“Problem of pollution being more dangerous as compared to destruction by Hydrogen Bomb, it is proper and high time to implement the law in letter and spirit without discrimination as the life of human being is more precious.” Anjum Irfan v. LDA (PLD 2002 Lah. 555)
Efforts of protecting environment at legislative level date back to Shehla zia’s case against WAPDA to stop the construction of a high voltage Grid station posing serious health threats to population. Right to healthy environment was incorporated under right to life and dignity in Pakistan constitution after Shehla zia’s case in 1994. Other main steps incorporating environment in legislation include Prohibition of allotment of land to dump nuclear waste in Balouchistan, Khewra Mines case passed population a right to safe drinking water, several laws were passed to control traffic pollution and import of infected betel nuts was blocked. This was also followed by Pakistan Protection Environmental Act (PEPA), federal and environmental protection agencies, national Environmental quality standards and other legislative steps to protect environment. Pakistan has been signatory to many conventions to reduce pollution and climate change.
On 25 September 2015, 193 countries of the UN General Assembly embraced the 2030 Development Agenda titled “Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Being signatory to agenda 2030, Pakistan pledges to eradicate poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030 by achieving seventeen sustainable development goals for sustainable development. Pakistan has become the first country to incorporate SDGs in its National development agenda through National assembly resolution in February, 2016. In the list of SDGs, goal 13 deals with the urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts. To strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change, countries adopted the Paris Agreement at the COP21 in Paris, which went into force in November, 2016. In the agreement, all countries agreed to work to limit global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees centigrade. Pakistan with a history of natural disasters and increasing population needs to improve its sustainable development strategies with strengthening three dimensions of sustainable development; Economic, social and environmental. Integrating these three dimensions means an engagement of all the stakeholders through implementation to monitoring of projects and policies. Pakistan faces adverse effects of climate change although carbon footprint is low as compared to other industrialized countries. Total contribution of Pakistan in global GHG emissions is less than 1% but vulnerability to climate change is high due to inadequate technical and financial capacity for mitigation and adaptation. According to a report, Pakistan needs between USD 8 and USD 17 billion per year for a low carbon path till 2050. Climate change impacts agriculture and public health with putting a strain on economy.
Pakistan has been facing climate change in the form of smog in winters with the worst Air Quality Index, increased pollen content in spring, heat wave in summers and floods in monsoon. Adverse climatic conditions need a collaborative effort with strengthening institutions because this will improve information, political freedom, public awareness and support for legislation. Pakistan is positioned 29th in governmental effectiveness, 27th in regulatory quality, and 20th in the rule of law among developing countries (Hassan & Khan, 2020). But with new Government comes new hope. The country is making all possible efforts to strengthen institutions along with meritocracy and transparency.
Pakistan is among the top six countries most affected by global warming with the lowest forest cover as recommended by UN. . Total forest cover of Pakistan as reported by Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) is lower than 2.2 percent of total land. Pakistan loses 42,000 hectares or 2.1 percent of its forests every year. To mitigate the climate change and deforestation, Pakistan started Billion tree campaign first launched in Khyber Pakhtunkha (KPK) in 2014 and the goal was achieved successfully in August 2017 thus meeting Bonn challenge pledge. Aim is to increase afforestation and control illegal logging with a main focus on pine, cedar and Eucalyptus trees. The project is a win-win with an increase in the land cover. Existing plant species are conserved with planting new fast growing species. Project is also aimed to grow native species thus protecting indigenous flora of the country. This programme is a collaborative approach towards sustainable development involving communities approaching youth and women nurseries. This project will restore degraded ecosystem, reduce soil erosion, control floods, improve air quality, sequester carbon and create job opportunities for youth. Pakistan pledged to meet the target of 10 billion plants under the programme “Plant for Pakistan” as announced by PM Imran Khan on February, 2019. Other steps to improve environmental quality include development of a National Climate Change Policy, Prime Minister Committee on climate Change (PMCCC). PMCCC incorporates programmes like 10 Billion Tree Drive, Glacial Lakes outbursts floods Programme and climate resilient urban settlement. The clean and Green Pakistan campaign was launched in 2018 to mitigate pollution and global warming.
Newly elected government’s take on Environment is appreciable but there are still issues which need more attention. Groundwater of about 11 districts of Sindh and Punjab were reported containing Arsenic more that permissible limit as set by national standards. Tharparkar, Hyderabad, Lahore and Kasur are well-known hotspots sites of natural arsenic contamination in groundwater (Ali, Aslam, Rasool & Zhang, 2019). Attention is also needed for the mercury contamination in aquatic, terrestrial, and rice crop system (Ali, Rasool, Junaid & Zhang, 2019). Mismanaged plastic waste is polluting global oceans; Research has shown that Indus River contributes the second largest amount of plastic pollution to the global ocean system (Schmidt Krauth & Wagner, 2017). Open dumpsites and landfills need to be managed, waste burned on open sites or vacant lots threats environmental as well as health, waste leaching contaminates groundwater, open dumpsites are home to many vectors causing diseases. Terrorism may not sound appropriate here but a recent study from nine countries, including Pakistan, proved that terrorism activities not only pollute environment by using non-renewable energy resources but also the equipments and chemicals used pollute environment with increasing heavy metal level in environment (Bildirici & Gokmenoglu, 2020). Pakistan has been fighting terrorism and now it’s time to fight environmental pollution with a more collaborative approach.
Pakistan needs a multidisciplinary and collaborative approach to deal with the threatening environmental conditions. Billion Tree Tsunami can be used as an example to achieve other goals involving all stakeholders at all levels.
Hassan, S. T., Khan, S. U. D., Xia, E., & Fatima, H. (2020). Role of institutions in correcting environmental pollution: An empirical investigation. Sustainable Cities and Society, 53, 101901.
Ali, W., Junaid, M., Aslam, M. W., Ali, K., Rasool, A., & Zhang, H. (2019). A Review on the Status of Mercury Pollution in Pakistan: Sources and Impacts. Archives of environmental contamination and toxicology, 76(4), 519-527.
Ali, W., Rasool, A., Junaid, M., & Zhang, H. (2019). A comprehensive review on current status, mechanism, and possible sources of arsenic contamination in groundwater: a global perspective with prominence of Pakistan scenario. Environmental geochemistry and health, 41(2), 737-760.
Bildirici, M., & Gokmenoglu, S. M. (2020). The impact of terrorism and FDI on environmental pollution: Evidence from Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Syria, Somalia, Thailand and Yemen. Environmental Impact Assessment Review, 81, 106340.
Schmidt, C., Krauth, T., & Wagner, S. (2017). Export of plastic debris by rivers into the sea. Environmental science & technology, 51(21), 12246-12253.
by: Ayesha Muhstaq