In Pakistan, we do two things in a discussion about the environment – either demonize Pakistan for being an environmentally dystopian land full of indifferent politicians or conclude that the environment can’t be our focus because there are ‘bigger’ issues to be dealt with. These two things are in direct conflict. We are environmentalists as long as we can harangue politicians for their negligence but somersault into pragmatism when we imagine a Green wing emerging in Pakistani politics and policy-making. Yet, everyone would agree that the government can only be indifferent, not pragmatic. We are confused people and I, too, am confused. So I decided to shove aside these domestic confusions along with the rows of autumn leaves and piles of polythene bags outside my house to look at Pakistan’s green-ness on the globe. How green does the lonely green flag look on the globe?
One of Pakistan’s most lofty commitments comes under the 7th aim of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs): ‘ensure environmental sustainability.’ The goal itself provokes doubt because of ‘ensure’ and ‘sustainability’, words which underpin the sort of long-term dedication and effective implementation which no one expects in Pakistan. Yet, the United Nations Development Program reports that Pakistan ‘is likely to meet these targets in time’ in 2015. An organization well-acquainted with its pessimistic past, the UNDP does not make these predictions lightly; the MDGs are rigorously difficult to meet and deadlines are often ridiculously moved forward when big countries fail to achieve their objectives. Clearly, Pakistan’s work, planning and policy-making in the past have allowed it to be so close to fruition in the next two years.
For number-seeking skeptics, here is the tale. Forest cover – almost universally quoted as ‘only 4.8%’ in Pakistan Studies books – had increased to 5.2% in 2010; since this is represented as a proportion of Pakistan’s total land, it heralds the triumph of afforestation over deforestation, despite population pressures. Secondly, Pakistan – basking in the glory of its exotic Markhor, Chukar and Mahseer – has circumscribed 11.5% of its land for wildlife preservation as of 2010: a figure that is closest to its 2015 target of 12%. Moreover, the GDP per unit of energy use – a measure of energy efficiency – has been fluctuating around a reasonably close value to the 2015 target of 28000 rupees per ton of oil equivalent. Pakistan has not been sleeping. It did not just wake up in 2010 and decide to strive for the MDGs; this was a continual process, happening behind the scenes and in national environmental institutions, which many people just didn’t know or care about.
Under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), all countries are expected to have a sophisticated, comprehensive strategy to deal with tomorrow’s climatic challenges. 2012 was a landmark year for Pakistan: the government approved the National Policy for Climate Change and established the unique National Ministry for Climate Change. The notable principle behind this document is that even though Pakistan contributes very little – about 0.8% – to global carbon emissions, it must play its role to repel any potential climatic disaster. This is the story of most developing countries. Although it is not too specific, the National Policy lists down the basis for specific schemes and solutions and hits on a legislative framework that would significantly enhance implementation.
In addition, under the mentoring of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP), the Pakistan Environmental Protection Council launched a massive afforestation campaign in 1994 with an aim to double our forest cover in the next 10 years. About 90 million saplings were planted in 1995 and 280 million in 1996, in addition to plantation of 218 million saplings, as part of the regular programs of the Forestry Departments of the Provincial Governments. This ambitious program embodies how our green trajectory has been more than just signing pieces of paper and charting out philosophical principles.
But as a former Pakistani foreign minister said, “the scale of the challenge [is] far too big for any developing country to handle alone.” In order to make an impact, Pakistan has to stand up for environmental issues and at conferences, from the Copenhagen Summit to Rio Conferences, and not just pressure but demand the right of developing countries to not suffer the brunt of the environmental recklessness of the developed world. The consequences are disproportionate but the only way forward is to work within the framework and exert all influence possible. While not so absent from domestic reform, environmentalism is a shadowy part of Pakistan’s foreign policy, if any part at all. One glimmer of hope is the Pakistan One UN Programme 2013-17, which aims to polymerise Pakistani and global efforts to create collective benefit and ensure maximum cooperation. It is, however, in its early stages and there is a lot to see.
Yet, the minister’s assessment isn’t fully accurate. Paradigms have changed and today, the developing countries China and India are the primary polluters. On one hand, the US ecological footprint falls and on the other, China and India rise to replace it. The emerging status of Chinese and Indian economies makes them particularly likely to value economy over ecology and they may be privy to the idea that a developing nation should only heed the environment once it is fully developed – the same mistake the First World made many years ago. An environmental shift is hardest at the acme of a country’s development. There cannot be a sudden green revamp – there has to be a progressive, continual green strategy that runs side by side to and grows proportionally with economic development. India and China must start now, or never.
Pakistan shares borders with both these countries. Pakistan too, must act. It must insinuate, suggest, encourage, discuss, demand and perhaps, parlay. This will decide how Pak Pakistan really is – Pak not just within its boundaries, but Pak across borders.