Earth Summit 2012: 20 years later, Pakistan still behind in its sustainable development goals

Published: April 11, 2012
It could be summed up from the conference that Pakistan will go into this year’s Earth Summit in Rio with little to offer.

It could be summed up from the conference that Pakistan will go into this year’s Earth Summit in Rio with little to offer.

KARACHI: Seven years ago, Karachi was going to get four effluent treatment plants. They were planned for SITE, Korangi industrial area, Landhi industrial area and Federal B industrial area.

“The project was supposed to start in 2005 at a cost of eight billion rupees, a portion of which was to be paid by the federal government,” according to Gulzar Memon, who used to work with the water board. “But the government backed out of its pledge and it is not included in any annual development programme anymore.”

The project will now cost up to 20 billion rupees today.

This was one of the most glaring examples given of a lack of political commitment on sustainable development at a meeting on Tuesday.

This is where Pakistan stands today. Twenty years ago, it attended the first Earth Summit on sustainable development in Rio de Janeiro in a leadership position. But according to experts, it no longer holds that position.

The One UN Joint Programme on Environment, held at the Avari Hotel in Karachi, was set as a provincial consultation ahead of the summit taking place in Rio in June. The programme aimed to finalise a draft on sustainable development in Pakistan, while taking the country’s current challenges into consideration as well as the post-18th Amendment scenario.

Pakistan was one of the first countries at the time to put forward a national conservation strategy but experts at the event said that a lack of implementation and political will, natural disasters and a steady economic downturn, means that Pakistan is no longer in the leadership position.

“A lack of implementation on environmental issues is not specific to Pakistan, it is a global phenomenon,” said the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) Senior Climate Adviser Malik Amin Aslam Khan. “But we have our own unique set of challenges that go along with this.”

Is the grass really green?

The overarching goal of the conference 20 years ago was the tall order to develop strategies that could successfully combine economic development and safeguarding the environment in a socially equitable manner.

One such strategy is to promote employment as a central theme but to present the environment as an opportunity as opposed to a ‘cost’ of development.

Khan cited studies that have shown that “Green” growth creates a tremendous amount of potential jobs which then creates a political buy-in, or incentive, for implementation of environmentally friendly practices.

Khan had an optimistic take on Pakistan’s economy, saying that considering what the country has been through, it has proven to be resilient against a collapse. He added that Pakistan has still excelled in some sectors but this notion was quickly shot down by Gulzar Feroze of the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce.

“I don’t know which sectors of industry you have been looking at because the economy has suffered in every single industry,” said Feroze, who wasn’t too impressed with the conference itself either. “We talk and have seminars and meetings but the fact is that there is no real commitment from the government. We need to use political influence to implement this.”

The UNDP director, Toshihiro Tanaka, was in agreement with Feroze. “I think we [Pakistan] are just absorbing the damage and someday, the economy will collapse because resilience is not sustainable.”

Hard facts

The Balochistan government’s forest and planning conservator and a special guest at the conference, Taj Mohammad, painted an even bleaker picture for his province. “In Balochistan, forests and the environment do not even get a 0.02 per cent share of the budget, we can’t even launch a simple small development scheme,” he said. “Then there is the management and implementation which costs more than just putting up a building.”

It could be summed up from the conference that Pakistan will go into this year’s Earth Summit in Rio with little to offer, except another plan filled with caveats about Pakistan’s “uniquely challenging” position in relation to achieving its goals.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 11th, 2012.

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