Islamabad, March 11, 2014 (PPI-OT): A first-of-its-kind dialogue to debate weightage political parties of Pakistan give to environment in their manifestoes was organized by the Government of Pakistan and IUCN under their joint National Impact Assessment Programme (NIAP) in Islamabad today.
The dialogue titled ‘Recapping commitments for sustainable development – A dialogue with political parties’ brought together sitting federal ministers, distinguished MNAs and leading politicians to elicit their thoughts on and commitments towards environment. Participants at the dialogue included senior government dignitaries, diplomats, civil society representatives, the media, academia and eminent experts.
The National Impact Assessment Programme (NIAP) being jointly implemented by the Government of Pakistan and IUCN aims to contribute to sustainable development in Pakistan by strengthening Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and introducing Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) in Pakistan’s development planning processes. NIAP has four partners namely: the Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency (PEPA); Climate Change Division, Ministry of Climate Change; Environment Section, Planning Commission of Pakistan and IUCN Pakistan.
Technical assistance to the programme is being provided by the Netherlands Commission for Environmental Assessment (NCEA) while the project is being funded by the Embassy of the Kingdom of Netherlands (EKN).
The dialogue was an opportunity for renewing political commitment to promoting sustainable development in the country. Moderated by a renowned news analyst and television anchor Syed Talat Hussain, the dialogue aimed at including environment as a priority subject on the election agenda and mainstream political process. Representatives of major political parties sitting on the panel comprised Mr. Ahsan Iqbal, Federal Minister for Planning and Development; Mr.Javed Jabbar, a veteran politician and a media expert; Mr. Malik Amin Aslam from Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf; Mr.Mushahid Hussain Syed from PML (Q); Mr. Qamar Zaman Kaira, (PPP), Mariam Aurangzeb of PML (N); Siraj-ul-Haq (Jamaat-e-Islami), and Mr. Jan Achakzai from Jamiat Ulmai Islam (F).
The proceedings started with a welcome address by IUCN Project Manager on NIAP, Mr. Ahmad Saeed, who said:
Weak environmental governance is a root cause of all environmental problems in Pakistan, indicated by the fact that EIA is not being implemented properly in the planning and development of projects. Also, there is no concept of SEA in policy formulation.
Awareness-raising and capacity building of stakeholders is an important component of NIAP. To improve understanding of SEA and EIA of stakeholders and the public in general, it is critical that all stakeholders are actively involved – specially the policy-makers, civil society, the private sector, academia and the media.
A documentary on environmental impact assessment was also shown. The panelists were then invited to express their views and political commitments towards environment.
In his closing remarks, IUCN Country Representative, Mr. Mahmood Akhtar Cheema, noted:
There is no question that effective and transparent environmental impact assessment processes play an important role in driving sustainable development, and helping to ensure resilience in the face of climate change and other natural disasters.
Environmental Impact Assessment has evolved and become part of major project requirements in many countries – and IUCN is helping to strengthen EIA in Pakistan as well.
Environmental degradation poses risks to livelihoods of the people. It is therefore essential that urgent steps are taken and the collective voice of our political parties on the cause of environment is raised.
In view of the environmental issues being faced by Pakistan, I hope that the debate today will lead to renewed commitment from all major parties that are present today in this dialogue, and that we all understand why sustainable development holds key to an economically viable future for all of us.
The dialogue concluded that in order to influence the decision- and policy-makers into taking the right decisions, it was imperative that environmental issues were well-understood along with implications from a lack of action. It was also felt that the power of the media, especially social media, should be capitalized upon to mobilize larger organizations into action, while all other stakeholders continued to play their respective roles.
Panelists and their Quotes
We as a nation are very generous, but when it comes to protecting our environment, we lack focus there. It is mandatory upon us to also act responsibly towards the environment that we have. Climate change is adversely affecting us all, and this is the first time in human history that our interference with nature is causing us this problem.
We want a clean and a green KPK. We are making efforts towards that end. One of those efforts is ensuring that environmental messages are embedded in our religious talks, speeches, mosques, and that each child should plant a tree in their respective madressahs. We have given targets within KPK. But we should also focus on developing our own resources rather than relying on external funding. Markhor was an example, in which people were given an ownership of that animal’s protection through the hunting trophy concept.
