‘Fuel quality and road worthiness main culprits behind smog’
Hammad Naqi Khan is the CEO of WWF-Pakistan. He possess more than 30 years of professional experience in climate change adaptations, water management, resource mobilization and partnership building, market transformation & greening supply chain and sustainable agriculture with focus on improving farmer’s livelihood & food security. As Global Cotton Leader (Aug 2011 to July 2014) under WWF-International's Market Transformation Initiative (MTI), Hammad has lead advocacy approaches, representing WWF in multilateral fora and other policy dialogues. He was a member of Senior Executive Team (SET) for Asia Pacific Growth Strategy (APGS) and has also represented Asia Pacific in Network Executive Team (NET) of WWF-international since 2015 till July 2018; in addition to member of SWG and WWF GEF Steering Committee. Hammad is non-official member of Pakistan Climate Change Committee chaired by Prime Minister, Member of IUCN-Pakistan National Committee (PNC) and a LEAD Fellow.
Following are the edited excerpts of a recent conversation BR Research had with Mr. Hammad regarding the environmental challenges in Pakistan and his recommendations:
BR Research: What has been your experience in bringing about environmental change in Pakistan, and what are the key environmental challenges we face today?
Hammad Naqi Khan: I’ve been with WWF for the last 23 years in different capacities and have been heading the organization for the last six years. We are the largest environmental organisation, both globally and in Pakistan. If you look at our broader set of priorities as a nature conservation organisation, with respect to our global goals, we work on forest, marine issues, wildlife conservation, climate and energy, sustainable food and markets, water, etc. There are also cross cutting areas as well like finance and governance.
As a developing country, Pakistan faces a litany of environmental challenges. We need to first and foremost look at the root causes of the problems. A major reason why the environment and conservation of nature has been neglected is because economic development has always been given precedence and has been made a priority. However, that model has failed miserably. Second is implementation; while we have been good at signing and ratifying global conventions, we fail at compliance. The third cause for our current environmental challenges is the lack of corporate and the private sector support and engagement beyond corporate social responsibility. Fourth is the dearth of civic sense and individual responsibility.
I believe the biggest environmental challenge facing the country is water, whether it is about the shrinking supply such as glaciers melting faster due to climate change, or the rising demand for water from people, food, or industries. The crux of the issue is that demand for water is rising, while its per capita availability is decreasing, and the available supply is being polluted.
Of course, there are other challenges as well. Deforestation is quite high while the forest cover in the country is only 5.7 per cent. This is disrupting the ecological sensitive areas that provide key habitats for all kinds of wildlife. Then there are issues of illegal wildlife trade, waste management, air pollution etc.
BRR: Water pricing could help address some concerns around the water situation in the country. What challenges or bottlenecks come in the way when you think of pricing the water?
HNK: As I mentioned earlier, water is one of the biggest environmental challenges facing Pakistan. On the other hand, water is also the most sensitive, politicized, and highly debated issue in the country. That’s the reason why nobody has dared to improve or implement a water pricing mechanism. However, what must also not be forgotten is that the provision of drinking water is a basic human right, defined in the Constitution of Pakistan. It is, therefore, the responsibility of the state to ensure that every individual has access to potable water. Moreover, free does not mean that water should be wasted; water metering should be enforced. If people want to wash their cars or driveways with unlimited water, they should be willing to pay for it. If the industry is pumping water for consumption, they must also pay for it. In the agricultural sector, water needs to be treated as a commodity or an input because we all know that aabiyana is not enough.
In short, provision of potable drinking water for the poor and lower-middle class is the state’s responsibility; beyond that, people, consumers, and segments must pay for the resource.
BRR: You rightly mentioned that water-intensive industries should pay for the water that they are using. But you also mentioned that a key reason why we face issues like the water crisis is the lack of compliance. How can it be enforced?
HNK: You need legislation to enforce and enact laws. For example, previously the Irrigation Act made by the British allowed everyone – people, farmers, or industries to put up a tube well and start pumping water. Similarly, the canal system as part of the Indus Basin Irrigation System was allocated against aabiyana, while groundwater extraction was free.
However, in the new legislation, it is not free anymore. As per the new water policy, users have to pay for water. This should be enforced across the board whether it’s a large-scale farmer, an industrialist, or a water-intensive industry. The quantity of water that you pump or use, and also the water that you pollute must be paid for. We must treat water as a commodity and cannot delay this further as we have already started facing implications and the consequences of non-compliance and non-enforcement. If we don’t do something about it, we are headed towards a big environmental catastrophe.
BRR: Pakistan does not have a very significant footprint in greenhouse gas emissions, but then the country’s air pollution is extremely poor. Smog season is also back in Punjab. What in your view is the main factor behind smog in Lahore, and poor air quality in Pakistan in general?
HNK: Lahore no doubt has bad air quality, but Karachi and a few other cities also have poor air quality.
