We all might agree that the Global North must pay reparations for climate disasters to the Global South, but what if we sign a charter here in Pakistan that cars and vehicles used by the rich should be banned from roads? Many would disagree. Average rates of car ownership in Pakistan stand at a meagre 15.4 per 1000 people, yet out of total emissions, vehicular emissions have a staggering share of 43 percent. This leaves Pakistan among the top most vulnerable countries due to the climate crisis. The status quo and the coming future present a dismal scene.
The cities of Pakistan are sprawling out at herculean rates, which have resulted in lower vegetation cover, increased air pollution, and thus a need for more cars.
The strategies adopted around the globe to reduce vehicular emissions include the introduction of mass transit systems in big cities. Leaving aside the debate of route and capacity sufficiency, the only claim to fame for mass transit systems in Pakistan is their cheapness. Due to subsidized tickets, the section of the population using mass transit most frequently are students or working men and women, which is undoubtedly a positive development. The core issue is that the people who own a car and use it for daily commutes continue to do so. An average compact car releases about 9 kg of CO2 per gallon of petrol burnt, and Lahore alone has 2 million cars registered, as per data by the Motor Vehicle Registration Authority. This is perhaps one reason why Lahore continues to be one of the world’s most polluted cities.
Every year, the number of cars on the roads is increasing. Cars being considered a necessary benchmark for upward social mobility are a significant factor, but more importantly, the design of our cities is not pedestrian friendly or conducive to public transport use on the present infrastructure. The cities of Pakistan are sprawling out at herculean rates, which have resulted in lower vegetation cover, increased air pollution, and thus a need for more cars. The government has, however, never actively discouraged urban sprawl, as the growth of new housing societies suggests. In order to tackle congestion issues, band aid measures such as the remodelling of Kalma Chowk are encouraged. The monetary cost of the remodelling will be five billion rupees, and an insurmountable price will be paid in terms of environmental damage caused by concrete pollution.
It is time we put aside the unwarranted prestige associated with driving a V8 engine to the gym
Since more lanes invite more cars, remodelling flyovers or building signal-free corridors might reduce congestion issues for a few years. But this is certainly not a sustainable strategy. The recently emerging idea of shifting to electric vehicles, since it is environmentally friendly, is also unsustainable for several reasons. Firstly, electric vehicles do not solve the problem of congestion. Secondly, the price of EVs is far beyond the reach of many in Pakistan. Even if EVs don’t rely on gasoline directly, they ultimately consume electricity to charge their batteries. In a country where electricity production is hardly based on renewables, this poses another problem. Moreover, electric vehicles rely on mostly imported components; this poses another challenge for Pakistan’s stricken trade balance and burgeoning deficits. All of this leads to the rather fair conclusion that the design of cities, which necessitates cars of whatever type, is certainly exclusive – designed for a few at the expense of the many.
To help the working class catch up to the fast-paced roads, utility motorcycles’ popularity grew significantly in Pakistan. Commuting via motorcycle might not be a preferred choice for many, but it has become the only option. For travelling on roads built for cars, a motorcycle is the only vehicle which is affordable for a large section of society. It is imperative to mention that with the number of motorcycles hitting the roads, roughly four bikes equate to one car’s emissions, certainly contributes hugely to air pollution. This massive traction for the motorcycles market is undoubtedly a product of poorly designed cities and urban sprawl, which has is a pretty certain recipe for climatic catastrophe.
The recent figures of the Air Quality Index due to smog, not only indicate the despicable state of our atmosphere’s health, but are also crying out over the urgent need to revisit our urban planning policies. If 2022 has taught us anything, it is that ignorance in tackling climate change will lead to unprecedented suffering for our population, yet our country’s leadership turns a deaf ear to it. The pathology of mobility in Pakistan is undoubtedly exclusive and destructive; however, if concrete measures are taken, Pakistan can be made a better place to live and commute for all. This involves both the state to recognize its goals and act accordingly, and for people to revisit their lifestyles.
The need to tackle the climate crisis and atmospheric pollution in our cities cannot be fulfilled by closing schools for a few weeks; it can only be dealt with by calculated policy-making and its consistent implementation.
The prestige attached to owning and driving a car needs to be eliminated. The size of the vehicle is considered directly proportional to the honor of its driver; however, we know that the bigger the car, the higher its emissions and contributions to climate change. Our mental configuration needs to understand that carpooling is the only sustainable way. It is time we put aside the unwarranted prestige associated with driving a V8 engine to the gym. Along with these changes in attitudes of the society, the state has to perform its duty too.
The governments must actively legislate for hourly paid parking and discourage car use by making it expensive to drive. But, to do so equitably, alternative infrastructure needs to be built first. A well-integrated network of mass transit systems must be built, and parking spots must be established at every stop for feeder buses or trains. Every road must have a dedicated cycling lane as well as a footpath for pedestrians. Cycling culture must be promoted by policy-making and not limited to recreational Sunday cycling detours. Moreover, the use of electric cycles must be encouraged by collaborating with private enterprises.
The need to tackle the climate crisis and atmospheric pollution in our cities cannot be fulfilled by closing schools for a few weeks; it can only be dealt with by calculated policy-making and its consistent implementation, which is possible only via strong and empowered local governments. It is evident that unless we design a decentralized governance model and a sustainable way to live and commute, the dream of an inclusive, green city with clean air will remain elusive in Pakistan.
Well donee writer…
How wonderfully you have described the whole situation..
Keep it up..✨