are talking about jobs, we are basically referring to the short-term daily wage employment that is generated while we undertake various components from the nursery raising, to looking after the nurseries, and then putting them on the various, you know, areas or regions in terms of the range land or forest or canal land.

[00:05:06] And various other places where these have to be planted and maintaining the forest and looking after the next four to five years, again, requires a lot of labour, availability and supervision, et cetera.

[00:05:20] But as we entered this health emergency, the COVID context and most of the country closed down and had a serious impact on the overall economy, on the farms, on people’s lives and livelihoods, especially jobs, et cetera. We sat down in the ministry to look at how the program can visit its existing cost and context can be slightly tweaked to be able to increase the number of daily wage. We realized that the number can very well be increased in this program.

[00:05:58] We realize that the number that we had included on the protected areas or for the rehabilitation of the national parks, that number would very well be increased by 20 to 30%. We are in the process of doing our calculations, but we think a 30% increase can be incorporated in the 10 Billion Tree program in terms of the overall number of jobs or the community engagement or incomes that we were looking at it.

[00:06:27] The paper that we took to the government and which has been given a go ahead in principle says that we actually have to now make it more people centric. It has to have the economic component of it, or the incomes component of it as a central theme while we handle the environment and the climate change holistically.

[00:06:49] Milica Begovic: Now I think a lot of our listeners would like to understand how is the site work being tracked and managed. To what extent is this program being run in-house by the government and to what extent there might be parts that are outsourced?

[00:07:05] Naheed Shah Durrani: First is that the provincial governments are, under the project are responsible for provincial level of monitoring, at a a local level at each and every site.

[00:07:16] Second, monitoring is the ministry, the sponsoring. The Ministry of Climate Change through its dashboard, through its digital team, and through its physical monitoring teams will monitor onsite. As I said, we already have started to receive the project implementation of last two quarters.

[00:07:38] So we have the manual reports. Our teams are going to go for physical monitoring in next, let’s say as soon as July begins, we would have these teams go out. On the recruitment side of the monitoring teams. But most probably this is going to be completed in July, August, September. wWe see the first onsite physical monitoring, which is going to be captured through coordinate through the GIS mapping and to a certain sample of physical verification, which is again going to be put in our digital application that would have been ready by then.

[00:08:16] And then we will do the digital monitoring. And digital monitoring needs that, at a section at a particular union council, a particular forest is being regenerated or a nursery is being set up or an orchard is being set up. That particular report is going to get into an Android-based application or through a mobile, and we’ll come to the provincial government.

[00:08:38] And even if the public within Pakistan wants to be very satisfied in terms of the numbers that we are claiming, or the progress that we are reflecting, then there has to be a third party onsite monitoring on a third-party evaluation of the entire project. Initially, we had planned that we were, the ministry is going to seek services of an international consortium or a company or firm that can undertake a holistic baseline, and then continue to monitor the activities throughout the next four to five years.

[00:09:16] Milica Begovic: It seems that the existing infrastructure and institutions that were in place before the pandemic are pretty fundamental for you to be able to do this level of monitoring a number of different levels.

[00:09:30] So I’m curious to know what existed before the pandemic that allows you to engage in this type of tracking and managing. And I asked that for a number of reasons, one, to be able to understand what are the different critical policy area that you have invested in before the pandemic that are now really paying off.

[00:09:50] But also because I would imagine the program like this in times of pandemic has to be carried out, taking into mind all the precautions of using masks and operating with physical distancing in open air surroundings where people are engaging in these new jobs.

[00:10:06] Naheed Shah Durrani: Our overall targets were very, very highly ambitious prior to the pandemic.

[00:10:13] What particular policies did we have on ground that facilitated this? Number one, last year, the planning phase of this particular program and the engagement with the implementing agencies was very intense.

[00:10:26] Throughout last June, July, the overall design, its components, what will the monitoring be like, what type of systems are required? What type of manpower was required? Though primarily earlier the forest departments in all the provinces, other than KP [Khyber Pakhtunkhwa] already had, a KPK province already had a system — had manpower, had been implementing the 1 Billion Tree program.

[00:10:50] So they were comparatively, let’s say more prepared in terms of systems and manpower. The other provinces, especially the smaller ones, Balochistan, AJK [Azad Jammu and Kashmir], GB [Gilgit-Baltistan], etcetera, were not that prepared.

[00:11:05] But the type of discussion and preparation that was done last summers has paid off in the sense that despite the delay and the release of financing, et cetera, they were able to put in place some type of systems whereby they were able to get information from the field. So that preparatory work in terms of putting the nurseries on ground, mobilising teams on ground, getting the daily wage of people on ground. And last December, January was competitively much speedier than in the other projects.

