Can Pakistan act on climate change?
Having suffered immensely from human and economic losses caused by the hazards of climate change, Pakistan needs to urgently take action on both adaptation and mitigation.
Last year, more than 1,200 lives were lost by the deadly heatwave in Karachi and warnings have been issued this year again.
Similarly the agriculture-dependent economy of Pakistan, which employs more than 40 percent of labour force, has suffered a lot especially in terms of cultivation of rice, wheat and cotton due to extreme weather events and unpredictable rain patterns. According to the Pakistan Economic Survey, floods in 2010, 2011 and 2012 alone cost Pakistan the loss of 3,072 lives and $16 billion in financial terms.
Sadly those at the helm of affairs only spring to action when catastrophe comes down knocking at their door, and it becomes unavoidable to the extent of becoming an existential threat. This is as true in the case of climate change as it is in the counterterrorism struggle.
Our decision-makers may be too embroiled in ‘political’ issues to care about the catastrophe brought on us by climate change. This is an issue of prioritisation. For instance, the Ministry of Climate Change – in collaboration with other stakeholders – prepared a comprehensive and well-meaning National Climate Change Policy and the framework for implementation of the policy.
The policy talks about water sector, agriculture and livestock, forestry sector, disaster preparedness, energy sector, transport sector, industries and urban planning. It takes stock of challenges faced in terms of adaptation and mitigation and presents a way forward in the short, medium and long terms. Essentially it lays down a comprehensive foundational framework which needs to be implemented.
Sadly, the government seems least interested in implementing it, evident from the meagre resource allocation made towards it. Meanwhile climate-induced calamities devastate the country every year and our governments continue to ignore the implementation of such policies.
“Pakistan is committed to the cause of reducing global emissions. Several mitigation initiatives, including promotion of affordable renewable technologies, measures towards energy efficiency, implementation of mass transport systems and expansion of hydro-electricity potential, are already part of our development strategy”. Thus read the statement by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif at the Inaugural Session of COP-21 Paris, France.
Internationally, although Pakistan has signed the agreement, yet it presented a very weak case at the Paris summit stating just that it is taking steps on the mitigation front, contributing much less in global carbon emissions and remain highly vulnerable and ill-prepared. In fact, Pakistan has a strong case to attract donor’s assistance as it only contributes less than one per cent toward global emissions and yet remains highly vulnerable. According to the Global Climate Risk Index 2016 (compiled by Germanwatch, a Bonn-based NGO), Pakistan is among the 10 countries most affected from 1995 to 2014 and the 10 most affected countries in 2014.
Though Pakistan may have lost the opportunity to move on climate change at home, it cannot afford to lose it internationally after a rather uninspiring performance at COP21. But has Pakistan lost it completely?
According to Kashmala Khattak, a climate finance expert, the opportunity that was missed in Paris was that Pakistan was not able to articulate all its initiatives under the ‘unconditional actions’ (mitigation and adaptation initiatives taken by countries without international support) that it is already carrying out. According to Khattak, if Pakistan had presented the initiatives taken on its own in an effective manner, it would have helped the country get financial and technical assistance for a number of initiatives under the ‘conditional actions’. It is pertinent to note that initial feasibility studies show that Pakistan has 50,000MW potential of wind energy and at least 60,000MW from hydro energy.
Khattak insists that the opportunity is not completely lost yet. The Ministry of Climate Change is still working on revising the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCS) and it can be hoped that Pakistan will put forward projects for the Green Climate Fund (GCF) – given by developed countries to assist developing countries for mitigation and adaptation purposes.
Currently Pakistan’s bid remains to accredit ‘entities’ and make a proposal for feasible projects to access the GCF. In this regard, the role of both public sector and private entities is important. Similarly, all the relevant line ministries and provincial departments have to come together to devise workable projects to get GCF funding; for this 2016 is a crucial year.
Here it becomes important for all the stakeholders, especially for the civil society, to come forward. They need to exert pressure on the government to take necessary action and hold it accountable if it does not. The people of the country are in general already very concerned yet they are helpless and ill-prepared. They should be taken on board. This is why it is very important to start talking about climate change.
The media should be used to spread more awareness and influence public opinion on climate change in Pakistan. Our artists should also come forward to highlight the issue. Essentially, the civil society, provincial governments and other stakeholders should all join hands to actively pursue this issue.
Heatwaves, flash floods, disease outbreak and shortage of clean drinking water are merely a few of the problems caused by rising temperatures (which are caused by perpetual negligence and mismanagement).
The Special Report on Emissions Scenarios (SRES) by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) paints a miserable picture of projected climate change impacts for Pakistan across various sectors such as water, agriculture, energy, human health and ecosystem.
According to LEAD Pakistan, the climate change impact in terms of losses in agricultural productivity is projected in the range of $6.94 billion to $30.34 billion by 2040. Moreover, the havoc caused by outbreak of fatal diseases, depleting reservoirs of clean water and the resultant disproportionate migration patterns paint a doomsday scenario for Pakistan.
Among other things, high vulnerability to climate-induced hazards and population explosion will translate the current human and economic losses into a national security disaster if it is not catered to in time.