LAHORE - Ruthless and unabated cutting of indigenous trees for improving road infrastructure and developing housing schemes, increase in the number of vehicles and resultant excessive emissions, unchecked use of polluting fuel in industries, and more asphalt and concrete structures are deteriorating environment in major cities in general and Lahore in particular.

Though cutting of trees for development and new plantation is going side by side, it is not making any significant impact as exotic species are gradually replacing the indigenous plants, carbon-sequestering biomass.

The first thing builders or contractors do is removing the trees, even those that do not get in the way or hinder construction. Wherever indigenous forest disappears, the new roads bordered with exotic plantation appear.

Environmentalists believe that people at helm of affairs need to understand that trees are sinks that sequester atmospheric carbon to control global warming. Big trees will hold more carbon and as such will clean environment unlike exotic fancy plants and shrubs. Whenever a huge mature tree like pipal is removed, the replacement is a shrub.

Intensive plantation of shady indigenous trees and not exotic ornamental plants and shrubs, discouraging private vehicles through congestion charges and high parking fee but not before providing respectable and efficient public transport and enforcement of environmental laws are need of the hour to check environmental degradation.

“Yes, tree cutting is an issue. Some departments are cutting trees for development and others doing plantation of new saplings. Departments like Housing and LDA need to remove trees for developing housing societies and widening of roads. Forest Department and PHA are tasked to plant trees. However, it is a pity that there is no law to check cutting of trees except close to border or in cantonment areas. There should be a balance between development and conservation,” said Ahmed Rafay Alam, a leading lawyer and environmentalist.

“It is a pity that even those trees that do not get in the way or hinder development are chopped down. There should be minimum tree cutting for development and maximum plantation for checking urban heat island effect in cities like Lahore,” he added.

An urban heat island (UHI) is a city or metropolitan area that is significantly warmer than its surrounding rural areas due to human activities. Asphalt roads and concrete buildings in urban areas heat up more than suburban and rural areas during the day. With a decreased amount of vegetation, cities also lose the shade and cooling effect of trees, and the removal of carbon dioxide generated by vehicular and industrial emissions.

“Besides checking global warming, trees have aesthetic value. No tree should be cut unnecessarily. Only 10-20 per cent of planted saplings survive and it took 15-20 years to become grown up trees,” Alam told The Nation.

He was of the view that deforestation was not the only issue and there were other factors behind degradation in environment. “Volume of carbon dioxide emission from one vehicle in three to four hours is that much high that one tree cannot absorb in entire life. As such more vehicles, factories and concrete structures and increase in the length of asphalt roads are major causes of environmental degradation. It is need of the hour to take every possible measure for controlling environmental degradation,” he further said.

Ahmed Rafay Alam suggested improving laws, implementing the existing ones in letter and spirit, avoiding unnecessary tree cutting, increasing plantation, discouraging use of private cars after improving public transport to combat the menace of climate change.

Welcoming the adoption of master plan by PHA for plantation of indigenous trees in Lahore, he said: “PHA is planting indigenous trees on both sides of the Lahore Canal from Thokar Niaz Baig to BRB. PHA is also encouraging plantation of indigenous trees by providing free saplings to public. The authority has also improved vegetation along Ferozepur Road after removing encroachments.”

Forests Minister Malik Muhammad Asif Bha Awan says nine million saplings will be planted during this monsoon tree plantation campaign. He claims the Punjab government is toeing an effective strategy of enhancing plantation and area under forest cover in the province.

“The Tree plantation campaign monsoon 2016 has fixed the target of planting nine million saplings with an aim to bring one percent more land under forests,” the minister told The Nation while stating that there would be a farmer’s day on nurseries of forest department across the province for creating awareness about importance of forests.

“This new strategy would also concentrate on improving the management of hill forests and desert forests. The government will ensure usage of new technology and scientific information to make the tree plantation campaign a success and promoting plantation on public and private nurseries,” he added.

He further said that trees planted under current campaign will be checked through geographic information system.