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Pakistan

The case for climate justice in Pakistan

Prime Minister Imran Khan did not even attend the ongoing COP26 conference

The case for climate justice in Pakistan

More than 700 take part in the climate justice march in Lahore on Nov. 8. (Photo supplied)

Ashiknaz Khokhar blames the coal power project in his city for the deteriorating health of his father.

“He developed asthma shortly after the plant became fully operational in 2017. Last week he was hospitalized. The smoke is polluting the canal water and damaging the fertile soil of our city,” he said. 

Activists like Khokhar have long been criticizing the coal power project in Sahiwal city of Punjab province as part of the multi-billion-dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project.

“Black spots appear on wet clothes hanging outside. Farmer protests have become common. Only Chinese are employed for the highly paid jobs.” Khokhar, who leads the Active Youth group of Sacred Heart Catholic Church, told UCA News.

China is Pakistan’s largest investor and contractor of energy projects, most of which are coal-burning power plants. The year 2019-20 saw 19 percent of the power generation in the country coming from just four coal-fired CPEC plants.

Last week a petition was filed in Lahore High Court against the Punjab government's failure to take effective measures to curb smog. Lahore and Karachi were recently the third and fourth most polluted cities of the world as per the US air quality index.

Meanwhile, the life expectancy of average Pakistanis has been reduced by six years due to the emission of greenhouse gases

In 2017, a policy-making Climate Change Council was established. However, Rafay Alam, an environment lawyer, has been waiting for a council meeting for the past three years.

“The council was formed as a result of an act passed by the previous government. Sadly, it is being ignored amid the political rivalry. Meanwhile, the life expectancy of average Pakistanis has been reduced by six years due to the emission of greenhouse gases. Political slogans like Billion Tree Tsunami are mere tokenism,” he said.

Alam was among more than 700 participants of the climate justice march held in Lahore on Nov. 8. “Freedom to breathe” and “Long live environment revolution,” they chanted while carrying red flags and walking behind huge speakers on a pickup that blasted pro-environment slogans.

Wearing red T-shirts that read, “Climate revolution, stop pollution," they raised slogans against Ravi Riverfront City, a multi-trillion-rupee development project of the Punjab government. Ravi Urban Development Authority (RUDA) describes it as the “world’s largest riverfront city” spread across 46 kilometers. 

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It also promises to install six wastewater treatment plants in the first phase, revive the sewage-filled Ravi River and provide clean drinking water to half of Lahore’s 10 million people.

“Environmentally costly projects like RUDA must be stopped. The land mafia is cutting trees. Farmland spanning more than 100,000 acres is being grabbed in the name of development. Cities are not built to clean water. Thousands of farmers will be evicted,” said Farooq Tariq, general secretary of Pakistan Kissan Rabita (farmer communication) Committee. 

“Lahore was a city of gardens and canals. Instead of mill owners, brick kiln owners and peasants are being blamed for increasing pollution. COP26 has also failed miserably to implement the promises of the past. Prime Minister Imran Khan did not even attend the ongoing UN climate conference in Glasgow,” said Tariq, one of the organizers of the march.

In his message to world leaders in Scotland, Pope Francis stressed the need for education, a change in lifestyles and a model of development focused on fraternity between human beings and the natural environment to slow climate change.

The organizers also reminded Khan of his promised moratorium on coal announced at the Climate Ambition Summit last year.

“The prices of fossil and coal-based energy projects are increased at the demand of the IMF. Climate change cannot be addressed without the radical transformation of capitalist production. Sustainable energy methods must be adopted to become a country self-sufficient in energy,” they stated in a press release.

The project will impact the lives of the poor farmers and includes a climate change desk to advocate for clean air

Last week the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority increased the prices of electricity by 1.68 rupees per unit amid rising inflation. Pakistan currently gets 64 percent of its electricity from fossil fuels, with another 27 percent from hydropower, 5 percent from nuclear power and just 4 percent from solar and wind.

Pakistan has been ranked as a country with the fourth-highest inflation rate in the world, according to a weekly report published by The Economist. Electricity charges alone surged by 11.4 percent in September.

On Nov. 8, Caritas Pakistan organized the orientation of a Smallholder Adaptive Farming and Biodiversity Network Program aimed at helping 1,080 farmers in 24 villages to adapt to climate change and build their capacity. 

“The project will impact the lives of the poor farmers and includes a climate change desk to advocate for clean air. We have been experiencing winter smog for the past five years. Our ongoing One Million More Tree Plantation campaign will help in mitigating such effects and put Pope Francis’ Laudato Si' in action,” said Amjad Gulzar, executive director of Caritas Pakistan.  

Under its previous campaign, Caritas Pakistan diocesan units planted 1,062,277 trees in 36 districts from 2016 to 2019.

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