In Agenda 21 of the Earth Summit 1992, issues relating to the environment and development have assumed importance in varying proportions. Now that environmental issues have also taken smaller, developing countries in their fold, the necessity of laws dealing exclusively with them are becoming increasingly important. In their absence, attempts to alleviate poverty and seek development through agriculture, trade and industry via WTO (ISO Certifications) that points to the importance of environment though not meant primarily for it, could become futile.

Although the impact of forests on the environment was always known to man, not withstanding the folk wisdom that trees in and of themselves created rain, there could be no doubt of their vital importance to increase the effectiveness of precipitation, and it is not without reason that Sir Herbert Howard’s Post-War Forest Policy for India gave first place to forests- being essential as a safeguard against floods, erosion, and desiccation. The first (ineffectual) steps towards conservation of forests were taken in 1855, with a Forest Act in 1878; yet the priorities of the then government were different. Even today, Pakistan has one of the highest rate of the felling of trees in the world, and the dilemma of inundation and drought besetting this country since then points to the much higher significance of trees to mitigate the effects of post- Earth Day environmental degradation.

Though the Kyoto protocol of 1997 emphasized reduction in CO2 emissions, Australia was allowed to increase its CO2 emissions, for being in part, at least, a low emitter. While US, Monaco and Liechtenstein did not ratify the protocol at the very outset, Canada withdrew itself from it at the Doha conference. However, marking Earth Day , Arbor Day, “parks for the people” initiative and the presence of an 840-acre “central park” in the heart of New York city signifies peoples’ concern for environment in the West. Despite myriad of trees in the US being no more than 50-60 years old today, she continues to revegetate the land with new and young saplings, which allows, biologically speaking, much higher absorption of CO2 than old trees. While China, India, Egypt, Turkey etc., have emerged, in the meantime, as new top emitters, Pakistan, which stands nowhere on the list of big emitters, faces now a rather more severe threat to its environment and biodiversity. According to World Wide Fund for nature, the frequency of cyclones in the country has increased over the past two decades with eight cyclones since 1999, besides two, very recent, highly devastating floods –i.e. the Great Flood of 2010 and that of 2014.

Obviously, the need for trees in the cities and parks, agroforestry, farm forestry and planting elsewhere in the country has become more incumbent to avert the threat of desertification to the Indus basin, notwithstanding the longstanding national forestry sector master plan on the anvil to increase forest area to 9.8 by 2017. In the backdrop of 23 billion tons of CO2 released into the atmosphere in 2002, and an increase in the concentration of CO2 to 381 ppm by 2005 (notwithstanding the failure of the Copenhagen Summit to limit CO2 emissions to 350 ppm), the change of climate and rising sea levels in the world, might signify the gradual collapse of civilizations.

Pakistan water summit, 2014, the first ever since independence, is focused on four thematic issues including trans- boundary water. While India followed the World Bank brokered Indus water treaty of 1960 and continued to build dams and diversions on the eastern rivers, she has built (and continues to build) more dams on the western rivers as well, not to speak of Baglihar and Kishanganga (dealing now, with a severe blow of 14 % to the flow of water in the Chenab, as aptly pointed out by Anne Patterson, a former US ambassador to Pakistan), giving poor crop yields and low power supply. One could understand the failure of this country in not taking up the water issues rather seriously not to mention the longstanding, inter-provincial dispute on Kalabagh dam which points to the sheer lack of political will which countries like US and Australia have ably demonstrated in solving their inter-state water disputes.

Dr. Zafar Altaf, Khurshid Anwar, Mr.Arshad Abbasi, Dr. Yakoob Bhatti, and Dr Tariq Jalil, to name a few, as well as institutions like the World Bank, placed Pakistan below Ethiopia in 2003, as a drought stricken country. A severe lack of management or ill management of the limited water resource is evident from its extravagant use at homes, in the field, decreased food output, injudicious ground water pumping, and silting of Tarbella and Mangla dams respectively.

Despite the fact that they are an important defence against sea incursion, air pollution and climate warming, large mangrove forests are being cleared along the coast, and while the need for large and small water reservoirs in the country is rapidly growing, an argument against the Kalabagh Dam that it would diminish the water flow down Kotri, and cause sea incursion points, therefore, to our dichotomous thinking on such critical issues as water and energy. In the US, 22 % of citizens voted in 1992 for political candidates who had a record for environmental management. A modest, one student-one tree modality introduced in this country by GCUF on campus and in some city areas in 2010 aimed at developing tree culture and emphasized the importance of trees, be they forests in the plains or in hilly areas or mangroves along the coast- and of continued re-vegetation with young saplings to mitigate the effects of climate change: recurrent floods, drought, poverty, food insecurity, and loss of biodiversity.

The writer is ex- director NIAB, Faisalabad, ex-professor of environmental sciences GCUF, HEC professor UAF., and former member of the New York Academy of Sciences, USA.