[00:11:41] Everything got slowed down in March and April. But what happened in April was the Ministry of Climate Change, as well as the Forest Department realised that this particular activity has a certain context, which can be carried forward even at the height or during the peak of pandemic.

[00:12:04] The reason being largely this activity is an open field. It does not in any crowded areas. It is not in a marketplace. There need not be any crowding. So because most of this activity’s been carried on the canal sites, on the range land, on the hilly areas, on the mountainous side.

[00:12:25] So getting the local communities with adequate spacing, et cetera, with the little bit of dissemination, and our Forest Departments actually moved out and we have documents to show that they were able to guide and they were able to provide at least minimal masks or some type of face covers to these people.

[00:12:45] So for this particular activity, the 10 Billion Tree plantation, we were able to get a clearance from the top level, telling the provincial governments that while other sectors, et cetera, have slowed down, closed down, this particular activity be allowed.

[00:13:01] Milica Begovic: The stimulus investment really could have been directed in a number of ways. One of which is for example, upgrading physical infrastructure. Why would the government choose to be invested in environment over more traditional choices?

[00:13:15] Naheed Shah Durrani: Governments came out with, let’s say dole-out packages. They came out with support activities. They came out with social safety net programs, even government of Pakistan announced a $1.2 billion, or 1.3 trillion Pakistani Rupee package for extending support in various ways to various sectors.

[00:13:35] Coming back to why climate change and why green stimulus, has being again given an emphasis. Number one, we have not sought any additional income from the government as of today.

[00:13:50] What we have said is that existing finances be protected and we will try to reprogram it as it is. Secondly, there is a complete clarity as far as government is concerned is that climate change — climate change is not an isolated sector.

[00:14:08] There’s a complete clarity at the prime minister’s level, at the government of Pakistan’s level, that when we talk about climate change, you’re very, very clear: you’re talking about food security, agriculture.

[00:14:20] You’re talking about energy. We are talking about health, housing, urban development. We’re talking about sanitation and water. So given the type of cross-cutting impact it has on people’s lives. Government has been very, very forthcoming in terms of support to the sector.

[00:14:39] Milica Begovic: So what is the opinion of the person on the street about the urgency of dealing with climate change? And is this part of the reason why an investment of this size has become politically feasible in Pakistan?

[00:14:50] Naheed Shah Durrani: At that time, they were all obviously, a certain section of society, the other political parties, or maybe sections of society may have had misgivings as to how does this type of a program impact economy?

[00:15:06] How does it lead to greater GDP? How does it lead to employment? But in the last four years — 2014 to ’18 and ’19 — the work and KP has been evaluated, examined. It has been criticised and there has been a continuous conversation. That conversation has been highly beneficial in terms of sensitising an ordinary citizen across the country that is had a wider context.

[00:15:37] It is, it is not just going to help the environment and the air quality and the carbon sequestration, et cetera. It has an impact on people’s income. It has an impact on the GDP as well. Having said this, having said this other provinces, other regions, there’s still a continuous debate in terms of balancing in terms of, why, how is the size of a project justified?

[00:16:05] What we believe is that while we are in the Ministry have a lot of responsibility in terms of again evolving a very genuine debate and a communication strategy that reaches not just the, not just the educated or not just the aware middle class, but reaches out to the poor in Balochistan.

[00:16:27] Where there are issues in terms of road infrastructure, availability of electricity, housing, etcetera. There and for us to be able to tell them that this type of a program can impact lives and livelihoods, we still have to do a lot of work on ground.

[00:16:41] Milica Begovic: Now, another question that looks at some of the more entrenched interests that exist in this area, Pakistan has lost a great deal of trees to illegal logging. And this is not necessarily unique only to Pakistan, but in many countries in the world. How do you ensure that the trees that you’re currently planting don’t suffer the same fate?

[00:17:01] Naheed Shah Durrani: Yes. On the last three decades, a massive deforestation has happened and it has happened on the same pattern as other parts of the world, dedicated interest groups, communities, weak regulation, weak oversight, inability of the government to be able to be present across each and every region.

[00:17:23] Again, a very complex set of regulations that is required conserving forestry, conserving trees has been an agenda. A lot of work on that area — on the forestation, on the maintenance and protecting communities — with definitive interests does not impact on the forestation seriously.

[00:17:49] What happened in KP, and this is where our learning is coming from, that they made the existing rules, enforcement more vigilant. Communities were also included in the vigilante and there was a very strong confrontation that happened of the implementing agencies with the timbre-related businesses.

[00:18:11] it is enforcement can only be successful if government is able to evolve alternate strategies that are commercially viable, that are enforceable, that are sustainable. So one thing on which I think that, as I said, there are three or four levels. First is the local communities — the local communities that depend on firewood, local communities whose livestock is dependent on grazing and the range lands, et cetera.

