20 SEPTEMBER 2019 saw the biggest global climate strikes the world has ever seen so far. Marches were held in more than 150 countries, with protestors calling on governments and businesses to end their inaction on climate change. Pakistan, too, held its first ever climate strike in several cities. In Islamabad, a large crowd marched from the Press Club to the Parade Ground and presented demands to the Minister for Climate Change Zartaj Gul. I joined the March and saw that the participants were mostly youth who showed a lot of enthusiasm for the cause. Some of the participants I met had earlier attended an awareness-raising session with me on income generation through eco-tourism in Pakistan’s salubrious areas. I didn’t see any political leaders in the March, except a lady who introduced herself as PTI senior member Nadia Khattak. She was recording young marchers’ message to Imran Khan, which was mostly that Imran Khan has shown much interest in fighting problems like corruption but has not paid enough attention to Pakistan’s biggest problem of all, climate change.
This is an important point. Imran Khan’s Naya Pakistan mission aims to overcome the problems that have been holding us back for so long. Environmental degradation is a serious threat to the country, with Pakistan classified as one of the world’s top ten most vulnerable countries. Creating a Naya Pakistan also means equipping the nation with the means to tackle the climate change challenges of the future. It is vital that we make policy to overcome various challenges of climate change before the calamity is fully upon us. While Imran Khan’s greater focus on corruption than climate change may seem like a skewing of priorities, in effect, it serves the national cause of climate change. Pakistan will need extensive state action to deal with the issue, but widespread corruption hampers the proper functioning of the state. Corrupt officials are less likely to care for protecting the environment when giving NOCs for projects that pollute. Moral cleansing will thus help us go a long way in building ‘Clean Green Pakistan.’
It must be borne in mind that climate change is not an issue distinct from other issues but is rather interwoven with them. A very wide range of issues, in fact, are relevant to climate change, such as poverty, illiteracy and war. War makes the emission of greenhouse gases skyrocket and the people cannot be properly engaged in the effort to fight climate change without being educated. Similarly, rural poverty compels communities to harvest what little timber they can from their forest covers without acquiring means to reforest their land. Hence the distinction between climate change and “other” issues is artificial. Every aspect of the world we live in is determined by the climate and every aspect of our world influences climate. The proper path for Pakistan, indeed all nations, is to find out how to combine other issues with the climate issue in fighting climate change. That is my message to Imran Khan.
It is a message the whole world needs to heed. We cannot fight climate change without discovering the proper way to do it. Ironically, recent climate strikes have involved school skipping by a lot of climate activists. Youth should not just be pushing harder on the rulers to take action. They should also be getting knowledge in what needs to be done to fight climate change. Young activists Greta Thunberg, the inspiration behind the climate strikes, has herself made this message implicit in her outreach to politicians, urging them to “listen to the scientists.” Politician Nadia Khattak made a pertinent observation at the march, that people are generally concerned about the environment when they are age 13-25, but their concern wears off afterwards as their own lives take centre stage. It is the working professionals, she emphasized, who are most capable of taking action on climate change and regretted that not many were present at the march The climate strikes of 20 September are unprecedented. As we wake up to the climate change crisis, it is only the beginning of what is bound to be a very long and difficult road ahead for humanity. The marches in Pakistan are a promising sign. Pakistan Climate March has been a citizen-led initiative, with students spontaneously and enthusiastically coming out to answer the call spread by Climate Action Now. Majority of the marchers were very young people still in school and university. It shows that Pakistan’s next generation is eager to tackle the climate crisis. While the question of what the future holds in store and what we can do about it is still largely unanswered, it is we, the people, who need to dig for knowledge to find answers. Pakistan’s youth and professionals can get involved in finding solutions to the climate change crisis only by empowering themselves with research and inquiry to push forward the fast-growing frontier of knowledge about climate change.
—The writer is freelance columnist.