By Shafqat Kakakhel
Published in The News on March 23, 2022
Pakistan’s actions concerning climate change have been marked by weak political commitment, reluctance to recognize that the multi-faceted effects of climate change warrant efforts by multiple segments of the government and society and, above all, inadequate institutional arrangements. Despite our federal policy measures, coordination and coherence on climate-related initiatives between the federal and provincial governments have been conspicuously absent.
At the Earth Summit held in Rio in June 1992, Pakistan covered itself in glory by using its position as chair of the G77 and China to ensure the success of the negotiations leading to the adoption of the UN Famework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The government ratified the Climate Convention in 1984 but subsequently failed to take any substantive action as follow-up. Pakistan’s role in the global climate discourse has been insignificant while at home it has failed to implement the climate policy adopted in 2012.
All countries are committed to take actions that contribute to the mitigation of climate change, such as reducing greenhouse emissions as well as adapting their economies to the adverse impacts of climate change. Climate initiatives should be shaped by credible assessments of the effects of climate change and comprise result-based targets.
The establishment of a Task Force on Climate Change by the Planning Commission in October 2008 represented the first serious effort to comprehensively assess the impacts of climate change on Pakistan and propose responses. The task force submitted its report, based on the inputs of several multi- disciplinary working groups, in 2009. But it took the government three years to produce a climate change policy reflecting its recommendations.
Ten years after the adoption of the NCCP, most of its over 100 policy recommendations remain un-implemented. Recently, the government issued a revised version of the policy claiming, inaccurately, that it reflects the Sustainable Development Goals ( SDGs) adopted in 2015.
A fatal flaw of our climate policy has been to assign the small, poorly staffed and cash-strapped Ministry of Environment to implement the ambitious climate policy, in addition to following up on a dozen or so environmental conventions ratified by Pakistan for which it serves as the focal point. The situation deteriorated further in the aftermath of the 18th Amendment, which devolved most of the functions concerning ecology and environment to the provinces.
The environment ministry was marked for abolition but was saved by changing its nomenclature to the Ministry of Climate Change. The federal government has failed to ensure that the provincial governments implement policies made in Islamabad or respond to the smaller provinces’ complaints about lack of capacity for climate related actions.
In 2017, our parliament adopted a draft Climate Change Bill proposed by the climate change ministry, comprising a robust institutional architecture for climate related actions. The act provided for a National Climate Change Council (NCCC), headed by the prime minister and mandated to approve national climate-related policies and coordinate their follow up. It also provided for a National Climate Change Authority (NCCA) whose wide- ranging mandates include developing projects submitted for funding by the multilateral Green Climate Fund and other sources; and a National Climate Change Fund to mobilize and expend funds for climate-related programmes and projects. Alas, more than four years after the enactment of a truly promising legislation no follow-up action has been taken to operationalize it.
Absence of an efficacious institutional structure has perpetuated Pakistan’s unedifying actions concerning climate change. Nearly all the 35 or so projects funded by the Green Climate Fund, the Adaptation Fund, and the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) were proposed by the UNDP or other UN organizations with little inputs from the climate ministry. The same is the story of projects supported by friendly countries such as the 60 million euros clean energy project funded by Germany and the projects for enhanced climate resilience and water governance supported by the UK.
Pakistan’s role in the negotiations of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change (2015) was negligible. Pakistan failed to submit its Intended Contribution to Climate Change (INDC), unveiling its climate-related commitments in 2015 and again prior to COP26.
Our delegations at the annual climate conferences (COPs) led by our ministers for climate change, accompanied by a few officials of the climate and foreign affairs ministries, attend the meeting in a pro-forma manner with no tangible contribution.
In 2018, the Ministry of Water Resources, supported by the Planning Commission, compiled the first ever comprehensive National Water Policy with the consent of the provinces. Almost four years later, we see no sign of any follow up on that landmark blueprint. Similarly, in 2020 a new National Energy Policy was adopted, setting the target of raising the share of clean energy to 60 percent of the energy stock by 2030. Headway has been achieved in increasing generation of solar and wind electricity. However, detailed information is not available on the measures taken to implement the energy policy. Meanwhile, the government has slapped a 20 percent sales tax on all equipment for solar energy, a regressive measure that will tarnish our image.
The government has been issuing full-page advertisements on its flagship Ten Billion Tree Tsunami launched in 2018 but credible, verifiable information on the progress of the initiative is not available. Failure to achieve the ten billion trees target will also damage our reputation on environmental protection.
The government has been projecting its nature-based approach to environmental protection, including increasing the number of and expanding the areas protected from deforestation. It also claims to have prepared a plan to recharge the depleted Indus aquifer. Once more, substantive information and credible evidence are missing.
It is unfortunate that not much serious effort has been made by the government to implement its Electric Vehicles Policy (2019) aimed at ensuring that at least a third of all public transport vehicles shall run on electricity. Where are the filling stations for the thousands of buses expected to hit our roads?