Pakistan – The Green Is In The Flag. Or Is It?

Pakistan – The Green Is In The Flag. Or Is It? (An Overview Of Environmental Law In Pakistan)

To say that environmental law took its time to gain any kind of significance in Pakistan would be a gross understatement. The first time a comprehensive policy for environmental protection was  passed into law was by way of the Pakistan Environmental Protection Act 1997 published in The Gazette of Pakistan on December 6th 1997, a full 11 years after a similar ordinance was passed in neighbouring India, and even 2 years after Bangladesh, a country which only came into existence in 1971.

As part of the Act, Pakistan signed multiple international environmental protection treaties, agreeing to implement their provisions in full. However, the guidelines from international organisations did not fully take into account the unique challenges Pakistan’s environment faces, contributing in part to the dire situation we find today. From our over-reliance on fossil fuels for power-generation to the overhunting of the Houbara Bustard which now faces extinction in a gravely short span of 10-15 years, our ever-changing environmental landscape needs constant attention.

If one examines the bigger picture, one can see that the problem is multi-factorial. The lack of a dedicated and effective public organisation is just the tip of the iceberg. Overpopulation and its related impacts, easy access to cheap fossil fuels in light of favorable relations with middle eastern countries, pervasive corruption at every level (public and private, leading to a gross lack of implementation of laws and directives), lack of government initiative in formulating sustainable development policies, rural concentration of the majority of the population (leading to excessive wood-burning), an agricultural economy using cheap and environmentally damaging pesticides, an appalling lack of the monitoring of industrial waste disposal, are just a few factors in a list of many, and beyond the scope of an overview.

The need for a comprehensive review of the legal environmental framework in Pakistan cannot be understated. The many challenges the environment faces today cannot be solved without a thorough and concerted effort towards formulating effective and locally relevant policies. This can only happen if all the stakeholders, primarily the government and the environmental protection agencies (including private associations and NGOs) assess the situation in detail and come up with required solutions.

Unfortunately, that would deal only with one part of the problem. Better policies also need to be implemented, and in a developing country like Pakistan this becomes extremely difficult. A major hurdle is the unavailability of any relevant public funding as the majority of that expenditure goes towards basic goals like infrastructure and defence. However, should funding be made available, the laughable lack of transparency in appropriation makes it almost impossible to use the funds for any environmental benefit. Solving these top-down issues is a Herculean task on its own, and that is even before we can delve into the many ground-level problems that would still be encountered in the effort to protect the environment in Pakistan.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of or any organization with which she might be associated

Saleema Panjwani

Author: Saleema Panjwani

The writer is a lawyer and career-educator. She is part of the faculty of law at Themis School of Law, Karachi. She graduated from Northwestern University, Pritzker School of Law, Chicago, USA.