The environmental projects that private companies undertake do not absolve them of their responsibility to ensure a clean environment. Neither do these projects count as philanthropy, corporate charity or ‘giving back to society’.
These views were expressed by Leena Wokeck, director of Corporate Social Responsibility Asia, who was attending the 9th Regional Steering Committee Meeting of Mangroves for the Future (MFF) on Tuesday. Over 80 experts from 12 Asian countries have gathered to discuss climate change during the three-day meeting that began on Sunday. They had gathered to discuss the role that could be played by the private sector towards protecting coastal areas and the environment.
“It is not about the projects that companies undertake with part of the profits they make. It is about how they make these profits in the first place,” said Wokeck. She added that companies needed to be aware of the environmental, social and economic impact of every aspect of their operations, value chains, products and services.
Of all countries in the world, Pakistan was the hardest hit by natural disasters in 2010, the Germanwatch reported. The monetary damage incurred by the country that year turned out to $10 billion. It was followed by $7 billion in 2011, which means that the country, on average, loses anywhere between $6 billion to $14 billion every year to environmental disasters.
These losses could be minimised and the lives and property of thousands of residents of its coastal areas could be protected if the country managed its mangroves a little better, added the experts.
“Pakistan contributes less than five per cent to global emissions, but it is one of the worst victims of climate change,” said Malik Amin Aslam, regional councillor of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). “If we are to effectively address these issues, all stakeholders must be engaged. The private sector plays a key role in the coastal areas and it is in their interest to ensure that development is sustainable,” he added.
The MFF initiative came in response to the devastating Asian tsunami in 2004, which left a total of 227,898 people dead. Millions were left without shelter and means of livelihood. The MFF has since focussed on building resilient communities, protecting coastal zones from erosion, and promoting tourism and fisheries sectors. It also tries to make oil and gas companies and industries that operate in coastal areas take into consideration the environmental damage that might be a result of their activities.
IUCN’s former vice president Javed Jabbar, who was chairing the session, appreciated the private sector for realising the importance of environmental sustainability and the need for responsible use of resources.
Gulzar Firoz, chairman of Federation of Pakistan Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s standing committee on environment, admitted that industries in Karachi were dumpling waste material into coast waters. However, he added that the public and private sector, coupled with help from the Dutch government, set up an effluent treatment plant in 2007. “This plant treats [industrial waste] from 120 tanneries in Korangi Industrial Area.” He added that similar plants are needed.
Don Macintosh, senior adviser at the MFF programme, and Sharique Siddiqui, CEO of Pakistan International Bulk Terminal, talked about the challenges faced by coastal communities.
Dr Hem Pande, joint secretary of the Indian ministry of environment and forests, shared how the public and private sectors across the border were dealing with similar issues. Ghulam Ali Baloch, forest and wildlife secretary in Balochistan, talked about the role played by private industries in the coastal development in his province.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 22nd, 2012.