Are current laws sufficient to stem the effects of climate change?
Since the 18th Amendment, environmental protection has become a provincial subject. There are laws to control pollution but they are more focused on industrial, air, water and noise pollution. However, there are no proper checks on agriculture sector pollution that comes from pesticides.
As world leaders gather in the UAE in the run-up to the COP28 summit, Dawn is speaking to experts to answer some pressing, everyday questions that are on people’s minds about climate change and related issues.
How are environmental laws implemented in Punjab?
During the PTI government in Punjab, pollution was declared a calamity. The PDMA and revenue department were tasked to deal with it, mainly because they had the staff to tackle issues like crop residue burning and brick kilns.
There is also an issue of implementation. Departments lack the force to oversee thousands of industrial units. When violation cases are brought to the Punjab Environment Tribunal, officials have to present evidence, like lab tests, which are expensive. There are not enough funds for these tests. As a result, the violators are acquitted.
Today, Ahmad Rafay Alam — environmental lawyer and Yale World Fellow — explains the regional dynamics of air pollution, the legal framework that exists to combat it and factors that impede the implementation of laws.
What about laws on fuel quality and smoke-emitting vehicles?
Euro 4 is the standard fuel for vehicles in developed countries. There are five oil refineries in Pakistan, but four produce Euro 2 standard fuel. These refineries have to be upgraded so that vehicle emissions do not cause pollution. As far as I know, around one billion dollars per refinery is required to upgrade them. This government has allowed a cess which may enable them to collect enough funds for the upgradation in the next four to five years.
What does the national climate change policy entail?
Our climate change policy dates back to 2012. We declared that greenhouse gases cause air pollution and since we are not a heavily industrialised country, greenhouse gases are not our issue. The policy focuses on petrol, renewable energies and industrial pollution. However, there is an issue of enforcement, which is being done mainly by the Lahore High Court. The court summons commissioners who take action against some brick kilns, shut down some industrial units and register FIRs. The same is repeated every year.
How do regional dynamics with India affect efforts to control air pollution?
Smog is a kind of air pollution that appears for some weeks in winter. Air pollution remains throughout the year but becomes evident in winter. Smog is caused when smoke and pollution get stuck in the air. Air pollution is definitely a regional issue and spread across the Indo-Gangetic plain, from Peshawar to Kolkata. Joint efforts with India are required to control pollution completely. But this should not stop us from making efforts to keep our own air clean.
Published in Dawn, November 29th, 2023