Midst the political crisis that looms large, government is also crippled by climate issues. Lahore has suffered the worst as most perilous smog recorded so far this year. It impelled Punjab government to give a break (not to its heedlessness towards climate change but) to school going children. The hazardous smog has become a grave issue and triggered a debate in civil society. The situation has become panic-stricken since this is the very first time that schools were forced to close down for the second time in the same month due to smog.

The tale is not over yet. The Minister for Climate Change proclaimed recently that data collected by different agencies on air pollution in Lahore is inaccurate, fabricated and maneuvered. It stirred twitter to try to persuade her that the data might be inaccurate but smog is real. With 861 AQI recorded, Lahore became the worst city in the world in terms of air quality.

The air quality of Lahore begs a question that, will city be under siege of smog as the winter advances? Yes, if government’s approach stays stagnant. Smog is a complex weather phenomenon. Due to pollution, an invisible layer develops that hinders the escape of warm air along with pollutants. So, the pollutants return to air that we inhale. It exacerbates in winters.

Lahore High Court took suo motto in 2017 when severe smog covered entire Lahore and summoned Environment Protection Department (EPD). The officials of EPD replied that crop burning is taking place in various parts of India that causes smog in Lahore. Though crop burning is attributed the major cause of smog, contrarily, it is certainly not. Perhaps this blame-game is exercised just to settle scores with India. But blame is not an antidote. Research has validated that crop burning is not a new practice as it has been exercising since 200 BC. If crop burning is the only contributor – as perceived by government - why smog has become a hot topic in Lahore for last four to five years? Also, Pakistan is an agricultural land and burning the crops has always been there.

Pakistan Environment Protection Agency (an executive agency of the Government of Pakistan managed by the Ministry of Climate Change) collaborated with Food and Agriculture organization of UN and released a report on, “what are the causes of smog in Lahore?” It found out that main contributing agent of smog is the transport sector of Lahore. The outrageous vehicle traffic in Lahore since last 15 years has damaged the air quality. The poor public transport system compels people to travel by personal conveyance that exponentially multiply the emission of poisonous gases from vehicles. Public transport system still relies on old vehicles that should have been replaced long ago. These old vehicles have no catalytic converters to mitigate toxic gases and pollutants in exhaust gas from an internal combustion engine into less-toxic pollutants by catalyzing a redox reaction.

Secondly, an extremely poor quality of diesel (euro 2) is still in use in Pakistan. Euro 4 is being used in India while Europe uses euro 5. Studies show that euro 2 contains 500 ppm of Sulphur while euro 5 contains 50 ppm of Sulphur. Moreover, incomplete combustion of Sulphur is also the main contributor. This converts into Sulphur Dioxide that if inhaled into lungs for some time, it circulates through blood, damages lungs and brain, causes growth stunting and miscarriage in pregnant females.

Unfortunately, it is a colossal political and moral failure of previous governments who haven’t devised any policy on climate change rather they deemed it a trivial and transient issue. Jarring the government’s heedlessness, it was climate activists and civil society that came out on roads and gave a wake-up call to the legislators in slumber. In 2015, first protest that took place in front of EPD office in Lahore where many women protested against unhealthy air in Lahore. A petition was also registered in LHC on smog that its emission causing agents are not mitigating.

Smog hasn’t evolved in just few days. It is the product of vicious pollution cycle. So, the remedy will not outpace the problem. First, vehicle restriction policy to be introduced by government. Indonesia implemented a policy that at least four persons must be sitting in a car if it has to travel on a highway. Secondly, there is no retirement age for vehicles being used in Lahore. These vehicles ought to be monitored regularly and replaced through a policy. Third, brick kilns are also the stimulus of producing smog. Entrepreneurs can play a momentous role in transforming obsolete brick making techniques with modern technology.

Fourth, until the smog issue isn’t curbed, government must launch awareness campaigns among general masses. Precautionary measures to be circulated through social media to aware parents. Meanwhile, opposition is obliged to keep mounting pressure on government to take bold and concrete steps to resolve this horrific issue. Fifth, a climate emergency is needed. This issue must be discussed by legislators and a tangible policy need to bring forth. Mere closely monitoring is not a solution.

Pakistan has been declared vulnerable to the climate change. Previously we had IDPs due to terrorism. If cities will be under flood and smog, there will be Climate Refugees who are predicted to be greater than what terrorism has displaced people. This huge influx of displaced person might stimulate another war. During a protest on climate change in Lahore, a young girl was holding a placard, read, “You will die of old age. We will die of climate.”