Thursday July 07, 2022

Owning the green agenda

July 04, 2019

Amid recent reports and warnings from international watchdogs, Pakistan stands on the eight position as the most vulnerable nation to climate change and natural disasters.

Fortunately, with the passage of time, the media has managed to inform the public about the bleak scenario awaiting us and the developing catastrophe we might encounter. Unfortunately, the kind of policy response such a scary scenario should hasten is still awaited nationally.

Realizing this a worthy trump card, the present government promised to its voters that upon being elected it would invest a huge amount of resources in green projects. This was one of the main reasons this government managed to get the support of green policymakers and environmentalists. While the 2019-2020 budget and its distribution was much better than that in previous years , the budget highlights the fact that this government does not have the green agenda at the top of its priority list. It is to be noted that climate change and natural disasters are likely to cause an erosion of nine percent of its GDP and the situation will worsen with time if serious initiatives are not taken to address the challenge.

When this writer talked with Dr Masood, the director of climate change at the WWF, he said that a shift in the views of politicians is emerging regarding green change in the country. He further said that allocating Rs7.5 billion in to this issue in the current budget, as compared to the Rs0.39 billion in 2018-2019, is pretty good development and manifests the growing concerns and greater sensitization of those in parliament towards the deteriorating environment in the country. Having said that, he added that these initiatives are not enough to deal with the full spectrum of the crisis we currently face.

Keeping in view the issues Pakistan is facing in terms of climate change, this allocated amount is minimal. Instead, a huge amount of investment is needed only for adaptation. According to the Nationally Determined Contributions of Pakistan towards sustainable development, only $10 billion is required annually to adapt.

However, if we further analyse this division, $7.5 billion is specifically quantified for plantation interventions. There is still a lot to be done on this count. For instance, an amount of Rs20 million for the Climate Resilient Urban Human Settlements Unit, Rs3.2 million for the establishment of a Geometric Centre for Climate Change, and Rs16 million for the establishment of Pakistan WASH Strategic Planning and Coordination and for land management projects need to be set aside for meaningful outcomes after reallocations of the current budget.

Political economists need to realize that green investment is going to be a win-win situation for the government. This is evident from the example of the developed countries; when the green growth system is factored into the national development strategies, it reconciles the goals of low carbon and sustainable development with other valued outcomes such as job creation and poverty reduction. Though a few green projects have been started recently, yet this alone is not enough, given the need for an overall policy framework that is fed by the input of all stakeholders.

It is evidenced by the fact that these green projects are already facing several problems. For instance, the Green Pakistan Project has failed to make requisite headway in the absence of third party validation despite increase in resources. Sans a performance audit, an amount of Rs7,500 million has been allocated for the Ten Billion Tsunami Programme Phase-1 up-scaling of the Green Pakistan Programme which runs the risk of losing steam if not dealt with rationally.

We need to learn necessary lessons from the rest of the world and incorporate global best practices in our anti-climate change policy. For example, a country like Germany is spending a handsome amount of money to deal with the climate challenge. It is spending massively to finance climate change adaptation and the mitigation challenge. This holds lessons for developing nations like Pakistan.

In line with the Paris Agreement, Pakistan has pledged to restore its six million hectare of degraded forest land. I think this is the best opportunity for the country – given it has the largest level of mass poverty in the world, next to India – to become the world leader in slowing and reversing climate change. I believe nothing can stop us to become a leader in climate and environment management except our own political hurdles and the status quo. There is no doubt that the idea of spending more on green projects is great considering its ecological and social benefits.

The government needs to open up and allow its policy to be fashioned by the essentials of contemporary environmental management. It is important to understand that there is no point in criticizing a green investment at large, which intends to sequester millions of tons of carbon dioxide. We always say that this world needs a paradigm shift in order to be saved and I believe that such investments actually represent a paradigm shift in our thinking.

Prime Minister Imran Khan can be credited with raising awareness about climate change and mainstreaming the debate on climate hazards into the policy framework.

It has been seen that no project, howsoever well-meaning, has ever been accomplished without strong patronage and political will. If the PM can put in place an arrangement that ensures that no green project suffers the fate that the South Punjab Forest Company did, he can increase the chances of the success of his green agenda.

In my view, political will is the most important factor that will decide the success or failure of this ambitious project.

The writer is an environmentalist.


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