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April 5, 2016

Our travel footprint


April 5, 2016

Pakistan may be a minor defaulter in creating the crisis of climate change. Of the 32,100 million tonnes of deadly Carbon Dioxide (CO2) emitted globally every year, we can only be blamed for some 200 million tonnes. While these numbers provide some consolation, they fail to suggest why Pakistan is and will be one of the worst affected by climate change. There is. Therefore, an urgent need to rethink and redesign the way we live, work, travel and develop our infrastructure.

Carbon Dioxide emissions account for more than 80 percent of the infamous heat-trapping greenhouse gases. About 44 percent of all the emitted CO2  gets accumulated in the atmosphere, 26 percent in the ocean, and 30 percent on land. With forests covering only 2 percent of Pakistan’s land area, the CO2  emissions are constrained to remain suspended, rather than being absorbed by the trees. Pakistan’s combat against climate change must therefore begin by hugely investing in the preservation of the old forests and the development of new forests. A 10-year programme to match the world average of 30 percent forest area should be aimed for.To curb our obsession for building housing estates for the rich, the law should mandate growing a forest on an equivalent area for every housing estate.

Factors that cause long-term climate change and those that generate more immediate local pollution are deeply related. Energy generation, industrial processes, transportation and household activities are the principal contributors in both cases. While Pakistan needs to work on each of these issues, this article will primarily focus on reducing our transportation-related carbon footprint.

As of March 2016, Pakistan had approximately 7.5 million four-wheel and 14 million two-wheel registered vehicles. This translates to roughly 39 million tonnes of carbon emissions per year, which is 19.5 percent of Pakistan’s total CO2 emissions. These can be reduced by as much as 10-15 percent, if our elite and our bureaucracy can be convinced to undertake the following actions:

Every day, Pakistani citizens make millions of completely avoidable visits to government offices for the receipt or payment of dues, the submission or collection of documents or availing various certificates and services. Often, these relate to passports, CNIC, vehicle registration, property, utilities, licenses, taxes, complaints, approvals etc.In Karachi alone, 4.7 million vehicle owners make two to four visits every year to pay their annual motor vehicle tax. Some eight million senior citizens make 96 million visits each year to the National Saving Centres for the collection of profit on their investments. Likewise, 2.6 million pensioners queue up at various national banks and post offices to collect their dues every month. Many organisations hire staff whose full time job is to visit government departments for the exchange of routine information, documents or payments.

To hold on to such archaic bureaucratic processes is ludicrous.The technology to receive or make payments and exchange documents without leaving one’s home has been around for a long time.There are at least half a dozen mobile phone money transfer systems that the government could use to receive and deliver all payments. Visiting government offices is a colonial practice that ought to be eliminated wherever possible. Simplifying transactions and eliminating unnecessary visits couldeasily result in an annual reduction of approximately 3-4 million tonnes of travel-related carbon emissions – and would also benefit the customers.

Carbon-emitting, coughing and choking vehicles define the new smoggy appearance of our roads and cities. We could cordon off and declare many areas in every city (such as the Saddar and I I Chundrigar Road in Karachi) as exclusive to pedestrians and cyclists. This requires large parking lots outside each vehicle-free zone, and services like cycles for rent and shuttle buses to support intra-zone travel.  Most UK towns provide excellent ‘park and ride’ facilities. Our elite is only too happy to avail these facilities in foreign lands, but unwilling to adopt the same concepts at home.

The government ought to enforce compliance of vehicle emission standards. Cars above 1500 cc should be banned in a country that is short on fuel and high on pollution. The government ought to focus on developing efficient public transport to enable all citizens to travel with dignity. Such policies will not only help in reducing carbon emissions, but also in creating equity in society.

Citizens could think of other ways of cutting carbon emissions. Twice a day, our roads get choked because of thousands of cars carrying a single child to or from a school. The schools can insist on a system of car-pooling, in which at least three to four kids of the same location share their cars on rotation. The environmental initiative of sharing some utilities and giving up on others would best come from the class that has the most to spare.

The writer is a management systems consultant and a freelance writer on social issues. Email: [email protected]

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