Earth Day 2016
Earth Day, falling in April 22, was founded in 1970 by Gaylord Nelson, a US senator and naturalist and was first celebrated by some 20 million Americans from thousands of schools, colleges and civil society. Though a national event back then, it served as a linchpin for the first global initiative for an action plan on environment and sustainable development at the first Earth Summit held at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in1992- supported by two other major moots, Cairo International conference (1994) and the Kyoto protocol (1997).
The Kyoto Protocol 1997 (COP3) introduced binding targets for GHG emissions in 37 industrialised countries from 2008 to 2012. After quite some time, the treaty came into force on 16 February 2005 though several member countries of the UNFCCC did not ratify it. France, however, engaged itself fully to negotiate reduction in GHG emissions and hosted subsequently the global Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Climate in December 2015 (COP21/CMP11) in anticipation of the signing of a legally binding international agreement.
The COP6/The Hague 2000 marked vigorous political debates concerning a proposal from the USA (which under its new President, George Bush Jr., had categorically rejected the Kyoto Protocol earlier) to let agricultural and forest areas be included as sinks for CO2 emissions.
COP11/CMP1 Montreal 2005 was the first one to take place after Kyoto Protocol came into force. Thus the annual meeting between the parties to the UNFCCC (COP) was supplemented by the annual conference between the parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP or COP/MOP) and focused on what should happen after the expiry of the Kyoto Protocol in 2012.
In 2011, the average concentration of GHG in the atmosphere was 430 ppm of CO2 equivalent – a level not seen on Earth for more than 800,000 years. Of the total GHG emissions, the energy sector constitutes the single biggest source of GHGs, being 35%, followed by deforestation ,24%, heavy industry, 21%, transportation, 14%, and buildings 6%. Though a prerequisite for O2-CO2 equilibrium for life on the planet earth, CO2 alone constitutes the bulk of the atmosphere of Mars and Venus the so-called dead planets.
While plants may absorb substantial amounts of CO2, the rising concentrations of CO2 vis-a-vis high rate of deforestation have led, of late, to extreme climate episodes i.e.- prolonged heat waves, desertification, recurrent floods and rising sea levels throughout the world including Pakistan.
While some countries including Maldives, Marshall Islands, Fiji and Palau have already ratified the climate deal, at the UN Headquarters in New York, the leaders of some 195 nations are now expected to sign the historic December 2015 Paris Climate Agreement today which is to take effect in 2020 to keep the global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius, as well as to engage in efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. At least 55 countries, representing at least 55 per cent of man-made GHGs are needed to ratify the agreement before it can take legal effect.
The Earth Day 2016, with the theme “Trees for the earth” would mark the epoch making ratification of the Paris Agreement. As per estimates of the World Resources Institute some 13 million hectares of forest – an area roughly the size of England – was lost every year between 2000 and 2010. At the commonwealth Summit at Valetta the Maltese capital in November 2015, queen Elizabeth spoke of Commonwealth Canopy Initiative to protect the World’s forest resources, and stressed the importance of getting young people involved in the fight to slow global warming. A tree planted and saved produces enough oxygen for 3 persons to breathe.
While it can linger in the atmosphere for as long a time as 20 -500 years, it is imperative that the level of CO2 in the air we breathe is kept low. Australia, allowed under the Kyoto protocol, 1997 to increase CO2 emission being a low emitter, had, however, large green areas with plants and trees. While Canada withdrew itself from the Kyoto protocol recently, the US did not ratify it at the outset. With myriad of trees no more than 50-60 years old, US continues to revegetate land with new and young saplings which provide a much more efficient sink for greenhouse gases than the old trees.
The New York Declaration on Forests urges countries with the leading agribusinesses such as pulp and paper companies, into zero-deforestation policies through Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD) program to achieve powerful new economic incentives
The ‘Green Pakistan initiative’ launched recently in the country prefers applied research to support policy formulation and strengthening of the academic institutions, universities, colleges for water development and reforestation- which has fallen drastically to a 2.19% low, not to speak of the projected increase in area under forests from 4.8% to 9.8% by 2017. The Celebration of earth day in the country warrants enlistment of women in rural development as was done by Professor Wangari Maathai in Kenya , of youth as exemplified by President Roosevelt in USA in the 30s, and by the various universities in Australia, Philadelphia (USA), and elsewhere in recent years to tackle water issues and reforestation. The colossal loss of humans, livestock, crops and property by recurrent floods and drought in Pakistan every now and then demands tree plantations on war footing, and strict punitive action against those involved in felling of trees in the country.
While Pakistan with 500-100 m3 water per capita availability is a water scarce country, according to the Falkenmark Index (1989), the threat of diversions of waters of Kabul and continued damming of the western rivers by India looms large, the recurrent floods and drought have long been raising the need to capture rain and flood waters. If not pre-empted, the stopping of rural migration, food insecurity, women disempowerment and alleviation of the so-called ‘multidimensional poverty’ will be a far cry.