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Reviewing Pakistan’s climate action

May 11, 2023

It is gratifying to see that the National Security Dialogue, which has emerged as an important national security forum, will address the existential threat of climate change at its third session. Led by Federal Climate Change Minister Sherry Rehman, a panel of eminent Pakistani and foreign experts will discuss various aspects of the global climate crisis and its ramifications for Pakistan. This article attempts to present a broad- brushed tour d’ horizon of Pakistan’s climate change agenda.

The robustness of a country’s climate action is predicated on five essential prerequisites, noted below:

One, a political commitment by the national leadership to support the efforts of the international community to address the looming climate emergency and reinforce the resilience of the key economic sectors, the citizens, and ecosystems to adapt to the adverse impacts of an increasingly volatile climate through policies implemented in collaboration with all stakeholders.

Two, active participation in regional and global discourses for forging consensus on the climate change challenges and responses.

Three, development and implementation of policies and plans of action for contributing to the realization of the global agenda as well as adaptation to the impacts of climate change on the national economy, human security, and ecology.

Four, climate change governance comprising institutions operating at national and sub- national levels for assessment, policy formulation, and action, as well as periodic review and monitoring of progress achieved or missed, resource mobilization; and

Five, resources (technical, technological, financial and human) mobilized from domestic and external sources and optimally deployed.

Let’s see how Pakistan fares with regard to the aforementioned criteria.

High-level political commitment: The National Security Policy of Pakistan (NSP) (2022-2026) refers to Pakistan’s acute vulnerability to climate change and proclaims the objective of “a climate resilient Pakistan that prioritizes climate adaptation, sustainable water management and disaster management”. It aims to achieve the water, food, health, and energy security of Pakistan.

In recent years our leaders have attended the annual climate change summits convened by the UN secretary-general and reiterated Pakistan’s commitment to the global climate goals enshrined in the Paris Agreement and elaborated by the annual climate conferences (aka COPs). Their statements are disseminated at home.

Although the effects of climate change must be tackled in Pakistan’s coastal regions, cities and rural areas, the heads of our provincial governments and autonomous regions seldom speak about climate change. However, with the support of domestic and external partners the provinces have formulated comprehensive climate change policies. The implementation of those blueprints has been uneven, though. The provincial governments say they lack the financial and human capacities to develop and implement climate change related policies.

Participation in regional and global conferences: Our leaders’ participation in global climate meetings has been mentioned earlier. Tragically the main regional cooperation organization, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) has become dormant since India scuttled the 16th Saarc Summit due to be hosted by Pakistan in Islamabad in November 2016.The environment ministers who had played an important role in catalyzing regional climate change initiatives have also become silent.The South Asia Cooperative Environment Programme (SACEP) has been doing useful work but lacks political clout.

Policies and strategies for action at federal and provincial levels: The Climate Change Policy of Pakistan (NCCP) issued in 2012 and its updated version released in 2022 contain scores of policy initiatives concerning mitigation, adaptation and capacity development.

In 2013, the Ministry of Climate Change crafted a ‘Framework for the Implementation of the NCCP’ which prioritized the implementation of water and energy initiatives. Follow-up on the policies has been insufficient. The most notable climate projects are those developed and funded by the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.

Pakistan has also developed several sectoral policies related to climate change imperatives, namely the National Water Policy (2018), the Alternative and Renewable Energy Development Policy (2020), and the National Electric Vehicles Policy (2020). The National Water Policy includes a dozen or so major initiatives for integrated water resource management. The Energy Policy aims at producing 8000 MW of electricity from renewable sources by 2025 and 20000 by 2030 representing 20 and 30 per cent of the total energy produced in the country. The Electric Vehicle Policy contains targets and incentives aimed at capturing 30 per cent of all passenger vehicles and heavy duty truck sales by 2030 and 90 per cent by 2040.

Pakistan has also submitted its Nationally Determined Contribution to Climate Change (NDC) to the UN CC Secretariat in 2016 and its revised version in 2021. The mitigation measures in the NDCs include planting ten (10) billion trees, a 50 per cent reduction in projected GHG emissions (subject to international grant finance), and increasing the share of installed capacity through renewable sources such as solar, wind, and biomass to 30 per cent. Together with higher investments in hydropower projects, the country’s share of clean energy would reach 60 per cent by 2030. The NDCs also refer to the increase in the country’s protected areas, including national parks, a number of nature- based ecosystem rejuvenation projects and recharging groundwater aquifers.

In July 2022, the government, in close collaboration with the UN system, developed the ‘Living Indus’ programme for ecosystems restoration and climate adaptation comprising nearly two dozen projects and initiatives aimed at developing a sustainable, climate resilient Indus Basin such as clean energy schemes, sustainable groundwater governance, eco-tourism, biodiversity conservation, and eradication of plastic pollution. The Living Indus programme will cover all the provinces and autonomous regions and promote an ecologically vibrant and climate resilient Pakistan.

Climate change governance (institutional arrangements): In 2017, Pakistan’s parliament adopted a National Climate Change Act which qualifies as the most significant milestone in the evolution of the country’s climate agenda. The Act creates a robust institutional architecture for addressing all aspects of climate change. The Act establishes a National Climate Change Council (NCCC), chaired by the prime minister or a minister nominated by him/her.The council is mandated to approve climate related policies and coordinate their implementation. The Act envisages a National Climate Change Authority (NCCA) to serve as the main mechanism for the entire spectrum of climate change policies, plans of action, projects for external funding etc. It also provides for a Climate Change Fund for climate-related activities.

The present government has established the National Climate Change Council which has held its first meeting chaired by the prime minister. The other provisions of the Act have not been operationalized despite the persistent demands by civil society. The absence of a robust governance apparatus has impeded climate action. It has also compounded the challenges facing the small, poorly resourced, and overworked Ministry of Climate Change to handle its exponentially increasing workload thanks to the willingness of a number of friendly countries such as the US, China, the UK, Germany, the Republic of Korea, and Japan to support Pakistan’s climate change related plans. There is a pressing need for more proactive climate diplomacy.

The Ministry of Climate Change (MOCC) being the officially designated focal point for climate change represents the country at all major climate change meetings, especially the annual COPs, the Petersburg ministerial meeting, the inter-sessional conference held in June, and the summit convened by the UN secretary general in autumn. The MOCC also serves as the focal point for all the dozen or so multilateral environmental agreements (MEAS) ratified by Pakistan, including the biodiversity, ozone protection, desertification and waste and chemicals conventions.

The operationalization of the Climate Change Act would not only energize Pakistan’s climate-related activities but also enable the MOCC to pay more attention to the follow up of the other MEAs in coordination with the relevant s ministries.

Resources (mobilization and deployment): The MOCC’s budget has all along been one of the smallest among federal ministries. Over the years, Pakistan has received funding for around 35 or projects from the international funding windows such as the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the Multilateral Fund established under the Montreal Protocol for the Ozone Layer, and more recently the Green Climate Fund (GCF) and the Adaptation Fund (AF).

Pakistan has been one of the smallest beneficiaries of global climate funding, mainly due to its lack of institutional capacity.

The writer is a retired ambassador and former UN assistant

secretary-general.