The theme of this year’s ‘Earth Day’ – observed on April 22 – was ‘Invest in Our Planet’. The day was observed to encourage people to utilize their time, resources, and mind to make our planet a safe and healthy place for future generations.
The idea of ‘Earth Day’ emerged in 1969 when a US senator observed a massive oil spill in Santa Barbara. He called for protests against this environmental degradation caused by humans, which turned into a movement to protect the earth from environmental damages. Today, our planet is under the massive looming dangers of climate change, extinction of rare species, water and air pollution, water scarcity and deforestation.
Pakistan witnessed the most devastating catastrophe of its history in the shape of floods in 2022 causing a loss of $30 billion. Similarly, according to the IQAir report for 2023, Pakistan has jumped to the third position among the top polluted countries while Bangladesh was fifth and India eighth, thus making the South Asian region directly under attacks of environmental pollution.
Greed at the individual, national, and international levels has led to no one paying any attention to the wounds of the earth, which we are reluctant to invest in. At the international level, the race to supersede other nations in economic growth is ignoring the negative impacts of this unchecked development process on our planet. The hegemony of superpowers and domination of fossil fuels companies in the international market are the causes of the failure to create willingness for implementation of the Paris Agreement with concrete steps.
According to the US Energy Information Administration, the US (20 per cent), Saudi Arabia (11 per cent), Russia (11 per cent), Canada (6.0 per cent), and China (5.0 per cent) were the top five oil-producing countries in 2021 in global oil production. Similarly at the national level, Pakistan became a champion of climate advocacy after the destructive floods in 2022. But climate change and environmental challenges require continuous attention and efforts at all levels. Individuals in Pakistan are the least interested in standing for climate change and environmental issues due to a lack of resources, awareness, and time.
Pakistan should adopt a three-pronged strategy to invest in our planet to effectively deal with climate change and other environmental problems. First of all, the government should keep climate change and environmental agenda on top priority despite all odds. The higher authorities must allocate some time daily to oversee the implementation of policies and projects aimed at mitigating and adapting to climate change and reducing environmental degradation.
The progress report on the completion of green projects and consultation with stakeholders to find a solution to various environmental problems must be held frequently. In order to gain diplomatic and economic victories like the Geneva Conference, Pakistan should strive to hold more international conferences on climate change to apprize the international community about threats of climate change in the country.
The second step requires us to invest our resources in the green economy. Capital should be spent on renewable energy resources, forestry, eco-vehicles, smart buildings, and vertical gardening. We need to create job opportunities in these areas to attract more human resources towards a green economy. It will further generate income to invest in similar projects and also develop confidence of the international community to invest in Pakistan.
According to the World Bank, “Pakistan’s population living in urban areas already highly exposed to pollution and climate change, will increase from 37 per cent in 2020 to 60 per cent in 2050.” To make urban areas environment-friendly, local governments must take steps to ensure sustainable use of land, the launch of mass transit systems, rain water harvesting systems and the construction of climate-resilient buildings. These projects can be launched through a proper system of property tax and fares collection keeping in view the equity principle.
Pakistan is investing in many clean energy projects including solar, hydel, and wind. Under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), Pakistan is going to boost the share of its electric power that comes from renewable energy sources to 30 per cent by 2030. More clean energy projects can be initiated by saving the income from line losses and efficient energy consumption. The business community can be convinced to invest in green projects under their corporate social responsibility (CSR).
The third step is to produce indigenous experts and researchers in the field of climate change and the environment to invest their minds in climate mitigation and adaptation projects. We need to modify our education system by introducing courses and subjects on climate change and the environment at all levels. Many students are interested in specialized degrees in climate change at the national and international levels but the lack of availability of such degrees in Pakistan leads to many brilliant minds to adopt other professions.
The Higher Education Commission can take initiatives to start climate change and environment professional degrees in Pakistan and secure international scholarships. It will help utilize the best minds in green innovation and green technological advancement. Moreover, awareness campaigns should be launched to invoke individual responsibilities. Individuals can take part in volunteer activities like plantation and litter collection to play their part.
Our planet demands from us sustainable life patterns to heal its wounds. It is high time we mended our behaviour to save this planet for the coming generations.
The writer is a graduate of University of Oxford in Public Policy. She tweets @zilehumma_1
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