Rethinking policy

A comprehensive rethinking of existing policies and institutional arrangements could foster climate resilience

Rethinking policy

It is often said that while natural calamities cannot be prevented, they can be stopped from turning into human disasters through the implementation of appropriate policies. In the case of Pakistan, the success of its climate resilience agenda extends beyond climate change policy. It also depends on various other policies, including those related to energy, water, agriculture, food security, health, disaster management, etc. The current fragmented and reactive state of Pakistan's policy response to climate change needs a rethinking to effectively address the escalating impacts of climate change on national development and our day-to-day lives. This requires a re-evaluation of policy, institutional and financing arrangements, especially for effective disaster management.

Rethinking policy

The re-evaluation of Pakistan's climate policy should begin with the acknowledgment that human actions have primarily contributed to the current state of climate change. Acknowledging our accountability necessitates a fundamental shift in the choices that have led us to this point. Maintaining the status quo will not suffice in mitigating the adverse effects of climate change.

Pakistan's climate strategy rests on three pivotal legislative achievements: the National Climate Change Policy of 2021 (an updated version of NCCP 2012); the Framework for Implementation of Climate Change Policy of 2013; and the Pakistan Climate Change Act of 2017. These frameworks are meant to integrate climate change mitigation and adaptation across the nation's most vulnerable sectors. However, the actual execution of these policies underscores a reactive rather than a proactive stance, characterised by broad, ambitious plans that fall short due to ambiguous mandates and insufficient resource allocation.

Rethinking policy

The NCCP and the FICCP, while comprehensive in scope, lack specific, actionable strategies, clear priorities and pragmatic approaches to climate governance. Moreover, these frameworks fail to establish clear timelines or accountability measures, making it challenging to assess effectiveness and enforce responsibilities. This oversight is particularly evident in the FICCP, which categorises recommended actions into time-bound segments—from immediate priorities to long-term strategies—but does not provide a rationale for these temporal divisions, assign lead responsibilities or set qualitative and quantitative targets for monitoring progress.

The Ministry of Climate Change, the default coordinator for a wide array of climate actions, is burdened with responsibilities that span the entire spectrum of the developmental agenda without the requisite authority or resources to be effective. This indicates a policy orientation that seems more reactive to the unpredictable manner in which climate change impacts the country rather than proactively safeguarding human lives and ecosystems or fulfilling international climate commitments.

The recent increase in natural disasters, such as the devastating floods in recent years and the occurrence of droughts in various regions of the country, emphasises the need for a strong, adaptable and proactive climate strategy. Although some of the independent actions, like advancements in disaster management, renewable energy, afforestation and public health were successful, they lack coordination and integration into a broader strategic climate policy framework. This leads to fragmented efforts that fail to leverage potential synergies.

Rethinking policy

Institutional solutions to give climate change a central consideration in decision-making were envisaged under the PCCA 2017, with the establishment of a high-power National Climate Change Council and the ongoing establishment of the National Climate Change Authority. The latter is being established after significant delays, prompted by the Supreme Court of Pakistan taking notice of the non-implementation of the PCCA2017.

Adopting a "whole of government, whole of policy" strategy is essential to transforming Pakistan's climate policy framework. This approach entails embedding climate considerations across all policy domains, not merely within the confines of the MoCC but as a cornerstone of national development planning. It involves a comprehensive rethinking of existing policies and institutional arrangements to foster climate resilience and sustainability.

Adopting a "whole of government, whole of policy" strategy is essential to transforming Pakistan's climate policy framework.

For example, the NCCA should operate under the direct oversight of the Prime Minister's Office rather than the Ministry of Climate Change, as envisaged in the Act. This structural realignment will provide the budding authority with enough teeth and muscle to implement a unified national climate strategy, enhancing the coherence and integration of climate policies across all facets of governance. Such an arrangement will also help in smooth coordination between the NCCA and existing disaster management authorities and the NCCA and the National Disaster Risk Management Fund.

The synchronisation of Pakistan’s energy objectives with its climate change obligations can be facilitated by merging the energy and environmental portfolios into a single Ministry of Power and Climate. This could mitigate policy discrepancies such as some recent proposals to discourage solar power and other renewable initiatives. Such rethinking will also help Pakistan fulfil its commitments under its nationally determined contributions.

A futuristic approach to combat climate change challenges, including monitoring the success of reformed policies through clear, quantifiable metrics, is essential to reduce Pakistan’s climate vulnerabilities. It should include specific emission reduction targets to be achieved by, say, 2030 and 2050; the proportion of agricultural land utilising climate-smart practices; a measurable increase in the share of renewable energy within the national energy mix; and a significant enhancement in resilient infrastructure to withstand climatic shocks, particularly in flood-prone and drought-affected areas. Each ministry with responsibilities related to climate action should be mandated to report progress against these metrics annually, enhancing transparency and enabling continuous evaluation of policy effectiveness.

A coordinated effort is essential to combat climate-induced disasters effectively. This requires clearly delineating the responsibilities of all stakeholders, including the relevant ministries and departments, the private sector, civil society and international partners, and nurturing robust collaboration among them. Such a strategy will not only augment our resilience but also project a strong, unified stance against climate challenges.

To enhance this approach further, every policy should give top priority to resilience building. Beyond investing in resilient infrastructure, there is an urgent need for a comprehensive policy framework that incorporates local communities into the decision-making process. Leveraging local expertise and traditional knowledge can generate solutions that are not only more relevant to the specific context but also more sustainable in the long term.

Additionally, Pakistan’s reliance on agriculture calls for a transformation in agricultural practices. Promoting climate-smart agriculture—techniques that increase productivity and resilience and reduce emissions—should be the centrepiece of climate change policies. Initiatives like digitisation of agronomic practices, using big data in crop farming, crop diversification, heat-tolerant crop varieties and improved water management practices can substantially reduce vulnerability to climate variability.

Regional cooperation should be considered a strategic component of Pakistan’s climate policy. Collaborating with neighbouring countries on transboundary disaster management, shared early warning systems and joint environmental initiatives can lead to synergistic benefits, enhancing resilience across the region.

In rethinking its climate policy regime, Pakistan stands not just to defend against the immediate threats of climate change but also to meet its international obligations under mechanisms like the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism. This strategic transformation will help turn the pressing issue of climate change into an opportunity for sustainable development.

The writer heads the Sustainable Development Policy Institute. His X handle is @abidsuleri

Rethinking policy