ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s efforts to tackle air pollution have taken a significant step forward as the country’s first National Clean Air Policy (NCAP) was approved this week by the federal government, aiming to improve air quality in the country by reducing pollution.

The policy aims to provide a comprehensive framework for improving air quality in Pakistan, with particular focus on implementing national-scale actions that would lead to measurable improvements.

With the NCAP in place, the government and its partners are poised to make significant progress in the fight against air pollution in Pakistan, with major objectives being reducing annual deaths and trans-boundary pollution, improving the health of Pakistani citizens, with a positive impact on the country’s economic activity.

The efforts for the approval of the NCAP were spearheaded by the Federal Minister for Climate Change Senator Sherry Rehman who said that if implemented as per recommended time frame, the policy would set the foundation for a cleaner and healthier future for Pakistan and its people.

“Air pollution is a critical environmental and health issue in Pakistan, causing 235,000 premature deaths in 2019 alone and reducing the average life expectancy of our citizens by up to 2.7 years,” Sherry Rehman said.

“Our country consistently ranks among the world's most polluted, with cities like Lahore and Karachi particularly affected. The economic toll is staggering with the World Bank estimating that air pollution has cost Pakistan a staggering US$ 47.8 billion,” she added.

“While the NCAP provides a roadmap for Pakistan to achieve cleaner air, its successful implementation ultimately depends on the provinces,” said the minister.

“Provinces have been extensively consulted for their inputs as they are the actual implementers, with non-binding recommendations and they have a crucial role to play in implementing measures that will improve air quality within their areas of responsibility,” she said.

The ministry said that NCAP had identified one priority intervention in each of the five major air polluting sectors: transport, industry, agriculture, waste, and residential.

The Minister noted that the successful implementation of these five priority interventions is expected to make a substantial contribution to improving air quality, reducing emissions by 81 percent in 2040, compared to the baseline scenario, and by 70 percent compared to 2020 levels.

“It is the beginning of a path Pakistan needs to urgently be on,” the minister highlighted adding that at the heart of the policy was a robust governance mechanism.

The mechanism would be led by a National Action Committee, which would be established at the federal level and facilitated by a Technical Committee.

The National Action Committee would regularly review and update the NCAP every five years, while the Technical Committee would oversee recommended milestones of the policy and relevant plans.

“The NCAP provides a non-binding roadmap for the provinces to follow, and we are happy to assist them in developing their implementation plans,” said the Minister.

“Provincial governments, AJK, GB, and local governments have also promised to devise their strategies, plans, and programs for implementing the policy. It is only through the collective and collaborative efforts that we can deliver on this policy and improve Pakistan's air quality, reducing air pollution that harms millions of Pakistanis every year,” she said.

With a clear policy structure in place, if implemented at all nodes and as per commitments made by the provinces, the NCAP will bring about lasting change across the country and make significant strides in improving the air quality of Pakistan, the minister said.

It is also a guideline for the implementing agencies and environment protection agencies (EPAs) in all provinces and federal units.

Published in Dawn, March 11th, 2023

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