The environment torch has been passed on to Pakistan as the country had the pleasure of hosting the World Environment Day 2021 this past Saturday. Led by the United Nations Environment Programme, this year’s theme was ‘Ecosystem Restoration’ — aimed at resetting our relations with nature.
The World Environment Day event marked the launch of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030 in order to reinvigorate our collective focus on preventing and reversing the loss of degraded natural ecosystems to fight the impacts of climate change over the next 10 years. While this day will help in promoting worldwide awareness, the fight against climate change is present and continuous as we are living in times of ecological crisis. “The earth is resilient but she needs our help”, UN Secretary General Guterres said in his speech made at the virtual event.
For Pakistan, this international achievement has come about because of our relentless commitment at achieving a sustainable future. During the past few years, ambitious projects such as the “Billion Tree Tsunami” project and Clean and Green Pakistan have propelled the country in becoming an international frontrunner in the fight against climate change. This year’s commitments, too, showed great promise. The most essential feature that was successfully highlighted during the event was the contribution of the local communities towards the cause of the clean and green environment.
Both Prime Minister Imran Khan and Federal Minister on Climate Malik Amin Aslam elaborated on the importance of empowering local and indigenous communities by providing them sustainable job opportunities and making them active stakeholders in the process. The Prime Minister thanked our local forest guards, 10 of whom have lost their lives, in the fight against the timber mafia. There was also talk of restoring one million hectares of forest cover in the country along with a new initiative “Recharge Pakistan” whereby flood water will be diverted onto wetlands along the river Indus — something that shows immense potential for mitigating effects of natural disasters.
However, serious policy and infrastructural constraints due to lobbying done by industrialists, businessmen and others are a serious cause for concern. As a result of this, a significant increase in carbon emissions and coal-based projects have recently been witnessed. This needs to be addressed if we are to leverage our international green credibility to procure international funding. Along with national development, we must realise that 20 fossil fuel companies contribute to a third of all carbon emissions. This was the perfect time for Prime Minister Imran to sternly call out First World countries to curb their rate of emissions but he failed in doing so — a missed opportunity, indeed.
There is an enormous burden of reparations on our generation. The theme, to restore and repair, is grounded in the need to give nature a chance to heal itself, which can be done by reducing carbon emissions, curbing pollution and reducing plastic production globally. The world must understand that our real fight is not with nature or climate change, but with ourselves.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 7th, 2021.