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Fighting climate change through education in Balochistan

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A largely arid region of Pakistan, the province faces special challenges, and tackling them should start with the young

Rameez Kareem called Sabir, his elder brother, to discuss the impact of climate change when their father purchased land for farming. It was not a call to inquire after the health of Sabir, who was studying law in Quetta, the capital of Balochistan province. Rameez was seeking advice on how to plant trees in a part of Balochistan where rainfall is erratic or scarce.

Rameez Kareem lives in Turbat, Kech district, which recorded a temperature of 53.5 degrees Celsius in 2017. In 2018, a group of young students started a “Let’s Green Turbat” campaign to educate people about the effects of climate change. They visited many schools to disseminate awareness on climate change. Rameez Kareem’s school was where he received understanding of the value of planting trees.

A man plants a tree in his farmland in Turbat, one of the hottest cities in Pakistan’s Balochistan province. Photo: Ayaz Khan

The Education Department of Balochistan has incorporated chapters in some science and social studies subjects to sensitize students to the effects of climate change in the province. However, climate-change education is yet to be proposed as a separate subject.

“It’s essential to make climate-change education part of curricula. My younger brother Rameez Kareem, who studies in Grade 6 in Turbat, has attained climate-change education from chapters included in books and he practiced it when we planted many trees in our new farmland,” Sabir said. 

“To include chapters on climate change in the curriculum is a good initiative. I believe, like tasks associated with science subjects, climate-change education must have practical activities too. Students must plant trees inside schools as well as have to visit fields to gain education and knowledge about agriculture,” Sabir added.

Balochistan has the lowest tree coverage in Pakistan, at 1.4% of total land area. Balochistan also benefits little from monsoons.

A research paper titled “Drought Trends in Balochistan” shows that the province is vulnerable to climate change. In terms of prolonged droughts, the province is the most affected in the country.

According to the paper, Bharkan, an arid region of the province, faced a drought lasting 22 months from 1999 to 2001. The province is also prone to low-level flash flooding. A recent record-breaking rainfall (104 millimeters) in Gwadar caused flooding in that port city.

Need for climate change education

Following the footprints of the Philippine government, the Pakistani Ministry of Climate Change began a plan to involve students in tree-planting activities. Under the strategy, students were required to plant trees and in return earn extra marks during examinations.

“It was a necessary step to educate students through activities. But the policy couldn’t last long given the dearth of interest,” Sabir said with regret.

According to a recent study, children born in 2020 could face seven times as many climate disasters than those born in 1960. The study reaffirms the belief that climate-change education is the need of the hour.

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Another study reveals a strong relationship between climate action and a course taught to university students. After taking the course, a majority of graduates reported pro-environment decisions. Their decisions reduced their individual use of carbon by 2.68 tons per year.

In addition, a study further reveals that if only 16% of high-school students in high- and middle-income countries were to receive climate-change education, there could be a nearly 19-gigaton reduction of carbon-dioxide emissions by 2050.

At the Conference of Parties (COP26) in Scotland late last year, a discussion on climate-change education also resonated. Education and climate ministers from various countries, including Siri Lanka, pledged to make climate education a priority.

Prior to COP26, through the Berlin Declaration on Education for Sustainable Development convened online in 2021, participant governments agreed that education could be a powerful means of shaping a worldview on climate change. In contrast to this, a report released by UNESCO, based on the data obtained from 100 countries, found that only 53% of the world’s curricula refer to climate change.

Pakistan is one of the signatories of United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which urges members to undertake climate-change education and ensure public participation in such programs. In addition, Pakistan pledged to tackle climate effects through education in its National Climate Change Policy of 2012. 

With implementation of the Single National Curriculum, debate on whether to include climate-change education in the SNC started. Last May, the Climate Change Ministry introduced such education as a subject in the SNC.

Balochistan, after Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK), is the third province to adopt the SNC.

“Balochistan has adopted SNC and whatever is included in it, we will implement,” said Saeed Ahmed Khan, director of the Balochistan Bureau of Curriculum and Extension. “We have adopted [the]first phase of SNC and it includes environment-related education from [Grades 1 to 5].

“Apart from this, despite making it [climate change] a new subject, we have chapters on environment in both English and Urdu. To add climate-change education, we can incorporate researched articles in scientific subjects. Introducing climate change as a separate subject will take time and effort.”

It might be easier, according to Ahmed, to introduce climate-change subjects in universities than in colleges. Hiring staff and introducing a new subject at college level needs much effort and time.

Implementing climate change education

Saadia Khalid, head of the Lahore-based campaign “Climate Warriors,” believes that a climate-change curriculum should be a “hidden” one.

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“My agenda is simple. Don’t buy bottled water. I carry my own. I walk and do not use a vehicle if the distance is coverable by walking. These steps are simple and we must train a teacher to teach these things to schools. Children understand things better.”

Asfand Bakht Yar is an environment educationist who administers workshop programs in schools initiated by An Taisce – the National Trust for Ireland. Bakht believes that it’s important to impart climate education to children in schools given the fact that schools can give formal education. The information is accurate and designed according to the age of children.

“I designed a program and proposed it to the Ministry of Climate Change. But I have been waiting for the feedback. After learning the basic concepts, children can play their role and become part of the solution,” Bakht said. 

The way forward

In 2018, an awareness campaign in KPK province had promising results. The campaign centered on educating school students about conservation of biodiversity.

Similarly, an effective method, according to Bakht, is to engage students in activities that lead to awareness and are also fun. Bakht urges that there ought to be workshop programs specifically designed for junior, senior, and post-primary-school education, respectively.

“Workshops must contain fun activities on concepts like climate change, recycling, water conservation, air quality and energy,” he explained. For Bakht, the EU Green School Model is workable in Pakistan. “The model might need some changes in environmental and climate curriculum on our part but will run parallel to the existing education system in Pakistan.”

Tahir Rasheed, director and regional head WWF Sindh and Balochistan, said: “Balochistan is a very diverse region. Of nine to 10 ecological zones, six lie in Balochistan. It’s a hyper-arid region and climate effects are high here.”

He added: “We need to educate and create awareness in multiple fields. We need to create awareness about protected areas, about repercussions of CPEC-related projects which might exacerbate the climate effects, and illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUUF), which is a serious threat to marine ecology.”

According to Rasheed, Balochistan, the largest province of Pakistan, during the last 50 years has confronted droughts and below-normal precipitation that have affected 60-70% of the population directly or indirectly.

Balochistan has a predominantly arid environment and thus sustainable management of natural resources, environmental as well as climate-change-related issues must receive a high priority in the government’s planning and development processes.

“Policymakers and civil society should be environmentally sensitized to take into consideration the climate agenda and ecological processes that sustain life in the province,” Rasheed emphasized.

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