Race Against Time: Pakistan addresses its environmental concerns to avoid political flashpoints

by Nazia Zakir, Pakistan, ELP 2014

The iconic Earth Summit at Rio de Janiero 1992 institutionalized environment as a sector in the Eighth Five Year Plan (1993-98) of Pakistan. Associated efforts led to the formulation of regulations, policies and programs for environmental protection and conservation, however, their enforcement has been found to be lax. As a developing country, environment remained at a lower priority than economic growth. The programs to achieve the country’s developmental targets failed to factor in the weight of environmental concerns and pressures. They also lack orientation towards environmental sustainability and instead incorporate the imperatives of specific development sectors. For the last four years, per capita income has not increased in real terms while double-digit inflation has prevailed. It illustrates that the strategy that sought accelerated growth was failing to achieve its target, the cost to the environment notwithstanding. Sustained growth with development based on economic reform with an emphasis on productivity can bring balance amongst environmental, social and economic gains. In the absence of mechanism to address impacts of development plans on environment, it was highly unlikely to achieve the sustainable development.

A planning system played an active role in guiding development to sustainable solutions. Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) emerged as “analytical and participatory approaches that aim to integrate environmental considerations into policies, plans and programmes and evaluate the inter linkages with economic and social considerations”. The Government of Pakistan (GoP) built on the participatory model to advocate the formal introduction of SEA into the planning process of Pakistan. SEA task force was created at Planning Commission with the members from federal and provincial planning and development and environmental protection departments, Ministry of Disaster Management, IUCN, experts and civil societies. An extensive awareness raising campaign was carried out to engage development sectors to build an understanding of SEA. Pilot SEAs of energy and urban development plans led to solutions to achieve sustainable growth. Finally the results worked in the favor of environmentalists and SEA is now a legal requirement in the two provinces of Pakistan. Decision makers now believe that strategic approaches for sustained planning will enable the country to conserve its natural resources while achieving the targets of growth.

Benefits of SEA
SEA can safeguard the environmental assets and opportunities upon which all people depend, particularly the poor, and so promote sustainable poverty reduction and development. SEA can improve decision making related to policies, plans and programs, and thus improve development outcomes by:

  1. Supporting the integration of environment and development.
  2. Providing environmental-based evidence to support informed decisions.
  3. Improving the identification of new opportunities.
  4. Preventing costly mistakes.
  5. Building public engagement in decision making for improved governance.
  6. Facilitating trans-boundary co-operation.