In this new series, Green Box invites young changemakers for sustainabilitea with co-founder Mohsen Gul. Mohsen poses candid questions about their motivations, experiences and hurdles. Our next guest is Dawar Hameed Butt, a public policy specialist who is passionate about climate change resilience in Pakistan and has been an integral part of organising highly successful ‘Climate Action Now’ campaign in Pakistan, garnering interest and following from young people across the country.
Mo: Why Climate Action Now? What is so important about having such a campaign in today’s day and age?
Dawar: There’s a very simple answer to this: because we will not have another chance. Pakistan still has a long way to go to in organizing for Climate Action as well as align our governance and policy trajectory to claim that we have done our part. With Climate Action Now, we have started a conversation between all stakeholders, including the government, to shift the narrative into the right direction.
Mo: Do you think Pakistan is ready for such a campaign? What are some of the key challenges you have faced in building momentum for the campaign?
Dawar: Frankly speaking, Pakistan should have been ready decades ago, but it still is not. We consider it an achievement that we managed to mobilize an estimated 15,000 people–when we tally our more than 40 city-wise marches–but at the same time, as a country which will be suffering the most from the climate crisis, the number is small. Let me elaborate this way: Karachi, a city of more than 20 million people witnessed a rainy season this year that was essentially once in 100 years event. 2 years ago, hundreds died from, again, a heat wave which has been a rare incident. This shows that 20 million people are already living through the climate crisis, which is going to get much worse. We estimate that 4,000-5,000 people showed up in Karachi. Of course, many factors affect this. But our aim is for a mass-movement, of hundreds of thousands demanding climate justice, simply because “business as usual” scenarios mean cities like Karachi may not have a future at all.Certainly, this would also require that the common citizen starts relating to the crisis, which they will only do once they understand it better. This is our biggest challenge.
Communicating climate crisis in Pakistan is being done from scratch, because previous similarly well-intentioned local initiatives have not worked. We have had to go to the extent of coining Urdu neologisms, because we want this to be a movement that people to own–rather than organizations, donors or government. Separately, if you have followed our social media, you would have noticed that the largest sub-group of participants is students. They have been manning shown dedication in campaigning, helping with communications, assisting logistics, and so on. The ultimate challenge is to make the movement sustainable enough that students can organize themselves, while we help in whatever way we can.
Mo: In a recent interview, you said decision makers in Pakistan do not fully understand the difference between climate change adaptation and pollution abatement/ control. Could you please explain this further?
Dawar: Yes, this actually stems from a frustration at how easily the two are mangled, which negatively impacts any initiative for educating citizens. While the government should encourage citizens to plant trees, reduce use of plastics, save water, etc, it should not give them the impression that it is in any way equivalent to actual climate resilience and mitigation, which comes in the form of renewable energy, sustainable smart cities, zeroing carbon emissions, taxing polluters, among other things. The solutions offered simply do not match the actual scale of the challenge at hand. Let’s assume all major Pakistani cities ban plastics; does that stop the Himalayan glaciers from melting? Of course not. We will be sending tens of thousands of diesel trucks through the northern areas. They will deposit tonnes of carbon soot and emit potent greenhouse gases, which will be accelerating the melt. Therefore, we need to differentiate between environmental issues and the climate crisis, because otherwise it does not create the necessary awareness and public dialogue to create the space needed for policy shifts.
Mo: What can individual young people can do to sustain the campaign movement at local, national and global levels?
Dawar: Well, to be fair, the idea behind any mass-movement is always to go beyond individual actions, and congregate in large enough numbers to trigger larger national or even transnational shifts. Most of those who did march during the climate strike were already conscientious about their carbon footprint and responsibilities, which also means that, say, if the City District Govt. of Lahore decides to bring in vehicle restrictions to mitigate air pollution then most citizens would adapt to it even if inconvenienced, because in the larger scheme of things, if benefits everyone. Climate Action Now, in this sense, is aimed at the root causes of these issues, while being prepared to play our own part.
Mo: Do you think it is fair to expect young people to take lead of climate change issues which they may not have signed up for?
Dawar: Perhaps, not entirely. But each generation has their challenges. Not all will come out to face them, but the numbers that are coming out are already larger than most expectations. This is also largely because the creativity and energy that can be channeled through young people can’t be matched by others. And, again, the question most of them ask themselves is “if not us then who?”
Mo: What’s next for Climate Action Now? How can young people of Pakistan help your vision?
Dawar: Climate Action Now presented a comprehensive charter to government representatives, which included details of policy ideas, governance and administrative changes, demand for climate justice for developing states, and of adopting net-zero emissions. These are all items that can be tracked and this is exactly what we will be doing. Since, the Prime Minister himself has also demanded Climate Justice at the UN, it is all but necessary that Pakistan itself also shows that it is willing to make changes. Furthermore, we had region-based manifestos, because a diversity of climates means various cities and areas face different challenges, hence, at the provincial level, we will seek to mobilize for them in the coming few months. Lastly, we also recognize that currently Pakistan is not a major emitter of Carbon Dioxide, but at the same time, the MoCC estimates that we will be among the top ten within the next 10 years–a period which may the last chance for global warming to be limited to 1.5C rise. This is our national-level agenda, to prevent this from happening. There are innumerable ways for Pakistan to sustainably develop, but the changes required for it require a transition, which must begin immediately.
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Follow Dawar on Twitter: @thelahorewala