German Ambassador to Pakistan Martin Kobler isn’t just a diplomat but a great fan of Pakistan’s breathtaking landscape and environment. His views on environmental conservation have gained overwhelming popularity on social media, calling upon the authorities to protect natural resources from degradation.
In an interview with TNS, Martin Kobler shares his views on the real Pakistan, afforestation initiatives of the government, sustainable development, water security, climate action and wildlife conservation among other issue.
The News on Sunday: How would you describe Pakistan?
Martin Kobler: There are two pillars which define Pakistan; the hospitality of people and the stunning landscape. From south to north, Pakistan’s typography is amazing. It ranges from deserts to the mighty Karakoram. It offers unique potential for tourism. However, this tourism should be eco-friendly, as wherever I go, I have observed there is a lot of plastic waste.
What you take in, you take out, so that the landscape can remain in a pristine state. With regards to tourism, one of the issues is that there are insufficient tour operators. The government should create opportunities in order to promote it. Once, I went from Shandur to Gilgit along the river, and I thought to myself; if I was younger and had money, I would have invested in water rafting on the route. Another problem is the security situation. Security needs to be improved, as tourism can only survive where there is security.
TNS: What do you have to say about the Billion Trees Tsunami Afforestation Project (BTTAP) of KP and the recently launched Plant for Pakistan project and their transparency?
MK: Both projects are part of the government’s flagship projects to address the environmental challenges the country is grappling with. Climate change is among the pressing issues of all times. To address this problem, we have the Paris Climate Agreement and being signatory to this agreement, Pakistan must limit climate change and global warming to 20C.
Currently, the population of Pakistan is more than 200 million and could rise to 400 million by 2050. If the challenges of wood cutting (for fuel) and deforestation are not addressed in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, they will become problems in future.
I still remember, when the opposition parties were criticising BTTAP and questioning its transparency, I chose three afforestation sites from their website and then visited these areas. I found tree plantations there.
Every country needs big dams for energy generation and water storage. I agree and support the existing public financing mode for dams’ construction in Pakistan.
BTTAP is a very good project and it is important to increase oxygen in the air and reduce carbon dioxide (CO2), lower temperature and increase rain. In the absence of forests, there will be climate extremes in future. Climate change is a global problem and everyone has a role to play. Environment and climate change are among the top thematic areas of the German Embassy in Islamabad. Together with the development bank “KFW”, we are planning to introduce a reforestation programme in Pakistan. Germany has expertise in reforestation and we have something to offer to Pakistan, which we would like to discuss with the Pakistani government.
TNS: What do you have to say on the government’s addiction to coal?
MK: There is nothing such as Clean Coal technology in the world. It is a myth that emissions of coal can be controlled. Coal is polluting!
Germany has a mix of energy sources but our preference is renewable energy. On average Sundays, 90 per cent of energy added to the grid is from renewable energy sources. After the nuclear disaster in Fukushima in 2011, we reduced our energy generation from nuclear power sources.
In Pakistan, solar power generation is minimal. The Quaid-e-Azam solar power project is a good initiative but there is a problem with the baseload. Being a technical problem, I hope it can be resolved.
The people of Pakistan are intelligent, and the country can produce solar or other renewable energy technologies.
Water should be used for power generation and it is important to decentralise energy. Small efficient hydro turbines should be indigenously developed by Pakistan. Pakistani expatriates with relevant expertise can contribute towards indigenously developing it.
TNS: What do you have to say regarding dams and the recent drive to crowd-fund Diamer Bhasha and Mohmand dams?
MK: Energy is life. Every country needs big dams for energy generation and water storage and for financing these mega structures, there are examples. I agree and support the existing public financing mode for dams’ construction in Pakistan. In Ethiopia, dams are constructed through crowd funding, but dams must be environmentally friendly.
In collaboration with our development bank ‘KfW’, we are building small micro-hydro dams and they are helpful in improving lives and livelihoods of local communities. It is important to note that development and environmental conservation must go hand-in-hand. However, public money for dam building should be properly used.
TNS: Pakistan is suffering badly from plastic pollution. How can the country address the problem?
