Restoring and protecting ecosystems.

Byline: Ali Tauqeer Sheikh

WORLD Environment Day today has kick-started a decade of ecosystem restoration. As a global host for World Environment Day, 2021, it is an important opportunity for Pakistan to revisit environmental priorities that it has followed for the last 50 years and reset the direction for the decade ahead.

The 1972 Stockholm Declaration inspired Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto to begin Pakistan's environmental journey. The Declaration laid down the principle that the earth's carrying capacity must be protected. Within two years, the Environment and Urban Affairs Division was established. Instead of focusing on the 26 principles adopted in Stockholm, however, the Urban Affairs Division focused primarily on the 'brown' environment agenda that included building environmental standards for industrial discharges and effluents, ambient air quality, and solid waste management. Success in this required developing standards, legislation, regulatory institutions, tribunals and the capacity to monitor compliance by the private sector. The government, on its part, has rarely submitted its conduct to environmental scrutiny. This is where we have been standing for the last half century - brown sahibs penalising the non-compliant weaker players.

The 'brown' agenda focused mostly on urban priorities - water and air pollution, sanitation, industrial effluents and discharges, waste, and recycling - and failed miserably on almost all counts notwithstanding some important successes. Mostly overlooA!ked was the 'green' environment that typically protects ecosystems by focusing on species, wildlife, biodiversity, water bodies, soils, and other natural reA!A!sources to provide municipal or environmental ser-vices by way of drinking water, sewerage systems, waste collection and parks and other community spaces.

We instead allowed the regenerative capacity of ecosystems to deteriorate and economic value to dissipate. The country's first environmental legislation by Gen Zia in 1983 deepened the divide when the Pakistan Environment Protection Ordinance formally separated the nation's development and environment agendas. This fragmentation deepened as successive governments shelved most environmental ambitions one after the other.

The Ministry of Environment and its successor the Ministry of Climate Change until very recently rareA!A!ly attended to 'green' environment issues despite a powerful argument in 1992 by the National Conservation Strategy to focus on 14...

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