Climate Conversations - Green the economy to check environmental degradation
In Pakistan, environmental degradation is both a cause and consequence of different socio-economic problems including deepening poverty, declining performance of different crops and worsening problems with human and crop diseases.
Environmentalists say that a fragile and damaged resource base is a key cause of rising poverty. Degraded land affects agricultural yields and forest resources are mindlessly exploited, reducing the ability of millions of poor people to earn livelihoods from them.
But the poor have no option but to overuse rapidly depleting resources.
This poignant situation has created a vicious cycle: a downward spiral of impoverishment and environmental degradation. Given the grim situation of environmental degradation and unsustainable exploitation of natural resources in Pakistan, climatologists and environmentalists have advised Pakistani policymakers to put the protection of the environment and sustainable use of natural resources at the centre of socio-economic policy making.
This is what the principle of green economy preaches - improved human well-being and social equity alongside reduced environmental risks and ecological scarcity.
Qamar uz Zaman Chaudhry, a climate change adviser to the Pakistani government, has warned Pakistan’s policy makers of awful ramifications for the country’s socio-economic fabric if social, economic and political policies are framed without consideration for protection of the environment and natural resources.
“Costs of environmental degradation in the country will escalate unhampered rather more rapidly and extreme weather events will be more frequent. Policy makers do not assign due importance to checking environmental degradation and unsustainable use of the depleting natural resources,” the climate change advisor said.
PAYMENTS FOR ENVIRONMENTAL SERVICES?
Rural poor people depend heavily on natural resources for their subsistence and income. By linking natural resource-based livelihoods to production of ecosystem services (such as the provision of clean water and aid), the green economy can help reduce poverty and enhance environmental sustainability.
For instance, many mountain people in South Asian countries depend on collecting fuel wood and fodder from forests to sustain their livelihoods and wellbeing.
Their efforts to conserve forest resources to protect their livelihoods at the same time contributes to the generation of environmental services such as improved storage of carbon in forests and protection of forest species.
“Ensuring that mountain communities receive full benefits for providing these services can enhance and secure livelihoods in mountain areas while bringing environmental benefits,” said Andreas Schild, director general of the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), based in Nepal.
According to the 2006 Pakistan Strategic Country Environmental Assessment Report, the annual cost of environmental degradation in Pakistan has been estimated at Rs. 365 billion ($4.2 billion). Inadequate water supply, sanitation and hygiene accounts for Rs. 112 billion ($1.3 billion), agriculture soil degradation for Rs.70 billion ($807 million), and rangeland degradation and deforestation Rs. 6 billion ($69 million).
Environmental experts believe environmental degradation now has reached levels equivalent to Rs. 450 billion ($5.2 billion) in financial losses.
As a result, both environment experts and economic experts in Pakistan now are urging policy makers to fight poverty by greening the economy.
Pakistan must tackle its developmental challenges by greening the economy, emphasized Tariq Banuri, director of the United Nation’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA)’ division for sustainable development.
“Our task should be to anticipate what the solution should be and be ahead of that solution, not behind it”, he said.
Addressing a recent gathering of environmentalists, climatologists, development experts, and policy makers from Asian countries at a ‘Green Economy and Sustainable Mountain Development'
conference in Kathmandu, Nepal, Gopal Kadekodi, honorary professor at the Indian-based Center for Multi-Disciplinary Development Research, proposed policymakers in South Asian developing countries introduce a payment for ecosystem services to help put a price on ecosystem services.
“As a part of the climate change adaptation, such payment mechanisms would help in checking unsustainable use of natural resources and address negative effects on the environment,” he argued.
Key challenges, however include a lack of discussion on equity issues, a lack of public awareness, poor communication, absence of community participation, lack of capacity, lack of modern technology and poor institutional support and leadership, he said.
Changing that will require creating an environment where environmental goods and services receive a value for their contribution to socio-economic growth.
Saleem Shaikh is a development reporters based in Karachi, Pakistan.