Can humans survive Earth's degradation?
Muhammad Zain


There is growing worldwide concern over environmental degradation and
its consequences for the survival of mankind on earth. Renowned scientist Stephen Hawking says that if steps are not taken to stop the rot, the world will become uninhabitable in the next 100 years. This world, where we live, is our home and it is our duty to take care and make it worth living for everyone.
The UN General Assembly in 1972, decided that measures should be
taken in order to maintain a balance between the environment and human
interference. World Environment Day was inaugurated in 1972 following
the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm,
Sweden on 5-16 June – the first international conference on environmental
Two years later, in 1974, World Environment Day was celebrated for
the first time on June 5 and since then, every year, all the countries around
the world celebrate this day aimed at environmental betterment. It is a day
to raise awareness about the ever-rising problems of global warming, deforestation,
wildlife habitation crisis as well as increasing pollution.
There's a different theme every year, and this year's theme is - 'Connecting
People to Nature – in the city and on the land, from the poles to
the equator'. While the issues of environmental degradation affect everyone,
not all are aware enough to step ahead and do something worthy.
The World Environment Day official website sums up the situation: "Nature's
gifts are often hard to value in monetary terms. Like clean air, they
are often taken for granted, at least until they become scarce. However,
economists are developing ways to measure the multi-trillion-dollar worth
of many so-called 'ecosystem services', from insects pollinating fruit trees
in the orchards of California to the leisure, health and spiritual benefits of
a hike up a Himalayan valley." Canada, being the host country of this year, has taken some great initiatives.
The government of Canada is offering free entry to its national
parks and marine conservation areas. As a great initiative, UN Environment
and the government of Canada are calling the citizens from all over
the world to think about how everyone depends on nature, and to find fun
and exciting ways to experience and cherish that vital relationship.
The environment gives man physical sustenance and affords him the
opportunity for intellectual, moral, social and spiritual growth. In the long
and tortuous evolution of the human race on this planet a stage has been
reached when, through the rapid acceleration of science and technology,
man has acquired the power to transform his environment in countless
ways and on an unprecedented scale. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable
Development states mankind's resolve "to ensure the lasting protection of
the planet and its natural resources". In particular, Goals 14 and 15 focus
on protecting under water and on land ecosystems, as well as on sustainably
using marine and terrestrial resources.
The celebration of Environment Day provides us with an opportunity
to broaden the base for responsible conduct by individuals, enterprises
and communities in preserving and enhancing the environment. Since it
began in 1974, the Day has grown to become a global platform for public
outreach that is widely celebrated all over the world. Billions of rural people
around the world spend every working day "connected to nature" and appreciate
full well their dependence on natural water supplies and how nature
provides their livelihoods in the form of fertile soil. They are among
the first to suffer when ecosystems are threatened, whether by pollution,
climate change or over-exploitation.
The recent climate risk report is a red signal which the world can ignore
at its own peril. Scientists point to the mounting threat from storms, floods,
droughts and rising seas if mankind cannot reduce emissions from heattrapping
greenhouse gases, especially from fossil fuels. It is pertinent to
note here that the report has only looked at the direct results of extreme
weather, whereas the indirect consequences of extreme weather such as
drought and famine resulting from heat waves can be much more deadly.
A growing body of research connects global warming with extreme
weather. Global warming is a direct cause of gradual sea-level rise, glacier
melting and more acidic and warmer seas. It is yet to be fully recognized
that the Climate Risk Index indicates a level of exposure and vulnerability
to extreme events that countries should understand as a warning to be
prepared for more frequent and/or more severe events in the future. While
some vulnerable developing countries are frequently hit by extreme
events, there are also some others where such disasters are a rare occurrence.
Environment Day has special importance for Pakistan. If steps are not
taken to slow climate change, Pakistan is among the six countries that will
be most affected. As glaciers melt in the Himalayas, flooding is projected
to substantially increase with the possibility of a repetition of the floods of
2010 and 2011. In the longer term as glaciers recede, the country must
cope with the challenges of decreased river flows with the obvious effect
on agriculture and urban water supplies, but also the less obvious effect
of the depletion of underground aquifers from overuse and in some cases
from insufficient recharge.
Monsoon rains are likely to fluctuate more in coming years as climate
change increasingly affects patterns of rainfall, thus provoking alternating
floods and droughts. The likely increase in climate-related disasters would
take a heavy toll on people, on infrastructure and on the economy. The
harsh effects on people from the current extended drought in Sindh's
Tharparkar district shows what could happen in other parts of Pakistan as
climate change accelerates.
The 1990 National Conservation Strategy laid out a series of steps
needed to protect Pakistan from the effects of climate change. Action has
taken in many areas: vast areas in Gilgit-Baltistan are better protected than
they were, renewable energy is used much more and Pakistan has some
of the leading experts in the world on that. The many challenges Pakistan
has been facing, means that Pakistan has immense work to do in adapting
to climate changes. Adaptation will require significant investment in alternatives
— both alternative energy sources and extensive water conservation
and management — as well as in protecting people and infrastructure.
As the frequency and duration of major climate change patterns accelerates,
this could affect economic growth, particularly in Pakistan's vitally important
agricultural sector, on which tens of millions of people depend.
Among other things, Pakistan has adopted the Climate Change Act
2017, which brings Pakistan into the group of countries with specific legislation
building on the commitments made in Paris in 2015. The scope of
the legislation reflects the scale of the challenges: establishment of the
high-level Climate Change Council, the full-fledged Climate Change Authority
and the Climate Change Fund. Such institutional arrangements will
be instrumental in fulfilling Pakis¬tan's international
com¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬mit¬¬ments aimed at saving the environment.