Minister of State for Climate Change Zartaj Gul has been making headlines for all the wrong reasons lately. While the country grapples with a pollution problem – with Punjab and Lahore particularly adversely affected in the smog season between October and February – the person tasked by the state to manage climate change and pollution is acting no better than climate change deniers and conspiracy theorists. The Minister, and in effect, the Ministry of Climate Change denies the findings of neutral international observers that have declared Lahore’s Air Quality Index to be hazardous for its inhabitants, to the point where they are now breathing fumes equivalent to 10-22 cigarettes a day, cutting the life expectancy by as much as five years.

Instead of admitting that there is a serious problem which makes Lahore one of the most polluted cities in the world – recent data even points to it being ranked top in the polluted cities list – the Minister has ludicrously blamed traffic from the Azadi March and crop burning in India as the main reason behind this issue. She also went on to completely reject Lahore’s rank as the worst polluted city in the world currently and questioned the accuracy of the data put forward by neutral observers. Her argument essentially implies that Delhi is worse off, which makes Lahore’s problem not as much of a cause for concern and independent observers cannot be trusted like state-sponsored data sources. Under Ms Gul, the government even went as far as to try and redefine what level of pollution is considered ‘hazardous’ by stating that the current levels are acceptable because developing countries have higher emission rates.

What makes Zartaj Gul’s statements so problematic is the fact that she is both denying the extent of the problem, stating that Pakistan’s Meteorological Department and SUPARCO are the only two sources of reliable data and pointing to outside factors as the main problem, which means that the Ministry is not looking to find a resolution to this issue. Looking to re-establish internationally accepted levels of hazardous pollution levels also tells us that the Ministry is content with people losing five years of their lives, as long as the government does not come under fire.

PTI has been one of the only mainstream parties that has included the issue of climate change in its governance agenda, but by keeping Ms Gul at the helm of a ministry she seemingly knows nothing about, the government is essentially shooting itself in the foot. The plantation drives and everything else is meaningless if we cannot get a handle on the emissions problem in the short run. Perhaps the Prime Minister will consider handing the climate change portfolio to someone more knowledgeable and experienced in this subject; so far, Ms Gul has only displayed that she is not right for this position.