Doing more and better with less

Dawn's special coverage of the Sustainable Development Goals 2015-2030 continues.
Published October 1, 2016

Goal 12: Responsible consumption and production

• Pakistan’s resource efficiency is among the lowest in Asia

• Under the 1997 Pakistan Environmental Protection Act, most policies aimed at sustainable development remain unimplemented

By Shafqat Kakakhel

The writer is a former ambassador and deputy executive director of UNEP. He can be reached at

Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 12 calls for ensuring sustainable consumption and production (SCP), reaffirming global consensus on the centrality of sustainable practices in the quest for sustainable development — commitments that were articulated in the Rio Declaration and Agenda 21 adopted by the UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio in 1992. The targets linked to Goal 12 include sharp cuts in food losses and waste; environmentally sound management of chemicals; sustainable public sector procurement; enhancing knowledge and awareness about the benefits of sustainable practices and lifestyle; rationalisation of fossil fuels subsidies; and strengthening the scientific and technological capacity of developing countries to embrace SCP. It is correct to say that sustainability has mainstreamed the other SDGs, especially those related to poverty eradication, education and healthcare, water scarcity and pollution, renewable energy, economic growth and employment, etc. SCP patterns aim at maximising resource and energy efficiency. It is all about “doing more and better with less” and preventing all kinds of wastes and depletion of the ecosystems vital for human survival and prosperity.

The main causes of unsustainable consumption and production are poor governance and corruption.—White Star
The main causes of unsustainable consumption and production are poor governance and corruption.—White Star

Significantly, although Pakistan’s contribution to the inter-governmental negotiations on the SDGs was negligible, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif did attend the UN Sustainable Development Summit in New York in September 2015 at which the SDGs were adopted as the main content of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Then, in February this year, the National Assembly adopted a resolution proclaiming the SDGs as the country’s national development agenda. In August, the government facilitated and actively contributed to an UN-sponsored round-table on SCP, where the minister for climate change, Zahid Hamid, described SCP as a means of ensuring “efficient, appropriate and affordable use of our natural resources, which reduces our vulnerability to climate change and helps achieve food, water, and energy security”. Since then he has announced the government’s plan to consult federal and provincial ministries, as well as non-state stakeholders on the recommendations of the round-table — and the outcome will be reflected in a National Action Plan on SCP. Mr Hamid also referred to the prime minister’s Green Pakistan Programme, aimed at arresting natural resource degradation and mitigating the adverse impacts of climate change. Following such, it has been learnt that the government plans to revise the National Sustainable Development Strategy (NSDS), which had been developed for the Rio+20 summit in 2012, with a view to reinforcing the references to sustainable industrial development; climate resilient infrastructure; mass transit system and conservation of land and marine biodiversity.

Meanwhile, sustainable consumption and production is crucially relevant for Pakistan given the massive degradation and depletion of natural resources due to the population explosion – from 32 million in 1947 to over 185 million in 2010 – and agricultural and industrial development pursued without regard for environmental sustainability. Per capita, fresh water availability has declined from over 5,000 cubic meters in the 1950s to less than 1,000cm in 2010. Therefore, the quality of drinking water has deteriorated in most cities and towns, leading to a huge increase in water-borne diseases. If that wasn’t enough, the majority of rivers, lakes and ponds are heavily polluted and industrial, municipal and household waste continues to be dumped in water courses. Because of the decaying water infrastructure, there is a 40pc water loss in conveyance from dams to farms, which is seriously challenging for agricultural development. To add, industrial, agricultural and household chemicals are freely imported and used without any regulatory system. Then, forest cover has dwindled from 5pc to around 3pc. Massive depletion of natural resources has meant the cutting of trees, resulting in increased timber imports for housing, furniture production and other usage. Resultantly, health and productivity are impacted because of the lack of sustainability.

—White Star
—White Star

The challenges are numerous given Pakistan’s resource efficiency is among the lowest in Asia. At the government-led round table on sustainable consumption and production last month, it was disclosed that we use 1,070 litres of water for each dollar worth of GDP compared to the Asian average of 128 litres. Pakistan’s energy efficiency is estimated at 128 megajoules (MJ) per dollar, whereas the Asian average is 16MJ per dollar. The main causes of unsustainable consumption and production are rooted in poor governance, corruption, incompetence and inefficiency, non-existent or dysfunctional legal and regulatory systems, and lack of expertise in government agencies and among citizens.

The comprehensive Pakistan Environmental Protection Act (PEPA) enacted in 1997 was followed by the Environment Policy, which includes policies and action plans on a range of issues that, implicitly or explicitly, aim at promoting sustainable consumption and production — such as cleaner production, protecting biodiversity, desertification, clean drinking water, etc. However, most of the policies and action plans are largely unimplemented with the institutions established under PEPA moribund.

And while the proposed formulation of a national action plan on SCP should be welcomed, it is imperative that the real challenge lies in how to overcome governance, institutional, technical and technological constraints likely to impede the implementation of existing blueprints. This factor is also one of the challenges facing the other SDGs,perhaps, and their related targets.

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