Saving Earth

Published June 5, 2022

FIFTY years ago today, countries worried by the pressing environmental concerns faced by a planet they shared, came together at Stockholm to recognise that “the protection and improvement of the human environment is a major issue which affects the well-being of peoples and economic development throughout the world”. They realised that there was “only one earth”, a campaign slogan being raised today on World Environment Day. It is a slogan that is profound — and a stark warning to humankind to scale down activities that are destroying wildlife, flora and fauna, ecosystems, and indeed, human habitat itself. The world is fast approaching a point of no return, where a permanent 1.5°C rise in global temperatures looks imminent. Earth’s delicate and complex web of interdependence between and among species, including humans, has been ravaged in the name of ‘progress’. Human activity is affecting three-quarters of the total ice-free land, and two-thirds of the oceans. Unfortunately, the growing demand for resources has outpaced nature’s capacity to replenish and renew. In the last three years alone, the global material footprint has increased by as much as 113pc, as per the International Resource Panel, an offshoot of the United Nations Environment Programme.

For developing nations like Pakistan, planetary climatic changes have acted as threat multipliers, leading to disease outbreaks, food insecurity, water shortage, poverty, and other violations of human rights, posing dire security and existential risks to the country. This is because, despite being blessed with a diverse topography and unique ecosystems, Pakistan’s ability to cope with climatic changes and climate-related disasters is abysmal. Its contribution to carbon pollution is negligible when compared to the big emitters. However, it is among the top 10 countries to have suffered most on account of climate change, made worse by an ever-expanding population. Despite the last government’s promise to shift away from coal, the country remains dependent on fossil fuels, its agricultural and water management practices are antiquated and carbon-intensive, while deforestation continues to make way for brick-and-mortar structures and effluents and plastic choke our waterways.

The government’s inability to counter the hazards of a changing climate is also on account of a lack of resources required to mitigate its effects and set the country on a more sustainable path. Climate financing is certainly a need for developing countries, as emphasised by the federal climate minister, Sherry Rehman, at the Stockholm+50 meeting recently. It is unfortunate that countries most responsible for global warming and plundering natural resources have not yet mobilised the promised $100bn to aid environmental recovery in developing countries. But, irrespective of when the funding materialises, it is imperative that Pakistan develop a long-term climate adaptation framework that permeates every level of financial and social development. Climate change is the biggest threat to national security and, as young environmental activist Greta Thunberg said in 2019, the ‘house’ is indeed ‘on fire’.

Published in Dawn, June 5th, 2022

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