Disastrous policies

Pakistan’s inadequate institutional framework fails to tackle the climate change threat

Disastrous policies

Pakistan faces a host of political, economic, social and security challenges. Climate change is a leading issue with growing negative impact for Pakistan. It is a cross cutting challenge affecting the country’s environment, economy, and security.

Pakistan’s vulnerability to climate change is underlined by the increasingly erratic weather patterns, the growing threat of Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOFs) and prevailing drought-like conditions in parts of Sindh and Balochistan. The Global Climate Risk Index has ranked Pakistan as the 8th most affected country by extreme weather events.

According to a World Bank report, the economic costs from poor water and sanitation, floods and droughts are estimated at 4 percent of Pakistan’s GDP -- around $12 billion per year. The bank has estimated that climate change can reduce the income of the bottom 40 percent in Pakistan by more than 8 percent by the year 2030.

Sadly, political will, capacity and coordination are lacking to address climate change, particularly with the devolution of environment matters to the provinces. There have been initial efforts, notably the articulation of a National Climate Change Policy (NCCP), to take stock of the emerging spectrum of challenges and determine measures and resources required. However, among other limitations, Pakistan has an inadequate institutional infrastructure to develop a timely response to the impacts of climate change.

Following the 18th Amendment to the Constitution in 2010, the responsibility for "environmental pollution and ecology", and hence climate change, was devolved to the provinces. The Federal Ministry of Climate Change (MoCC) has been designated as the national focal point for implementation of international agreements and treaties related to environment and climate change, and meeting international obligations. However, as such, the federal government cannot enforce its international climate change commitments. Implementation requires complex coordination with the provinces.

The split responsibilities between the federal and provincial governments continue to impede institutional clarity and the adoption of clear working protocols on climate change. Climate change considerations are driven by sectoral policies, with no credible institutions to deal with comprehensive climate change science, modeling, management, adaptation, mitigation, and policy issues.

Due to the institutional gap, Pakistan has low technical and financial capacity to adapt. For example, the NCCP was approved by the cabinet in 2012. However, the policy was not presented to the Parliament, and therefore parliamentary engagement and ownership are missing. An Inter-ministerial committee was also set up at the MoCC to steer and oversee implementation of the NCCP and its framework. To date the framework document has neither been used to prepare detailed local adaptation plans, nor utilised as a guiding document for decision-makers. This is in sync with our leadership’s demonstrated inability or unwillingness to move past the announcement stage and into implementation, especially if there are no domestic votes to be gained.

The parliament also passed the Climate Change Act in March 2017. The legislation was labelled as "historic" and the government claimed that it would "fast-track measures needed to implement actions on the ground." The Climate Change Council (CCC), chaired by the prime minister, is to provide the highest level of strategic guidance to oversee the status of implementation of the NCCP across the federating units, and also spearhead the mainstreaming of climate change concerns into the decision-making of federal and provincial governments.

The council will receive recommendations from a Climate Change Authority, which will formulate policies, mitigation plans, legislation, and implementation standards needed for Pakistan to meet its climate change commitments. A Climate Change Fund will support the adaptation and mitigation schemes and related research. The legislation has received cautious backing from climate change experts, who say they welcome its potential but question whether the government should instead be offering more direct support to provinces to implement environmental projects.

To his credit, Prime Minister Imran Khan formed the CCC last October which includes the provincial chief ministers as well as the federal ministers for Planning and Development, Finance, Power, National Food Security and Water Resources. It is expected to meet at least twice a year. Since the responsibility for climate change is devolved to the provinces, leaving the federal government with more limited jurisdiction, there is a fear that the immediate next steps will be ceremonial (PM hosting inaugural meetings of the Council), lacking substantive follow-up to commitments and financing.

Under the PTI government, the MoCC has so far focused almost entirely on the implementation of the much-publicised "ten billion tree plantation project". The currently understaffed and underfunded ministry is working with the provincial Forestry and Wildlife Departments to achieve the target. The apprehension is that even a strengthened institutional role of the MoCC to lead and manage climate change programmes and concerns from a federal perspective along with line-ministries may not be enough to arrest and reverse the adverse impacts of climate change in Pakistan.

The NCCP does provide an overall framework but the provinces need to allocate more resources and mainstream climate change into their development policies. Integration of climate change and energy policy objectives is particularly important. There is an acute need for an institutional arrangement which is holistic, representative of relevant stakeholders, and able to simultaneously address policymaking, implementation and financing concerns.

Can the CCC fill the institutional void? While the CCC may well have the potential to support harmonisation between the federal and provincial institutions, the diversity of provincial institutional setups makes the formulation of a consistent process for provincial-federal harmonisation very challenging. Hence the jury is out on whether it can serve as an effective institutional framework to mainstream climate change concerns into overall national planning and to promote climate compatible development with clear sets of roles and responsibilities at the federal and provincial levels.

At the very least, the PTI government needs to initiate policy dialogues with all stakeholders and ensure that programmes initiated by the CCC have regular capacity-building components. More specifically, the federal government needs to engage with the sectoral line ministries and provinces to jointly develop a comprehensive "whole of government" approach, inclusive of the private sector and civil society. Otherwise, the lack of policy leadership and institutional capacity gaps at the provincial level will continue to impede efforts by federal policy-making and regulatory bodies to coordinate/supervise Pakistan’s climate change efforts.


The writer is a political economy analyst and former civil servant:goldenstar2005@hotmail.com

Disastrous policies