When Cardinal Joseph Coutts, president of Caritas Pakistan, planted a humble olive tree in Lahore in 2016, he was laying the foundations of hope for future generations.
Pakistan is the fifth country in the world most affected by climate change, according to the Global Climate Risk Index. The country contributes less than 1 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases blamed for causing global warming, yet its 200 million-plus population is among the world’s most vulnerable victims of the growing consequences of climate change.
This means that devastating monsoons, droughts, and floods and record-breaking high temperatures, which lead to reduced agricultural productivity, have been getting ever more frequent. Meanwhile, coastal areas are threatened by projects rises in the sea level and increased cyclonic productivity. Communities find themselves just recovering from one disaster when another hits.
The director of Caritas Pakistan, Amjad Gulzar says, “The impacts of climate change have been disturbing us all and we are watching these changes with great sensitivity. There is a need to change our lifestyle and approach.”
Caritas Pakistan has long realized the need to mobilize communities and equip them with the knowledge and skills to cope with climate change. So, in December 2016 and with government support, Caritas launched the One Million Tree project with the aim of planting one million trees across 36 districts.
Trees are vitally important to our ecosystem. They provide oxygen, store carbon, help conserve soil and water, prevent desertification and natural disasters such as landslides. Reforestation is a vital mitigation tool in combatting climate change.
By November 2019, when the One Million Tree project had ended, Caritas had planted 1,062,2777 trees. Caritas had seen that uniting the efforts of Caritas, communities, the government, and others had worked so well in tackling climate change that they immediately launched the One Million More Tree Plantation project for 2020-2023.
Amjad Gulzar says, “The campaign has set a momentum, we can’t lose it. It gave us a chance to advocate a green lifestyle. These small steps will have a great impact on our common home.”
This project is not only important for the safeguarding of creation, but also for the promotion of interreligious dialogue. Caritas Pakistan’s initiative represents a contribution by the small Catholic community for the benefit of the whole country and it helps to bring different communities closer together in dialogue and mutual understanding.
“Planting trees is considered a type of divine investment,” he says. “They play a critical role to our existence on earth. We may have achieved the previous target but our environment is still unbreathable. What we plan today will benefit us tomorrow”