The dangers are clear and real. Pakistan is ranked 153 in the list of countries emitting greenhouse gases. According to several studies, Indonesia is also the fifth most vulnerable country in the world to climate change.
The country continues to face flooding, degraded air quality, pollution of water sources, soil erosion, heat waves, etc. One can easily identify the effects of climate change in a city like Karachi. The huge amount of greenhouse gas emissions is causing the temperature to rise and we see how the city has dealt with heat waves in previous years. The response of civil society, political actors and academics to these threats will determine Karachi’s future.
The following sentences, drawn from a discussion conducted by NED University of Engineering and Technology, Karachi and Bristol University UK, are an attempt to highlight some of the key points around this issue.
First is the response from civil society. Although civil society is generally defined as a third entity and lies outside of government, philosophically it is a buffer between the oppressor and the oppressed. In terms of environment, its functions are in four domains. The first type of environmental CSOs to work at the policy level may be semi-implementing (funding for partners) and their main framework is conservation for sustainability. The second type of environmental CSO is rights-based and works for environmental justice. Community is the core of the work of the CSO.
The third type of environmental CSO works indirectly on environmental issues. For example, in EQ 2005, rehabilitation was the main program by various local and global organizations, and sustainability was the main theme of the respective interventions. The fourth type manifests itself in the form of concerned individuals who mostly use the justice system and often choose litigation in the public interest.
In Pakistan, the response of civil society has generally been anthropocentric conservation and has very little to do with deep ecology. The way forward for Pakistani CSOs is to create a hybrid model for environmental sustainability and environmental justice.
For political actors, there are many things that need to be addressed. Several plans were passed in the post-independence era and a considerable analysis was carried out on various attributes including environmental aspects. Unfortunately, the plan lacked legal protection and the recommendations and advice provided did not fulfill the role expected of them. The overview of the situation of the city is that the unplanned compaction of the inner-city area, the illegal distribution of land continues without control and there is a commercialization of bands in the main corridors, paving the way for speculative real estate development.
Natural tributaries and storm drains serve as city sewers. Municipal waste is managed informally because scavengers and the recycling industry informally support most of the municipal waste. The informal sector simply regulates public transport.
So, do we have a city plan and a climate change mitigation plan and other attributes? Second, are we taking action to protect vulnerable communities, their assets and livelihoods? Do we have such institutional arrangements in places that deal with recurrent disasters efficiently? A very specific direction that needs to be taken is to pay attention to how development projects, especially those with broader territorial and contextual impacts, are formulated.
While much research is being done in Pakistan what is missing is a critical mass of a philosophically strong base of related knowledge. In addition, the formulation of a vision on the issue of climate change requires critical thinking where students and teachers can work in a paradigm shift. Unfortunately, academic institutions cannot perform this mandatory function. Climate change and adaptation require a new type of contextual vocabulary and academic inquiry between disciplines.
These three sectors – civil society, political apparatus and academics – need to work together to tackle the high climate change agenda. The sooner the better, because the fate of the people depends on the actions of these three sectors. The first is to get policy makers and power structures to understand climate change and its impacts. Since academics have data relevant (whatever) to it, civil society can easily cooperate with politicians to maintain pressure for negotiations. One important area where civil society, academics and politicians can work together is pro-people and environmentally friendly urban planning.
The author is a lecturer in the Department of Architecture and Planning at NED, Karachi.
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