MK: Environmental problems cannot be solved overnight. Plastic waste is one of the most severe problems the country is dealing with. Our embassy has decided to reduce plastic and aspire to become greener. Therefore, we are separating waste before disposing off.
In 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in the sea. The plastic used should be degradable plastic. According to research, good plastic takes 500 years to erode whereas bad plastic takes 1000 years. With more population, there is going to be more plastic. However, there are many examples where countries have taken bold steps to tackle plastic pollution. Rwanda is one of those countries that have banned plastic and they confiscate plastic which arrives at the airport.
In Pakistan, soft drinks previously used to be in glass bottles. This should be reintroduced to reduce plastic. The government should discuss with the industry and decide a timeline by when plastic can be phased out. This does not mean losing jobs, but creating more opportunities. The clock is ticking.
TNS: The German think-tank “German watch” has ranked Pakistan number seven on the list of countries most vulnerable to climate change. How can Pakistan deal with the phenomenon effectively?
MK: The challenge of solving climate change doesn’t lie in funding, rather with decisive political action. The last government added over 10,000 Mega Watts to the energy grid because there was a political resolve to do that. Finance always follows policy. The government should take a decision to combat climate change which should be supported by concrete measures. However, coal shouldn’t be in the energy mix, as it will exacerbate climate change.
TNS: Pakistan’s urban areas are witnessing horizontal expansion which is encroaching upon the prime agricultural zones and urban forest cover. How can this be dealt with effectively?
MK: It is very important to regulate where people live. People have to live somewhere. Yes, it is right that vertical expansion is needed to prevent encroachment of green zones and the food basket. When I visited a slum in Lahore, I met people who told me that they were about 200 people who migrated from Multan because they didn’t have anywhere to live there. This is domestic migration and the policy-makers should get together to find out ways to address this.
This question isn’t unique to Pakistan, as the phenomenon is prevalent in many countries where people tend to migrate to populated areas in search of better facilities. Germany and Pakistan have the same governance system. Every region should be developed and facilities must be provided, so that migration does not take place. A healthy urban forest cover, adequate urban planning and environmental compliance are essential while building cities, and in this regard, the town planners must sit together and discuss expansion in a sustainable manner.
TNS: Environmental experts regard population expansion as one of the major threats to natural resources. What are your views in this regard?
MK: Family planning is important in a country’s development. Pakistan’s population could be over 400 million by 2050 and if its resources are to be conserved, it must regulate family planning.
TNS: A research has revealed that around 50 million people are drinking arsenic tainted groundwater. Polluted water is a serious problem that the entire country is facing. How can this be addressed?
MK: First and foremost, the causes of pollution must be identified. Water from every region should be checked by chemical labs. Open defecation and inclusion of heavy metals through industrial waste should be controlled. Waste disposal by industries should be environmentally neutral and they should be mandated to minimise their waste.
In Pakistan there are more mobile phones than toilets. We have to raise awareness which is the key to water conservation. To address water pollution, we should go to the roots where the problem starts.
TNS: As the world is en route to an electric revolution, the automobile industry has witnessed a phenomenal change with the introduction of electric vehicles. But these electric vehicles are expensive. Pakistan is not among the countries with a high per capita income, how can it afford to have electric vehicles?
MK: The simple answer is “build Your Own Electric Cars”. Pakistan is a nuclear state and building a new technology in the automobile sector shouldn’t be a problem. In Germany, we are producing electric vehicles and the electric industry is developing at a rapid pace. The government of Pakistan should encourage the production of electric cars by offering subsidies and zero taxes.
In Germany, I don’t own a car because there’s good public transport and railway system.
TNS: Many wildlife species in Pakistan including the common leopard are suffering due to conflict with humans which have brought its population under pressure. How can the country protect its biodiversity from extinction?
MK: Wildlife conservation should be among the priorities of the government. There should be a national park system with sufficient number of wildlife rangers to protect wildlife. Good management is important and it should be integrated with local population. Once the communities start to earn the benefits, there will be no human-wildlife conflicts.