There is some sentiment that the key reason for poor quality is farmers burning crops or our neighbours; they do add to the poor ambient air quality, but the major culprit is our transport sector for two reasons. One is the quality of available fuel. Euro V fuel has recently been introduced in limited quantities, but this upgrade in fuel quality should have be done years ago. Our refineries are working on old technology and producing low quality fuel, and oil marketing companies (OMCs) are adding additives to improve the octane level, which are again hazardous as they pollute the environment.
Second is road worthiness. The two wheelers, three wheelers, and diesel vehicle emissions include PM10 and PM 2.5 particulate matter that are the main culprits for air pollution. They remain in the air throughout the year but worsen during colder months from October onwards as the temperature falls and added moisture condenses the particles. This is when it not only affects visibility, but it also impacts human health because the particulate matter remains suspended in the air. This is what occurs in Lahore and creates a health emergency in the city and its adjoining areas.
Another factor aggravating air pollution is the fuel used by industries, particularly the cottage industry. These range from burning old tyres, old waste to all kinds of plastic as fuel and heat source. There is no emission control mechanism of any kind. The problem is that instead of addressing the challenges causing poor air quality, authorities only take action when it’s too late. In October, a handful of brick kilns and furnaces were shutdown, some farmers were fined, etc. but this was clearly not enough.
BRR: So you don’t think that the government this time around has taken adequate steps to address the issue of smog? Don’t you think that the power generation policy focusing on coal negates the policy stance on smog?
HNK: I won’t say that the government hasn’t taken any step. Some of the programmes launched recently by the present government are steps in the right direction such as the 10 billion tree tsunami to increase the forest cover; Clean Green Pakistan to improve sanitation, and public health facilities; the Electric Vehicle Policy; Protected Area Initiative for nature conservation; and Recharge Pakistan to build resilience to climate change. But I don’t think that these will help in addressing the issue of smog, at least, in this season because not only many of these projects won’t make a difference in the short term, but they are also not enough and do not specifically address the root causes of smog. It is going to be another year with terrible smog.
I agree that while the government discourages power plants that use furnace oil to produce electricity, they are also putting up coal fired power plants, relying on imported coal and putting up a plant right in the middle of fertile agricultural land in Sahiwal or other areas like Thar or relying on domestic coal that is of low quality, which is counterproductive and goes against the principles of environment conservation.
COVID-19 was a reality check for us. The ambient air quality of Lahore was better than some Scandinavian cities during the lockdown and the city was among the top 10 in terms of air quality. But now Lahore is one of the top five dirtiest cities in the world. The message is clear: we haven’t reached a point of no return and we most certainly address this challenge by making sincere efforts
BRR: Many times, it becomes a debate of economy vs the environment. The main focus of those at the helm has always been economic development and growth over environment as you mentioned earlier. And this is the case in almost all the developing countries. How do you think we could change this mindset, and what role can WWF play here?
HNK: This is equivalent to ignoring one sector and increasing the burden on the other. What is the most common reason for hospital admissions? It is primarily water-borne diseases. What are the reasons for rising respiratory tract diseases? It is primarily because of poor air and water quality. You might focus on development, but what is the impact of compromising the environment? People are getting sick; many of them are poor and their lifestyles cannot afford even basic protective measures like getting bottled water or remaining indoors. This results in the loss of productivity and increased burden on the healthcare system. As per the Infection Prevention and Control Foundation of Pakistan, we are at the top for Hepatitis and Typhoid infections. We have been ignoring these sectors, but who is calculating the monetary value of human health?
What about the ecosystems that provide a multitude of services to mankind and the environment, such as wetlands? We do not attach monetary values to the degradation of these natural assets. The argument of economy over environment has been proven wrong everywhere and needs to be proven wrong here in Pakistan as well because there is no sustainable development without taking these two factors together.
BRR: How does being vulnerable to climate change affect the food system and how significant will the impact would be on crops given the recent monsoon season?
HNK: We are the children of the monsoon. As an agrarian economy, if we get good monsoon rains, most of our crops have good yields, and the leading cash crops provide raw material for our industry like cotton for the textile industry, sugarcane for cane industry, livestock for leather industry, and obviously rice that is exported.
What impacts the food supply chain is the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, which is increasing in the country making it vulnerable. Our economy is linked to water and food security. It is not just that we are one of the most vulnerable countries to the impacts of climate change - obviously, the changing weather pattern, extreme weather events, and natural disasters are all related to climate change and are are all factors affecting it.
BRR: What message do you have for our readers?
HNK: My message is for your readers from the private sector. they have to provide stewardship and leadership champions. They need to come forward and go beyond typical CSR activities. Stewardship is all about addressing the environmental footprint within their boundaries. It is time that they realize that it is not just their reputation at stake, but it is a business risk as well.
Secondly, there needs to be a realization among everyone – politicians, media, NGOs, civil society, private sector, and the public sector that the debate on economic development versus nature conservation is over; climate change is a reality, it is happening. We need to realise and take collective action. Rich or poor, every individual across the board, every entity and institute has to play a role.