If the number of politicians at a discussion on environmental issues is a measure of the effort Pakistan’s political parties are willing to put in to preserve the environment, the odds are not so good.
Environmentalists outnumbered politicians at a “Dialogue Highlighting Environment on the Elections Agenda in Pakistan” on Wednesday, organised by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Perhaps because the timing of the dialogue clashed with the scrutiny of nomination papers, representatives of the Pakistan Peoples Party and Muttahida Qaumi Movement did not attend the dialogue. Politicians from the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) and the Jamat-e-Islami did participate but could not convince the experts and audience members about their seriousness regarding environmental issues.
PML-N Senator Zafar Ali Shah deflected questions about his party’s plans to engage industrialists and the business community, considered part of PML-N’s vote bank, who consider environmental preservation a liability rather than a responsibility.
The two political heavyweights, PPP and PML-N, underline environment, agriculture and food security in their manifestos but their environmental policy is a rehash of past rhetoric that has often failed at the implementation stage.
PTI will try to mainstream environmental issues by pushing for a “green economy” that leads to job creation, Malik Amin Aslam, former state minister for environment and now a PTI leader, said at the dialogue.
Through several sector-based initiatives, including “small-scale sustainable farming”, “eco-tourism promotion” and water storage, at the union council level, PTI claims it can create five million jobs in five years, if elected. Despite its potential, the PTI’s “green economy” plan seems idealistic because it assumes there will be neither bureaucratic hurdles nor resistance from industrialists.
Environmental experts suggested political parties start small and integrate environmental conservation measures in basic projects at the village level. The devolution of environmental issues after the 18th Amendment also came under fire at the dialogue. Aslam said the decentralisation of environmental affairs was a “mistake” and these issues should be handled at the federal level. Other speakers said the provinces lacked the capacity to monitor and enforce environmental laws.
During the question and answer session, audience members emphasised the need for sustainable use of natural resources and adoption of renewable energy. Participants raised important questions about the economy-environment paradox and preventing elected representatives from forcibly overriding environment impact assessments for their pet projects. But most of these questions went unanswered. The panellists said they would continue to build pressure on political parties for preserving the environment.
Earlier, Ahmad Saeed, programme manager of the IUCN’s National Impact Assessment Programme, urged the need for integrating environment preservation in planning and development of public projects, during a presentation.
Saeed said Pakistan loses around Rs365 billion annually to environmental degradation according to a 2006 World Bank report. He said governance and slow implementation have rendered existing policies and impact-assessment strategies ineffective.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 4th, 2013.