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Towards a low-carbon future


June 6, 2016

The modern world faces two major challenges. First, promoting sustainable development and second, acting on climate change. The global negotiations over the last five years have ignited a much-needed debate on ‘low-carbon development’ – economic strategies involving minimal greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) to curtail global warming.

The looming threat of climate change started receiving attention during the late 1980s, which led to the establishment of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 1992. Led by the Common but Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR) principle of the convention, the actual response to the climate challenge is determined by the ability of individual countries to adapt or build resilience to a changing climate, while contributing to the global GHG mitigation effort.

The Conference of Parties (COP) introduced the concept of Low Carbon Development Strategies (LCDS) to the UNFCCC, as a common but differentiated approach to meet the overall emissions reduction objectives. The term ‘low-carbon development’ has now entered the development world in a big way.

However, there is currently no internationally agreed definition of low carbon development (LCD). Still, the view ‘using less carbon for growth’ expressed in the Department for International Development’s (DfID’s) White Paper (2009), appears to be a common feature in what is implied by low carbon development.

Despite Pakistan’s minimal contribution to GHGs, it is amongst the top ten countries most vulnerable to climate change. Pakistan, being a developing nation, now has the added responsibility of designing effective adaptation strategies, as well as meeting its substantial development deficit.

This responsibility is important and urgent, because direct funding from international agencies, such as the Green Climate Fund (GCF), place developing countries in the driving seat for identifying and implementing solutions.

Even then, Pakistan has not taken adequate measures with regard to climate adaptation and mitigation, due to a lack of understanding and capacity. However, over the past few years, different climate-related disasters, such as annual floods, glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs), landslides, sea intrusion, heatwaves and cloud bursts have raised awareness and increased the sense of vulnerability in equal measure.

The issue lies with the fact that the government of Pakistan’s strategy, as outlined in the Annual Plan 2015-16 (URL:, seems to deal with this challenge on a piecemeal basis. The plan contains a separate chapter on environment and climate change, but does not identify major stakeholder entities. Thus, it could not lead to integration of the concept of low-carbon development in the paradigm of growth of various core economic sectors.

To reduce emissions and accelerate green growth we need development and diffusion of technological innovations. However, low-carbon development challenges cannot be met by just applying carbon efficient technologies in niche markets and leaving others unchanged. The implementation of beneficial technologies is needed across all sectors.

Unfortunately, vested interests influence decision-making within institutions. This situation urges the need for change in governance at all levels – governance free from influence. Moreover, implementation failures also occur because decisions are being made in silos, with environmental, social and economic dimensions addressed by separate, competing structures.

Leadership for Environment and Development (LEAD) Pakistan, a think-tank based in Islamabad, has developed a case study on low-carbon technologies in the Pakistani construction sector for Asian Pacific Network (APN).

Perhaps the most important development is at the sub-national level. Three provincial governments in Pakistan (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab and Sindh) are benefiting from LEAD Pakistan’s support on developing provincial climate change policies. The provincial policies will help support the transition of provincial governments to low-carbon development.

The crucial challenge for Pakistan is to enable delivery of its national development visions and goals – through low-carbon, climate-resilient or climate-compatible development plans and strategies. Strong political leadership and ownership is needed to ensure coordinated efforts within and between ministries to mobilise investments for climate-compatible development and effective implementation of provincial climate change policies.

The writer is a freelance contributor.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @SyedMAbubakar