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‘We need to think how we can replenish the planet’

‘We need to think how we can replenish the planet’

KARACHI: Awareness of issues regarding the earth and the environment were at the forefront of all the discussions that took place at the day-long Earth Day Symposium organised as a part of the Dhanani School of Science and Engineering’s ‘Public lecture series’ at the Habib University (HU) here on Saturday.

Environmental lawyer Ahmed Rafay Alam spoke on ‘Can our environmental law meet environmental challenges?’ “When I first started environmental law, I thought of how planting more trees could help the environment, but really, it is so much more than that,” he said.

He admitted that regulating and protecting the environment could be costly. “The pollution-based principle cannot be applied here due to it being too expensive,” he said.

Providing a bit of background about environmental law in Pakistan, he said that talk of environmental rights actually started in Pakistan with the Shehla Zia case, which raised two main questions — whether any government agency has a right to endanger the life of citizens by its actions without the latter’s consent; and secondly, whether zoning laws vest rights in citizens which cannot be withdrawn or altered without the citizens’ consent.

Experts discuss how to curb impacts of pollution, climate change on earth

He also shared some important judicial decisions that have been taken in Pakistan regarding the environment such as the right to a clean and healthy environment, principles of sustainable development and precautionary principle, which came about as a result of the Shehla Zia case of 1994, the right to clean drinking water due to the Salt Miner’s case also of 1994, duty cast on state institutions as a result of the case brought up by the Pakistan Chest Foundation in 1997 for showing cigarette advertisements on state television, the Doctrine of Public Trust (Lahore Canal Road Widening of 2012), Climate Change Justice (Asghar Leghari case of 2015) and the Right to Cultural Heritage (Orange Line) case of 2016.

With these decisions of the Supreme Court, Alam came to the environmental protection council and the various regulatory bodies of the government that have their own responsibilities. He also discussed how the 18th Amendment has prompted each province and the federal capital of the country to come up with their own environment protection acts.

Jawed Ali Khan, programme manager of UN-Habitat Pakistan spoke about the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to which Pakistan is also a signatory. “The institutional arrangement for moving forward towards achieving the goals have been completed. However, there is a need to further strengthen and streamline coordination between various levels of institutions from the local to national level,” he said.

“The formulation of strategies, particularly at the provincial level, needs to be developed keeping in view the National SDGs Framework as well as the respective challenges and opportunities in the provinces.”

Sharing his views, Tofiq Pasha, of Pasha Farms, said that people constantly talked about the environment without even realising what the earth and its environment [required] as they sit in air-conditioned rooms. “But we are all part and parcel of the environment. We are a tiny speck on this Mother Earth, which also breathes. Her lungs are the trees. Just like we have blood flowing through our veins, water is like blood for Mother Earth,” he said, adding that one must be blind to not be able to see the environment issues being faced by Pakistan.

“This land of ours, this environment in which we live and breathe is so sick. It is time that we woke up and opened our eyes to look around us and take notice of what is happening here. Each and every one of us has a negative impact on the environment so we need to think how we can replenish the planet. Act and find new and innovative ways to heal Mother Earth,” he said.

Urban planner and teacher Farhan Anwar talked about linking climate change to urban planning. “In the coming years, more than 75 per cent of the global population will be living in urban cities and most activities causing greenhouse gases are happening in the cities,” he said.

“When we talk about urban mobility and transportation, we are thinking of getting people from ‘Point A’ to ‘Point B’. But it involves so much more. You need to think about urban mobility in sustainable terms and for sustainable cities,’ he said while also explaining a bit about sustainable cities. “They are inclusive cities that are at ease with themselves unlike our cities, which are adding to our environmental problems,” he added.

He also said that there was no data generation taking place in our cities so the aspect of monitoring the things hurting the environment and at what lengths was also not there. “Still, we know that we are in trouble. We need to come up with a good vision for our cities,” he said.

Mohammad Islahuddin from Hubco Power Company Limited, meanwhile, said that their coal plants came about as a part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) as more sustainable energy was needed for their projects. “Still, Hubco didn’t compromise with quality and has installed up-to-date, state of the art instruments and are using the best technology,” he said.

Dr Aqdus Afzal, a teacher of economics at HU, said that economic growth led to fossil fuel emissions. “We can cut back on economic growth,” he said. “But, in a country like ours, economic growth is required to create jobs.”

It was also pointed out that using dirty fuels such as coal added to the poor air quality here. “Air quality is a very serious issue in Pakistan. There is social cost of having poor air quality with so many people getting sick and even dying, which in turn leads to productivity issues,” he said.

“We have two solutions for this,” he said. “Implementing a carbon tax to see who is polluting the air and how and with what to tax them. And we would also have to move towards the Green New Deal, a proposed stimulus programme that aims to address climate change and economic inequality, to prevent further environmental degradation.”

Published in Dawn, April 14th, 2019

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