Beyond environmental policy – Newspaper

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The time has come for Pakistan to redefine its relationship with the environment, not as a passive recipient of international aid, but as an active steward of its natural heritage.

Pakistan’s environmental predicament starkly illustrates the disparity between the country’s contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions and the severity of climate-related challenges. Although Pakistan accounts for less than 1 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, it is highly affected by climate change. The country has seen an alarming increase in environmental disasters such as flash floods, prolonged droughts, and intense heat waves. According to a World Bank report, recent climate-induced disasters in Pakistan, including heat waves and devastating floods, have killed more than 1,700 people, displaced more than 8 million people, and caused more than $30 billion in damage and economic damage. This resulted in significant losses.

The combined risks of extreme climate-related events, environmental degradation and air pollution could reduce Pakistan’s GDP by 18% to 20% by 2050. These events highlight Pakistan’s vulnerability to climate extremes and demonstrate the urgency of a comprehensive strategy to adapt to and mitigate these impacts. Reliance on international climate change aid is often limited to small grants for seminars and PR campaigns and is of little use. Last year, international donors pledged more than $9 billion to help Pakistan recover from devastating floods, but unfortunately that funding never materialized.

The contribution of the Amazon rainforest to the region’s rainfall is a striking example of the important role that local ecosystems play in their own environmental health. Despite its global importance, the Amazon maintains its climate primarily through its own biological processes, and this concept can also be applied to Pakistan’s environmental situation. A focus on seeking international climate change aid and support, while beneficial, may have a limited impact on Pakistan’s environmental recovery. Pakistan’s environmental health, like the Amazon, is heavily influenced by Pakistan’s own conservation and sustainability practices, and Pakistan needs to address environmental issues through internal initiatives.

Addressing Pakistan’s environmental challenges requires a fundamental shift from prevailing mindsets and policy frameworks. What is needed in the coming era is not just an environmental policy, but a comprehensive land use policy. This policy needs to be multifaceted, including agriculture, nature conservation and restoration, industrial practices, and housing strategies.

A focus on seeking international climate change aid and support may have a limited impact on Pakistan’s environmental recovery.

Pakistan’s proposed agricultural strategy in land use policy needs to confront existing practices that are degrading natural capital. The agricultural sector accounts for more than 50% of greenhouse gas emissions, influencing its distribution. Traditional farming methods have led to widespread land degradation, water scarcity, and loss of biodiversity. Latest figures show per capita water availability in Pakistan fell to 1,017 cubic meters per person in 2021, well below the water scarcity threshold, while in the south farmers seeking rent A group of former businessmen-turned-businessmen are strongly lobbying for sugarcane cultivation. Made it worse. This not only contributes to environmental degradation, but also pushes sugarcane into an important part of the consumption basket, despite its high water use and ecological impact. To combat this, a shift to sustainable agricultural practices is essential. Practices such as efficient water use, organic farming, and crop diversification can restore land, conserve water, and increase biodiversity.

Equally important is the protection and restoration of nature. Neglect and overexploitation of natural habitats due to unsustainable timber extraction in the past has resulted in significant loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services in the country. Forests cover only 5.7% of Pakistan’s total area, and the remaining forest areas are facing rapid decline. Increased demand for resources such as fuel, feed, building materials, resins, and charcoal due to commercial logging pressure and population growth are severely impacting forest ecosystems. A strategic focus on restoring and conserving natural habitats such as forests, wetlands, and grasslands is critical. We need another tsunami of one billion trees.

Industrial and housing strategies also play an important role. Historically, unregulated industrial growth and urban expansion in Pakistan has led to environmental degradation through pollution, habitat loss, and increased carbon emissions. The industrial sector, which relies on fossil fuels for energy, is a major source of air pollution.

Vehicles, especially those with outdated and inefficient engines, along with industries such as brick kilns and steel mills, are responsible for the production of particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10), nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and volatile organic compounds. They emit a wide range of pollutants. New industrial strategies should consist of green terms and should promote sustainable industrial practices with a focus on emissions reduction, waste management and environmentally friendly technologies.

The horizontal expansion of cities, especially through unregulated housing developments, most of which are developed without proper registration and compliance with environmental regulations. This turns fertile land into residential areas and threatens food security. It also contributes to the urban heat island effect, further intensifying regional climate change. Lahore, Pakistan’s second largest city, suffers from dangerous smog levels every year, which seriously impacts the health and quality of life of its residents. And our love of highways that cut through the heart of cities must end.

This country has already crossed the threshold of water scarcity and is unfortunately ruled by an elite that has had an endless relationship with subsidized golf courses that require millions of gallons of water every day. For housing, strategies should prioritize sustainable urban planning, including vertical expansion, efficient land use, sustainable urban transport systems, and the integration of green spaces within urban areas.

Pakistan is at a critical environmental crossroads, the way forward is clear and a major shift in policy and thinking is essential. Adopting comprehensive land use policies that address agriculture, conservation, industry and housing in an integrated manner is not just a choice, it is essential for a sustainable future.

The author is a senior research fellow at the James Hutton Institute.

umar.strath@gmail.com

Published at Dawn on February 26, 2024

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