World Environment Day
World Environment Day, established in 1972 by the United Nations Environment Program, is a day of reckoning for the environment and appraisal of sustainable development efforts by the nations of the world. Although the public and the private sectors in both the developed and the developing countries have been active in trying to save the earth- the so-called living planet- only pro-active approaches can be expected to ensure environmental sustainability and biodiversity.
As of today, the world is poised on the horns of a dilemma; the dilemma of population crisis and the consumption crisis. While ninety percent of population growth in the world is taking place in less developed and developing countries, developed countries with only about 25% population use the bulk of the earth’s water, land, fossil fuels, oil, gas, coal et al.
If the population continues to grow at the estimated pace of 260,000 people per day, the world might end up having 18,000 cubic kilometers of waste water by 2050 i.e. about nine times the amount of water currently being used by all countries of the world for irrigation. Though the population is still expanding, its growth rate has started to decline steadily.
The vast quantities of petroleum, gas and coal now being consumed throughout the world produce enormous quantities of CO2, atmospheric dust and other gases which continue to raise the temperature of the atmosphere. Thus, pre-industrial CO2 rose from 281 ppm, to 381 ppm in 2005, and to 400 sometime in recent years. The concentration of 350 ppm CO2 proposed at the Copenhagen summit failed however, to be ratified by the advanced as well as expanding economies of the world. In his incredible book titled “High Tide,” the environmentalist, K. Lynas, foresees that world temperature can rise up to six degrees which is horrifying and could, undoubtedly, lead to the collapse of civilization.
While mount Kenya’s glaciers ( 17057 feet high) in Africa shrank by 40 % since 1963 due to global warming, the Alps of Europe shrank to half their size, and the Cordillera de Vilcanota, the largest single glacier (18602 feet high) in the Peruvian Andes Mountains is also shrinking. In Bern (Sweden), the glaciers broke into pieces between 1990 and 2002, producing small lakes here and there (Wilfried Haeberli). Scientists have now observed a strikingly high rate of dissipation of Arctic ice and as rightly pointed out by the experts, what was considered a matter of prediction for the future is now the reality of the present.” Pakistan inflicted already by the receding Himalayan glaciers due to global warming is threatened to end up with some 27 million farmers dislodged.
Notwithstanding the direct climatic impact of forests, and folk wisdom that trees create rainfall, there could be little doubt of the vital importance of trees in increasing the effectiveness of precipitation by checking run-off, maintaining the water table, and increasing humidity by transpiration: and it is predominantly for this reason that Sir Herbert Howard’s Post-War Forest Policy for India gave first place to forests, as a safeguard against floods, erosion, and drought. Thus the Forest Act, the first in 1855 and 1878, set out the general policy of reservation and protection solely to ensure the timber supply and protection of river catchments. In the wake of rising sea levels now, and 30% of the world water falling into the sea, mangrove forests have assumed greater importance as a natural barrier between the sea and river waters, and against storms and tsunamis, and an intrusion into coastal areas and islands.
Though not an emitter itself, Pakistan is now a great victim of global warming and climate change – Turkey, Egypt and Indonesia are listed along with the US, China and India, amongst the thirty top emitters in the world. Events such as Earth hour, Earth Day, National Arbor Day, Environment Day etc., are marked by developed nations to remind them of their environmental agendas and to review their strategies for development and sustainability. While the importance of forests to contain floods, erosion, and drought have long been felt in Pakistan, the necessity of reservoirs (dams) for rain and flood waters is becoming incumbent- including of course the much needed Kalabagh dam. Environment Day 2014 would be better served if we pledged to safeguard this land and its people against the looming ravages of climate change –floods, drought, water and food scarcity.
The writer is ex-director NIAB, Faisalabad, former HEC professor, UAF, ex-professor of Environmental Sciences, GCUF, and former member of the New York Academy of Sciences, USA.