Towards a realistic climate action policy
Climate Change is a catastrophe that can be avoided by a combined human action and cooperation, as human civilization has been able to tackle many issues that threatened its well-being and survival in the past. What level of effort and sacrifice has to be made by individual countries and the relative proportion that is to be there has remained a matter of contention.
Climate Change is caused mainly by the accumulation of Green House Gases (GHG) such as CO2, SOx, NOx, Methane, etc. predominantly, it is CO2 which is a product of combustion of fuels and biodegradation of organic materials. These emissions lead to rise in temperature of earth and atmosphere giving affecting metrological balance and melting of Glaciers, etc, causing droughts, floods, hot summers, and rise in the ocean level threatening inundation of many coastal cities such as Karachi.
Pakistan’s contribution to the problem (emission levels) is miniscule indicated by its rank of 135 commensurate with its ranking in many other development indicators. Energy consumption and thus emissions have long been considered as indicator of development and thus any thought of any limitations on it appears to be a limitation on development itself. For developing countries including Pakistan who are at best at an early stage of development, the demand of limiting emissions is akin to resisting and opposing their development. For developed countries, perhaps development peak has already occurred and thus action and sacrifice can be made on their part. Being technologically developed, it is easy for them to rearrange their resource inputs and reduce emissions which activity can infact boost their economies. Developing countries are not able to do this by themselves without technical and financial assistance from the developed world. Even if such assistance comes through, most of it may be loans and very little grants leading to indebtedness.
International discussions and even polemics have occurred on whether the load has to be borne by developed countries alone or some effort may also come from the developing countries. The conundrum is that although individual countries emissions are miniscule in per capita terms, combined and in absolute terms the developing countries contribution as a whole to the problem aggregates to a significant number. It has therefore been agreed that they will estimate their own share and level of effort and declare the ensuing targeted emissions as their plan of action and submit such affirmations in the form of Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs).
Developing countries including Pakistan have been in confusion as to what should be their target and what kind of commitments can be made. And even estimating the emission levels and possible reduction without damaging their economies has been beyond most developing countries. India submitted its INDC last year and Pakistan could do it only last month. The issue still remains as to whether any reduction in emissions can be targeted, as our current emissions or even projected ones say of 2035 are going to be too low. Reduction in emissions say from 2035 level may tantamount to limiting our development. Pakistan’s Climate Change policy makers, perhaps under pressure of announcing some commitment and to be the part of international process and to be able to benefit from Mitigation assistance packages that are to ensue, have submitted INDCs, committing to a reduction of 20% emissions from 2035 level.
In my view more creativity and effort should have gone into estimating and decision on INDC commitments. We could have reviewed other countries, especially, of the region, particularly India. India has not agreed to any absolute limitation on its emissions at all. India has said it will ensure that its greenhouse gas emissions from one unit of GDP in 2030 is at least one third lesser than what it used to be in 2005. This is reasonable as this amounts to improving energy and emission efficiency by implementing conservation policies. Pakistan should also make its INDC submissions on these lines. Things are not at a level of finality at this stage. There is still time to come up with emission reduction targets and approach that are consistent with our unrestricted rights to growth. We can show our sincere commitment to the international community by agreeing to promoting conservation, renewable energy induction and development of emission sinks like forestation. This would be taken more seriously than a kind of commitment that eventually may not be implementable.
Unfortunately, Ministry of Climate Change (MCC) is in its infancy, although it is trying to do a lot. A Climate Change Law is in the offing, and a Climate Change Authority is being made. However, it need not reinvent the wheel. Climate Change is a multi-sectoral issue. In this context Planning Commission can come to the rescue of MCC. Planning Commission has multi sectoral resources which can be marshaled to support MCC. For example, they have a full-fledged Energy Wing which is building an integrated Energy Model. Energy contributes to 50% of GHG emissions in Pakistan. Emission module could be added to the Energy model without much difficulty. There are many other ways and means through which PC can be of help. For Planning Commission, yet it is another opportunity to meaningfully contribute and improve its image in a target area that is rapidly evolving. Infact it is though such opportunities like Climate Action and Inter-provincial integration that Planning Commission can renew itself, legitimizing its very existence which has emerged from many quarters even from within government departments.
Concluding, although our contribution to the causes of Climate Change is insignificant, the consequence and catastrophe that is threatening us is very dreadful. We have been declared third most endangered country in terms of Climate Risk, the impact of which has already beginning to tell on us in the form of floods and hot summers. There is threat of droughts and floods alternating. And our largest city Karachi is on the coast facing risks from inundation from ocean and many others. We have to plan and prepare for mitigation steps and infrastructure in order to be able to deal with the challenge adequately. Crisis is an eventually not planned for.