[00:18:40] Now, giving them alternatives continues to be a huge challenge, but there are two or three very targeted initiatives that are under planning stage. One of them is to help the poor, help the remotely located communities, help them with alternate solutions to firewood. And for that, we are working on a program whereby [they have] energy-efficient stoves.

[00:19:07] These are local stoves which use, which run on bio gas, et cetera, which run on alternate methods of fuel. Those have to be made available easily available across various communities that are dependent on firewood. Unless we are not able to do this in a very effective, sustainable and acceptable manner we have to do a lot of work on that side.

[00:19:33] As far as the organized timbre market or the timbre firms and industries concerned, there has been very strict oversight as far as KP is concerned.

[00:19:44] We still have to work with the other provinces. The federal government has gotten to this backup plan or better project because of the overall arching country’s requirements on the climate change, on our commitments relating to lowering the temperatures, reducing the air pollution, and overall reducing the type of risks, the vulnerabilities that the country’s faced with.

[00:20:07] In terms of the regulatory work, in terms of the alternate that we have, that would involve a whole set of regulatory framework on the forestry, on the timber industry and market. I believe I still have to get engaged with my team. We have to get an engaged with the provincial governments to see that the existing laws or the type of work that has been done in KP in terms of improving the enforcement, how can it be then taken to other parts of the country?

[00:20:38] Milica Begovic: And it’s very also humble of you to say, given the impressive nature of the program. In researching the 10 Billion Trees program, I learned that the third phase would be focused on structuring debt for nature swaps that are based on the ongoing activity as well as Pakistan’s re-negotiations of the debt with countries that support the green revival of the global economy. I’m interested to know how would a green swap work? How much would the government have to invest to swap $1 of debt for a mini vacation of its economy?

[00:21:10] Naheed Shah Durrani: We have looked at our country’s debt. It is massive at this point in time. It has almost more than 90% of our GDP. As it crosses a hundred percent of GDP, we understand our country’s going to fall into a massive fiscal stress.

[00:21:28] It is that debt context plus the commitment of the global leaders on the climate that we are preparing a soft strategy paper to see what does the possibility that the government of Pakistan has made an $800 million-dollar public sector investment — what part of it can come to the government assistance?

[00:21:48] If not for a blanket waiver, a dedicated waiver on, you know, what we are calling debt for nature. What we are saying is that part of your outstanding debt towards Pakistan can be exchanged for this particular component of the climate change action. And actually, the program that we are putting on the forefront is the 10 Billion Trees, various components of it.

[00:22:13] So it has the forestation, it has ecological conservation. It has biodiversity. It has wildlife components. It has regional components. It has national components. It has sectoral, sub-sectorial competence. So let’s say bilateral debt portfolio at this point in time is approximately 11 billion dollars.

[00:22:35] So of that 11 billion dollars, some of the countries that have earlier undertaken debt for nature swap, you know, some of the European countries, some of the North European countries. We’ve already in fact, Pakistan already has a small experience where post-9–11, a part of Pakistan’s debt, bilateral debt was swapped for development.

[00:22:59] Looking at the earlier experience of various countries, whereby small components of their investments were acknowledged and debt for nature has happened, it will require a lot of, number one technical preparedness on our side. It will then require engagement with the possible, you know, regional partners in Europe, et cetera, maybe Korea, maybe Japan, maybe, you know, Australia.

[00:23:27] For us to be able to showcase our program, its benefits — local benefits, national benefits, climate benefits, global benefits — for them to be able to see the technical data examined it’s something that we are very hopeful about. But we are still in the process of doing our technical work and then we will get into a proper negotiation or advocacy for this particular debt for nature swap.

[00:23:53] Milica Begovic: It’s a really fascinating example. And I would imagine one that other countries would want to look out for because essentially it shows how investment in greening the economy can set the government up to think about very different types of financial mechanisms. Could you tell us a little bit more about Prime Minister’s Five-Point Green Agenda, and maybe your opinion about the fact of whether stimulus plans are accelerating or slowing other parts of that agenda?

[00:24:23] Naheed Shah Durrani: So of the Five-Point Agenda, of the ten billion tree which is right at the heart of it, the biggest people-centric action that you already have on ground. The second is the Ministry remains engaged on, there’s a month robust work that we were able to develop a policy.

[00:24:42] The policy was taken to the cabinet and it has gone to the economic coordination committee. And it has now been referred to an interment ministerial committee to look at the type of incentives that the minister had recommended to see how electric vehicles and all lives of electric vehicles — the two-three wheelers, the four wheelers, the trucks and buses, the public transport, et cetera — can be gradually introduced.

[00:25:09] The Prime Minister had already approved the broad targets for the next 10 years, envisaging that at least 50% of the vehicular traffic transport in Pakistan is going to convert into disruptive technology that has the electrical vehicles. But we understand in countries like ours where there is a robust auto industry, where there’s a conventional technology that is already in the country, there is likely to be, you know, a disruption. There is going to be resistance.

