• Over the next 25-30 years, more than 60pc of Pakistanis will live in urban or peri-urban settings.
  • Conserving natural resources and ensuring long-term sustainability should feature high in development planning.
  • Pakistan should focus on going green as a mission far beyond any government action.

Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 15 focuses on protecting, restoring and promoting the sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably managed forests, combating desertification, and halting and reversing land degradation and biodiversity loss. This goal is aimed at all eco-systems. As such, it is highly relevant for Pakistan, which has extremely diverse ecologies spread over 12 district agro-ecological zones. From its highly glaciated mountains to its Indus Basin System, cradled in the civilizations of Taxila, Harappa and Mohenjodaro, life expands to its deserts: Thal, Cholistan, Tharparkar and vast Kharan Dasht. Its biodiversity of both flora and fauna is diverse and unique.

However, regrettably its forest resources are extremely meagre, a mere 4pc. Despite recent attempts and widespread pleas to reverse this situation, the scenario remains worrisome for policymakers. Mass, man-made destruction of forests by the organised timber mafia presents a gloomy picture. To add, greed and irresponsibility of a special interest group has robbed Pakistan of its natural tree wealth. The direct impacts on agriculture are daunting because, with little farm forestry, soil health suffers and, with rising global warming, many farms without trees become uninhabitable for life on land. To preserve agriculture for a continued food supply, sensible actions aimed at drawing a balance between sustainable versus overburdened land use will be required.

Pakistan is poised for a turnaround of the system. Rapid action is needed to sustain populations with the erosion of land resources. A reversal is possible provided a science-based approach is followed along with institutional reform and resource mobilisation. Firstly, there is need to create mass awareness amongst all stakeholders; that sustaining life on earth in all forms requires a conscious effort. Overburdening the world with an imbalanced lifestyle — a hallmark of modernisation — needs deep reflection.

In Pakistan, a fundamental question while perceiving long-term survival is to examine where material supplies are procured. Can we forego our insatiable appetite to live with lesser luxuries and forest dependent products, like trees? Pakistan must increase this wealth to ensure enough and sustained resources for all times to come, and provide the needed space to maintain close harmony with nature.

Do we conduct business keeping in mind the needs of all biological life’s safety and welfare? Or do we merely bulldoze whatever comes our way in the name of ‘development’? Pakistan’s new goals in development and mega projects like the China Pakistan Economic Corridor must be harmonised with Goal 15, and development should be guided by the determination to protect life on land.

Among Pakistan’s woes is the impact of rapid transformation of its land and population from rural to urban. It is estimated that over next 25 to 30 years, over 60pc of Pakistanis will be living in urban or peri-urban settings. Competition for space will be high. In this process, Pakistan needs to ensure that damage to life on land is minimised and economic development aspirations refrain from trampling rights and entitlements of those dependent on its behaving responsibly — this is the obligation messaged by all religions of peace.

The government must take a closer look at its supply chain and ensure that as value is added upwards, all stakeholders learn that value additions should conform to helping individual welfare impacted by such business add-ons, starting from labour inputs, processing, movement of goods and services, and the final delivery to the consumers. Profitability of businesses must bring into play the ethical reasoning of protecting the environment with minimal social, economic and negative externalities, which transcends national borders.

Goal 15 is only achievable if change starts from the grassroots. Policy and plans, are at best, intentions and statements and there is no guarantee that they will translate into action unless they come from those who will benefit from the outcomes. Pakistan should focus its energies on going green as a mission far beyond any government action. Plans for territory falling in the 12 agro-ecological zones should be proofed with the sensitivity of sustaining life and providing a level playing field for all to survive. This will require introspection and revision of long-term plans. Conservation of natural resources, and ensuring long-term sustainability by protecting biodiversity, should feature high in development planning thinking. Likewise, equitable distribution of resources will be needed to ensure this goal is achievable on the ground by 2030.

The writer is the director of the Pakistan Water Partnership and a former expert member of the Prime Minister’s Task Force on Climate Change. He can be reached at p.amir2010@yahoo.com

Published in Dawn October 5th, 2016