The most important Earth Day of our time
By Richard G Olson
Published: April 22, 2015


Around the globe, today (April 22) marks Earth Day, when activists raise awareness about environmental conservation and efforts to combat global climate change. For decades, the potentially devastating impacts of climate change have been the stuff of futuristic films. In reality, our poor collective stewardship of the earth’s resources is already taking its toll.
In the United States, California is facing one of its worst droughts in modern history. Many lakes that once served as sources for California’s important agricultural sector are nearly dry. Here in Pakistan, millions can attest to changes in their environment.
Earth Day 2015 carries special importance. Leaders from 196 countries are preparing to gather in Paris in December to negotiate a new climate change agenda. They will shoulder a heavy burden — to adopt and enforce a series of measures that will prevent the earth from reaching temperatures deemed dangerous to the planet.
We are not forgetting the world’s oceans; last month, a US Presidential Task Force released a global action plan to prevent illegal fishing, which endangers sensitive marine ecosystems. US Secretary of State John Kerry hosted the 2014 Our Oceans Conference at which several nations, including the United States, agreed to fight overfishing. The United States is also working to combat climate change with our international partners. Pakistan ranks among the world’s most vulnerable countries when it comes to the destabilising impacts of climate change. The United States is proud to partner with the Government of Pakistan to protect Pakistan’s water and energy resources, and ensure food security.
Pakistan relies on hydropower for 40 per cent of its energy needs, and we are working in partnership with the Government of Pakistan to ensure that the proportion of clean energy is steadily increasing. The United States has already funded the addition of 1,600 megawatts to the national power grid and seeks to add another 2,000 megawatts of clean energy by 2018. In addition to the construction of the Satpara Hydropower Project in Gilgit-Baltistan, the USAID completed the Gomal Zam Hydropower Project in Fata that provides electricity and irrigation to the local community.
Recognising that over 90 per cent of Pakistan’s limited water resources are used by the agricultural sector, the US Department of Agriculture has contributed $3 million to programmes that train farmers in water and energy-conserving techniques such as drip irrigation and solar-powered water pumps. Ironically, alongside water scarcity, floods have become an annual phenomenon. Since the 2010 floods, the USAID Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance has been the leading supporter of community-based disaster risk management efforts to help highly vulnerable populations.
I encourage Pakistan’s leaders to put forward a strong commitment to the UN’s post-2020 climate change agenda and to continue to seek climate compatible development at the national and provincial levels for the sake of the next generation of Pakistanis. With our collective leadership, we can ensure that history recalls 2015 as a positive turning point in the fate of the earth.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 22nd, 2015.