[00:25:38] It’s going to be a huge debate. We’ve taken that debate forward. We’ve been, we’ve engaged with multiple stakeholders and are able to convince other ministries — energy, the commerce, the industries, and other stakeholders in terms of how beneficial it can be to the country.

[00:25:57] It can be beneficial in terms of its impact on climate. There is a huge, you know, responsibility on the government to be able to, you know, provide solutions and during the current pandemic, it was very well acknowledged by the civil society, by academia, that though the lockdowns have led to visible improvement in the air quality, especially in the big urban centers like Lahore, Rawalpindi and Karachi, etcetera.

[00:26:25] So there is an acknowledgement that the government of Pakistan having multiple vulnerabilities as far as fossil fuel is concerned, we’ll have to involve different technologies. The work that we have been able to do on the electric vehicle is at a very advanced stage.

[00:26:43] We’re talking about an introduction of this technology in a manner that it provides local manufacturing, that it provides more incomes and more employment to the country. We are not talking in terms of import of electric vehicles. You’re talking in terms of incentivising local manufacturing.

[00:27:02] The third one on this was the clean and green index. Clean and green index is a very wide, it’s a very broad area. It basically is in the context of number one, sanitation; and secondly, the work that the ministry has done under the prime minister’s agenda is that 19 cities. 19 cities were selected.

[00:27:25] The Ministry has remained engaged and developed 30 basic indicators for evaluating those city governments, cities’ performances on various components in the context of greening. The greening part is already being attended to in that under the 10 Billion and some other interventions. A local government function in terms of a solid waste management in terms of sanitation, in terms of clean water. Banning of plastics has been a big agenda with the province to governments on the local governments in the last two decades or so.

[00:28:02] Those indicators are now being put in a digital application whereby we’ll be able to compare some performances of cities. And then we would see in terms of how are those being acknowledged that will be put on a national platform for the general public and citizens to see, and to trigger a debate in terms of improving on the performances.

[00:28:26] But unfortunately, in terms of the policy frameworks, the level of investments and the most significant weakness has been systems. Our institutional capacities for handling the water sanitation component to the local government has remained weak and we need to acknowledge it. We are able to develop a dashboard in terms of looking at the data and trying to reach out and assist those cities, and those municipalities, and those provincial governments that are able to show some type of performance.

[00:29:01] What is the possibility in terms of changing water use across Pakistan? We have very water-intensive cropping patterns and the country. In terms of the way we use of water in irrigation, the way we use it for agriculture in terms of, some of the major constraints that a country like ours has is that we continue with conventional practices of flood irrigation.

[00:29:26] We have a massive wastage of water in various parts of the country. So there’s a big technical work that needs to be done, has been done before. But in terms of further intensifying the dialogue around it and bringing out some projects, this is what we plan to do under the Recharge Pakistan.

[00:29:48] Legislation was done as far as the capital city is concerned. In order to carry it forward in a sustainable manner, not only in the capital city, but across Pakistan, a lot of work requires to be done in the provincial government’s level.

[00:30:02] Milica Begovic: Since the pandemic hit, what are some of the unprecedented things that you have been seeing, in the government and how has this changed the range of things that you think the government can do?

[00:30:12] Naheed Shah Durrani: First of all, we were taken aback. We were taken aback. Despite the fact at this time, a lot, a lot of information was flowing in from left, right, and centre. We were able to see how other countries are handling with it. And we were able to engage with the world community on how this entire world has been hit and how this may not be the same world that we were living in earlier. And how is it that this adversity can be converted into some type of opportunity for the country, for the region?

[00:30:47] And how is it that in a comparatively much unequal world can improve in terms of its indices, on becoming more equitable. So while that’s a big dialogue and it’s a big conversation, but there’s small, small things, that I am observing. What it has done is brought up our collective dependence on one another as far as environment and climate change is concerned.

[00:31:12] So there’s a lot of thinking that has been triggered. There’s a lot of creativity that is going into it, that we may have been pushed into it actually. And we’ve been forced into thinking that we may have to reprioritise climate change so there’s some of the transformational things that are happening around us.

[00:31:30] Milica Begovic: Minister N., thank you so much. You have been very generous with your time. Thank you for speaking to us at the Innovation Dividend podcast, and we will continue following very closely, your efforts and leadership, under both the 10 Billion Trees program, but also the rest of the Five-Point Agenda of the Prime Minister.

[00:31:49] Naheed Shah Durrani: Thank you, Millie. Thank you very much.

[00:31:52] Kal Joffres: That was Ms. Naheed Shah Durrani, the Federal Secretary for the Ministry of Climate Change in Pakistan.

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Regional Innovation Centre UNDP Asia-Pacific

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