The PTI claimed that they are the first political party in Pakistan to launch a detailed environment policy, although the PPP’s manifesto during the last elections was based on five E’s – employment, education, energy, environment and equality. Given the PPP’s track record in the last five years, however, those five E’s seem a bit of a joke now. Let’s hope the PTI is more serious about their policies and indeed, with Malik Amin Aslam (who holds an MBA from McGill and a MSc from Oxford and once served as a Minister of State for the Environment and is currently a senior Climate Policy Advisor at the UNDP) unveiling their environment policy they seem to be starting off on the right foot.
Malik Amin Aslam is also a politician from Attock who has joined the PTI in recent years and represents the new breed of technically proficient experts who are joining the party in the hope of “turning slogans into reality”. He began his presentation on a “Green Development Agenda” to a packed hall (mostly PTI members but also media people and environment experts living in Islamabad) by first describing how blessed we are given our vast natural resources. Our dramatically different landscapes from the mountains to the sea support a diversity of animals and plants.
He then went on to describe the unsustainable development path being pursued by the government, which is costing us 6 per cent of our GDP. Then there are the devastating impacts of climate change on a highly vulnerable country (the 2010 and 2011 floods were triggered by climate change) for which the country is unprepared. We need around US $6 to 14 billion a year just to adapt to the effects of climate change. Our population is also growing and we are one of the most urbanising countries in South Asia.
Although the recent UN Conference on Sustainable Development held in Rio de Janeiro was not much of a success, one thing that came out of the conference is that the future “green economy” is something that every country should define for itself. Pakistan is yet to embark on this journey, although other countries in the region are rapidly turning towards alternative energy and other green solutions. However, as Malik Amin pointed out, Pakistan’s strengths have yet to be harnessed.
Perhaps the country’s greatest strength is its resilience and that gives one hope for the future. In the past few years, the country has faced a devastating earthquake, two cyclones, two mega floods, hundreds of thousands of Internally Displaced Persons from conflicts and still somehow coped. “We rank amongst the top five countries in the world when it comes to philanthropy, giving the most in education and health”, he pointed out. In terms of “innovation efficiency” Pakistan ranks 4th in the world. “That means the country has extreme resilience and ingenuity. All our problems can be reversed we just need to have a ‘can do’ attitude”. Even Goldman Sachs has included Pakistan in the ‘Next 11’, describing our economy as one that is “waiting to happen”. In Malik Amin’s view, the tipping point will come once we make “sustainable choices and deliver change”.
Certainly, the country has to shift away from the ‘Business As Usual’ growth trajectory and pursue sustainable growth. “We have to balance the needs of development with nature conservation and provide opportunities for the creation of green jobs”, explained Malik Amin. For that to happen there has to be political ownership of the green agenda. Before the launch of the PTI’s environment policy in the afternoon, the government had launched their comprehensive National Climate Change Policy (NCCP) the same morning. Referring to that launch, Malik Amin pointed out that: “A number of policies and strategies made by the government are not implemented”. He went on to list his “Green Development Agenda” which called for the integration of “true environment costs in economic decision making” and content wise, it was not all that different from the NCCP with calls for saving wetlands, clean air (vehicle standards, mass transit systems), affordable energy (clean coal, nuclear, hydro), efficient buildings (green building codes), and energy conservation (smart grids, solar power).
In the agricultural sector, he called for producing more with less water use, the introduction of rainwater harvesting and solar powered water pumping, along with a return to more organic farming with reduced pesticide use through integrated pest management and better crop varieties. He also called for responsive land use planning (by controlling urban encroachments) and better waste management (by developing integrated waste management in all the cities and a universal ban on plastic bags). In forestry, he called for the doubling of the forest cover and the need to tackle the timber mafia in the country. Under biodiversity he called for a detailed inventory and a plan to turn our designated National Parks into properly managed eco-parks.
He also called for environmental awareness in schools (from primary school onwards) and for better environmental governance and more technical experts in the relevant ministries. In fact, he felt that “environmental rights” needed to be included in our Constitution as a basic human right.
“What we need is a new, alternate economy providing clean air, clean water and green jobs… it is a win-win proposition. The financing is mostly incremental and can come from public-private partnerships” was his concluding remarks before Imran Khan came onto the podium to talk about how much environmental destruction he had witnessed in the country over the years. “Allah has given us so much, but we are destroying it all for our future generations,” stated Imran Khan. He reminded the audience that before entering politics, he had traveled all over the country to write two travel books, so he has seen for himself the beauty of places like the Deosai Plateau and the high mountain region. “Our Northern Areas are more beautiful than Switzerland – but they have the discipline and the laws and we don’t … but we can fix our problems if we have rule of law”. In Imran Khan’s view, our air and water can be cleaned and reforestation can take place if there is good governance.
Given the prevailing gloom hanging over the country, it is good to hear such positive words and learn from experts like Malik Amin who have a ‘can do’ attitude. It is also heartening to see a political party give such importance to the environment with a well thought out green agenda – let’s hope they are given a chance to implement it some day.
The writer is an award-winning environmental journalist based in Islamabad, who also covers climate change and health issues. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.