Mr. Jan Achakzai from Jamiat Ulmai Islam (F).
We know that environment has become a serious problem – the Tharparkar tragedy is a repercussion. The water available in Balochistan is dangerously low, and if we don’t act we will have another tragedy similar to Thar.
Syed Mushahid Hussain
It is an issue in which every Pakistani should take interest and initiative. There have been public hearings on the issue of climate change recently in Pakistan, and we have launched a manual on climate change, and initiatives are being taken. However problems are lack of interest and involvement, either of the politicians or media on environment issues. They are focused on day to day affairs but not the future issues that will affect our generations. I commend Ms. Aban Marker Kabraji for taking this initiative at IUCN. Political elite have a convoluted development model – making Islamabad a concrete jungle like Dubai, which is an issue of mindsets, and these are issues that have affected policy makers – we live in a region adversely affected by climate change.
At least 500 million people live close to coastline in India, Pakistan, Maldives, Sri Lanka, and the livelihoods of this population is at risk of being undermined because of climate change. There have been 141 extreme weather incidents, directly as a result of climate change – in South Asia. In last 5 years, floods in KPK, Sindh, parts of Punjab, displaced 20 million people, and such situation can lead to political instability through the onset of resulting poverty. Pakistan is a high-risk country, and a victim of climate change. For the first time, Pakistan competed for a UN award, amongst 30 countries. Pakistan was among the eight countries that received a grant from UN for climate change, of 3.8 million US Dollar.
We are planning climate change workshops to educate the media, because the media influences policy makers and the masses. Today’s initiative will go a long way in pushing the cause of environment – we assure of our total support on behalf of my party.
Let me underscore our total support to the commitment and sustainable development. We have this in our 2025 vision. Because sustainable development is not only about preserving environment, but in spirit is the preserving of resources of our planets for future generations. While the resources are at our command today, we need to enhance them also, while using them, for a better life for mankind. We have a great responsibility to preserve them in a manner that the future generations can use them. I use them in a manner in which we are compromising the quality of life of our future generation. If we are not doing this, we are acting very selfishly, and we are denying a good life to our future generations.
We haven’t had the tradition of sound economic development planning. We have been planning for times, but there is no continuity. From 1999 to 2014, we did not have a concrete development framework, which could have assessed our consumption patterns, our demands, and our resources. We consumed our resources as if they are only for us.
The drought condition in Thar is very disturbing, but how many of us, realize that if we did not think of properly managing our resources, half of the country might face a situation similar to Thar. There is going to be a very serious food security issue for us in the next 15 years. We feel our rivers will not dry up, but when they do, how will we provide for the water needed for the entire country?
It is most important to promote environment consciousness. Missing link is education. Our failure in the past has been to not give due consideration and attention to education. Nearly half of us are illiterate. About 2/3 population does not have awareness on this (environment) issue. Education is our number driver of social change in our mandate. Education holds the key to every problem.
I totally support the cause of environment for our future generation, and making sure we are protecting our waters, ground, air and half of solution lies in education. We are also making sure that we use EIA in all development projects.
Ms. Aban Marker Kabraji, IUCN Regional Director Asia.
IUCN will be completing 30 years. We have over the years, worked with provinces, NGOs, and tried to build institutions, like SDPI is one example, and we are trying to create best practices. IUNC Pakistan has been IUCN’s largest country programme in the world. Much of what IUCN does in Pakistan is also replicated in the Asian region. Success depends not on good knowledge and information, but the political will – to implement policies. What you see today through NIAP, is a culmination of many years of work. The fact that these respected politicians are here with us today, speaking and sharing their views today at this debate, is a clear indicator of our success.
The solutions are not rocket-science. We know the solutions, and the costs to implement. What we require is a political will.
For more information, contact:
Mr. Ghulam Qadir Shah
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)
Pakistan Country Office
1 Bath Island Road, Clifton
Tel: +92 (21) 586-1540 (4 lines-Auto)
Fax: +92 (21) 586-1448 and 583-5760