The World Environment Day (WED) is an annual event started by the UN back in 1972 that has played an important role in recent years for creating awareness about some of the most pressing challenges faced by humankind.
The booming fossil fuel industry in the last 70 years and rapid urbanization have exerted pressure on the limited resources of our planet and on this day, the global community comes together to celebrate our planet while pledging to make it healthier and greener.
Pakistan is ranked 5th on the climate change vulnerability index and faces serious threats in the form of increased variability of monsoon and receding of Himalayan glaciers that will likely impact the Indus river system and future agricultural production.
For a country of more than 200 million and a growth rate of 2 percent, food security is a major challenge. Pakistan is one of the few countries in the world where the temperature ranges from -50°C in the North to +50°C in the South. Therefore, a slight temperature increase from 1 °C to 2 °C can be disastrous for local crops and ecosystems.
How to overcome environmental challenges?
The current government has made giant strides to improve the country’s environmental protection image by initiating the Billion Tree Tsunami project first in KP and then all over the country. This has made Pakistan one of the main climate protection leaders especially among developing countries with such a fragile economy.
In recognition of these efforts, Pakistan was given host rights for the UN flagship day for promoting worldwide awareness and action for the environment on World Environment Day, which is an enormous achievement.
PM @BorisJohnson salutes @ImranKhanPTI for environmental leadership & @Plant4Pak. 🇬🇧 & 🇵🇰 will be saath sath to #BuildBackGreener from COVID &tackle climate change @COP26 #UKPakDosti @ClimateChangePK
— Christian Turner (@CTurnerFCDO) June 5, 2021
Restoration of the environment is not the responsibility of Pakistan alone as climate change is a regional and global issue. Some of the biggest CO2 producers in the world are Pakistan’s neighboring countries, China and India, which are affecting the Himalayan glaciers rapidly and are a big concern for this region.
To protect our future generations, a strong joint action effort is needed to regulate the climate and environmental issues regardless of any border and political hurdles.
The Billion Tree Tsunami project is a brilliant initiative by the PTI government for the restoration of the ecosystem by increasing the forest area and bringing down atmospheric CO2 and other GHGs. However, multiple and complementing initiatives are needed to overcome environmental challenges.
Rapid conversion of agricultural lands into housing societies is a neglected issue that will create environmental and food security dilemmas in the future. Government should immediately ban such practices to save fertile cultivatable land.
A proper long-term urbanization policy should be devised and must be strictly implemented. Investors should be encouraged to build multistory buildings rather than unnecessarily spacious houses to save agricultural land.
Agriculture itself contributes 10% to the global greenhouse gas emissions and Pakistan is heavily dependent upon this sector could come under pressure in the coming decades. For this purpose, an awareness campaign is needed to alter the daily diet by using vegetables and fruits compared to meat and other livestock products that contribute to methane gas responsible for climate change.
Dealing with pollution
Plastic pollution has also been highlighted in the last decade. Tons of plastic waste is being deposited every day in the rivers and streams that ultimately reach the sea and affect marine life and the fisheries sector.
The government has banned single-use plastic in all major cities, which has reduced plastic use but further strict implementation is needed to completely eradicate single-use plastic. Plastic waste should also be recycled on a commercial scale and should be used in the construction industry. Such measures have already been taken by India to get rid of plastic waste and use it for productive purposes.
Air and water pollution is also a significant threat to our economy directly. Around 8 million people die due to air pollution globally but vehicular and brick kiln emissions are on the rise.
There are around 7000 registered brick kilns in Pakistan using low-quality coal, used engine oil as fuel to fire the kilns, which produce toxic gases like HF, O3, CO, NOx, VOCs, and SOx that are a direct threat to the ecosystem including humans and vegetation.
Read more: Pakistan’s struggle with air pollution
Due to the non-availability of clean drinking water, 60-80% of the patients received by the hospitals in Pakistan suffer from waterborne diseases. Government can save millions of rupees in the health sector by improving air quality and providing clean drinking water.
A great responsibility?
Lastly, the current KP government is trying to improve the tourism sector in the northern areas. If the local government can improve the basic structure and necessities in those areas then this sector will expand even further.
The government should explore eco-tourism opportunities in the country and promote green tourist sites in northern areas for international visitors. This will create a billion-dollar tourism industry in just a few years.
This can happen soon if the government sticks to the current environmental policy and with further improvements to reduce greenhouse gases by adoption and mitigation measures.
Pakistan has been badly hit by climate change but can become a flag bearer in climate action and nature conservation by setting examples for other nations and also improving the country’s image on the international stage.
Human activity is the biggest factor for environmental deterioration and humans now have the responsibility to restore our beloved planet’s condition for the sake of future generations.
Read more: Climate Change: Is Pakistan doing enough?
The writer is an Associate Professor at the University of Agriculture, Peshawar. He is an UN-SDSN member for Pakistan and a primary coordinator for Pakistan Water Task Force (HUC) South Asia. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.