InternationalVolume 12 Issue # 23

Can humans survive Earth’s degradation?

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 issues.

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.