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Environmental issues in election agendas




  • With election fever building, development organisations have been highlighting their concerns to major political parties. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)organised a dialogue recently to discuss what politicians should do about environmental problems facing the country.

    The need to pay more attention to environmental issues is evident given the series of major floods that have hit Pakistan over the past few years, accompanied by our growing water shortage and our alarming levels of deforestation. The Global Climate Risk Index has ranked Pakistan as the eighth most vulnerable country in the world. Pakistan is also estimated to be losing up to six per cent of its GDP annually because of environmental degradation.

    Despite these challenges, the results emerging from the IUCN-organised dialogue did not seem very heartening. The scant press coverage of the event noted how environmentalists and NGO personnel participated with more enthusiasm than the politicians themselves. Politicians from some prominent parties were present, but they did not put forth very innovative solutions.

    The Jamaat-e-Islami claimed it would respect nature and animal rights according to Islamic injunctions, and use the historic model of Medina to manage environmental challenges. How the role model would be adapted to contend with climate change, pollution, population pressures and the need for balancing the imperatives of growth and conservation in an increasingly globalised world, however, were not revealed.

    Conversely, it was encouraging to see a former state minister for the environment present the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) environmental vision, which in turn, placed emphasis on creating a “green economy” through sector-based initiatives, including small-scale sustainable farming, ecotourism and more effective water management undertaken at the union council level. The PTI also put forth a goal to reverse deforestation and increase forest levels from three to six per cent.

    While the PTI’s assertions seem relatively appealing, they, too, lack cohesiveness and contradict some of its other policies. In agriculture, for instance, the PTI remains a proponent of corporate farming, emphasis on which hardly qualifies as small-scale sustainable farming. The PTI also did not indicate how it would overcome resistance from vested interests of industrialists, the timber mafia or multinational agribusiness firms, which repeatedly create stumbling blocks in the implementation of lofty environmental aspirations.

    Pakistan has already formulated several environmental policy frameworks but they cannot be implemented properly by a handful of officials assigned the task of environmental protection. The devolution of environmental issues after the Eighteenth Amendment is feared to make matters worse given that provincial officials have even less capacity to monitor and enforce environmental laws. There is an increasing need to think of the environment as a cross-cutting issue which must be integrated into all planning and development processes. Politicians need to demonstrate more political will and their party manifestoes must also begin reflecting a more comprehensive approach towards environmental issues.

    Instead of organising last-minute conferences, specialised agencies like the IUCN should work more intensively with politicians and decision-makers on addressing the above gaps.

    Published in The Express Tribune, April 22nd, 2013.

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