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Climate change & role of environmental protection agencies


Climate change is posing a serious threat to the whole world. Pakistan as well as international community is struggling to tackle the issue of climate change. Climate change has far reaching impacts on Pakistan. Glaciers are already melting in the Himalyas causing floods, extreme heat and drought in the various parts of the country is resulting in food and water security. Despite the fact that Pakistan contribute very less in global green house emissions but yet it is more vulnerable to climate change.
Pakistan’s journey towards delaing with the issue of climate change started with the ratification of Stockholm Declaration, 1973. Soon after ratification Pakistan established Federal Environment Ministry in 1975. Before that Pakistan had no legal framework for pollution control. Landmark was achieved when Pakistan promulgated Enviromental Protection Ordinance in 1983. The ordianance led to the creation of Pakistan Environmental Protection Council to oversee the environmental issues.
In 1992 Pakistan attended the Earth Summit in state of Brazil (Rio-De Janeiro) and thereafter became party to various international environmental conventions and protocols. This political commitment augmented the environmental process in the country. In the same year, Pakistan prepared National Conservation Strategy (NCS), which provides a blueprint for addressing environmental concerns in the country.
In 1997, Pakistan moved one step ahead by enacting Pakistan Envrionmental Protection Act repealing the 1983 Ordinance. In consequence of PEPA 1997, Environmental Protection Agencies were established across the country, with delegated powers, to formulate rules and regulations. EPAs are mandated to administer, implement PEPA, 1997 and the rules and regulations framed in line with the Act. Under PEPA 1997, sustainable development funds were created and Envrionmental Tribunals were also established.
In addition to this, various national policies, envrionmental quality standards and plans were formulated to address environmental issues. Procedures/systems such as Initian Environmental Examination & Environmental Impact Assessment have been introduced in Pakistan and have shown quite impressive results. Under IEE & EIA, construction projects are reviewed and, if not in violation of environmental rules or regulations, are issued NOC.
Notwithstanding Pakistan has erected structure for addressing climate change issues but the role of envrionmental protection agencies has been remained limited. EPAs lack capacity to enforce envrionmental rules and regulations and have failed to keep vigilant eye over the environmental violations. There exists the problem of poor governance and weak institutional capacity on the part of EPAs. On the other hand government has not been allocating sufficient funds for environmental cause which is one the main hurdle among others faced by EPAs.
There are hundreds of industrial units across the country which emit smoke causing threat to the lives of people and environment. Such units do not comply by the environmental rules and regulation putting environment and people at risk. Unfortunately, EPAs overlook such violations and do not enforce pollution charges, over such industries/factories, which are instrumental in controlling emissions.
Moreover, civil society also plays an important role in highlighting environmental related matters. They have pushed government to formulate new laws and policies on the issue of climate change. Further, they have also identified projects that are in violation of enviornmental rules and regultions and successfully drawn attention of concerned authorities to address them. Their contribution towards envrionmental cause is somehow helping EPAs to take action.
Though Pakistan has developed framework for implementing and enforcing environmental regulations and rules, but still it lacks capacity to enforce them. The drawsbacks have been highlighted by international organizations such as United Nations, World Bank and Asian Development Bank in their reports.
The reports have also suggested various legislative and actionable measures to improve efficiency of Envrionmental Protection Agencies. To bridge this gap there is dire need of reforms in rules and regulations and in PEPA Act, 1997. These suggestions can be helpful for Pakistan to overcome weaknesses and improve efficiency of EPAs, enabling them to tackle the threat of climate change effectively.
To conclude with, climate change threatens the life of many, specially the poor segment of society who are displaced during the course of flood. Food and water security endangers the survival of poor. It is time that Pakistan pays heed to environmental issues by bridging the gap in legislative and enforcement structure. Institutional capacity needs to be strenghtened so that rules and regulations are enforced with iron hand. Lastly, government needs to allocate sufficient funds to the EPAs enabling them to carry out tasks efficiently.