We observe the Earth Day every year. This time action should follow our pledges
arth Day, observed on April 22, is an opportunity to pause and reflect on what should be done to make the planet a safer place not only for us but for the coming generations, too. Like other countries in the region, Pakistan should do whatever it can to save the planet.
Pakistan has made several pledges in line with its commitment to play its part to combat climate change and avert man-made disasters. Whether or not these pledges have resulted in adequate actions on the ground is open to question.
The theme for the Earth Day 2022 is “invest in our planet”. According to the UN, the “Mother Earth is clearly urging a call to action. Nature is suffering. Oceans filling with plastic and turning more acidic.” This is because “extreme heat, wildfires and floods, as well as a record-breaking Atlantic hurricane season, have affected millions of people.”
The UN warns that “climate change, man-made changes to nature as well as crimes that disrupt biodiversity, such as deforestation, land-use change, intensified agriculture and livestock production or the growing illegal wildlife trade, can accelerate the speed of destruction of the planet.”
The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, for example, says that Pakistan will face greater consequences of climate change in coming decades in both rural and urban areas. The report warns that “up to 3.6 billion people live in highly vulnerable countries of South Asia, small-island developing states, the Arctic, Central and South America and sub-Saharan Africa.”
It is worrying that Pakistan is among the top ten climate impacted countries on the globe experiencing frequent and intense climate change events, such as floods, droughts, cyclones, heavy rains, heat waves and extremely high temperatures, according to a recent report of the Federal Flood Commission.
The report also warns about locust attacks. Experts have pointed out that conducive temperature and increased rains in deserts create favourable conditions for locust breeding. Recent locust attacks in South Asia and Africa have destroyed crops and taken farmers’ incomes. According to an estimate, Pakistan lost 2 percent of its agricultural production in the fiscal year 2019-20 to locust attacks.
This is the first Earth Day being celebrated in the UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration. It has been emphasised that “restoring our damaged ecosystems will help end poverty, combat climate change and prevent mass extinction. But we will only succeed if everyone plays a part,” the UN says. For that to happen “we need a shift to a more sustainable economy that works for both people and the planet.”
One step taken in the direction of combating climate change and saving the planet by Pakistan has been recognised by the world. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in March this year praised Pakistan for its efforts to increase ecosystem restoration and for its efforts on its Ten Billion Tree Tsunami Project (TBTTP).
UNEP’s regional director for Asia and the Pacific, Dechen Tsering, appreciated the, “large-scale restoration initiatives, such as The Ten Billion Tree Tsunami Project” as “central to Pakistan’s efforts to support the UN Decade and to increase ecosystem restoration.” The TBTTP was launched in 2019. It aims to revive forests and wildlife resources in Pakistan and to improve the overall conservation of existing protected areas besides promoting eco-tourism, community engagement and creating jobs. Under the project, 1.42 billion trees were planted between 2019 and December 2021, covering 1.36 million acres across almost 10,000 sites, according to the UNEP report.
Can we be sure that the existing forests are not being cut in connivance with the relevant government departments?
There are many areas where Pakistan lags behind and needs to catch up with the rest of the world. These include disposal of industrial and medical waste, and air pollution caused by burning of waste and crops residue.
The Sindh Environmental Protection Agency, for instance, has recently warned that the discharge of domestic sewage, toxic industrial effluent, port-related waste, dumping of solid waste, cow dung from cattle colonies and effluent of slaughterhouses into the sea are destroying the marine environment.
The department claimed that more than 90 percent of industrial wastewater was going into the sea without treatment. The meeting was told that there was no combined effluent treatment plant (CETP) in Sindh except the one for tanneries in Karachi and another in Kotri. Both these plants were malfunctioning, it said. The five treatment plants recommended by a Supreme Court-mandated judicial commission on water in 2018 for Karachi are yet to be installed.
Dangerous medical waste is being disposed of carelessly in big cities, including Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad. It poses serious health hazards to the people and the environment.
Experts have also warned about the plastic waste caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. It has been estimated that more than eight million tonnes of pandemic-associated plastic waste has accumulated across the globe. More than 25,000 tonnes has entered the oceans.
Air pollution caused by burning of crop residue in Pakistan and India is a problem that is yet to be solved. The smoke, which develops into smog, is a huge threat to not only humans but also for birds and insects.
Cooperation and sharing of experiences at the global level can be one way of saving the Earth. In January this year, China provided biogas digesters to households of a small town near Islamabad to recycle waste of livestock aimed at reducing pollution and protecting the environment. The biogas digesters provided to 50 households will recycle waste from farming, instead of being burned, to reduce pollution. Over the last few months, Lahore has repeatedly been the most-polluted city in the world in terms of air quality.
Are we creating awareness of the problems among our children? One way of investing in our planet is to be responsible citizens. Sustainable Development Goal 13 urges states “to take action to combat climate change and its impacts.” Climate change is affecting economies and lives across the globe. A positive change can result from more people becoming responsible citizens of the world.
The writer is a staff member. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org