Is the Government Doing Enough?

It was hard to locate the Pakistani contingent at last year's climate conference in Katowice, Poland. The climate conference before Katowice took place in Germany, where Pakistan had its team under a US$170,000 pavilion. At the summit in Poland, the government decided to spend their money more wisely, by participating at side events and plenaries to ensure representation.

While attending a side-event organized by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) at COP24, Malik Amin Aslam Khan, Advisor to the Prime Minister on Climate Change said, “We have been quite successful in spreading our message, as we participated in over 10 side events and plenaries, where Pakistan’s views have been effectively highlighted.”

This new approach benefited the country as it enabled Pakistan to be elected as the Vice President of the Conference of Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Pakistan also became member of five other international bodies, including the executive board of the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), Standing Committee on Finance (SCF), Adaptation Committee (AC), Consultative Group of Experts (CGE), and Technology Executive Committee (TEC).

Pakistan stands at 135th position globally in terms of greenhouse gas emissions but is ranked 8th in the Long-Term Climate Risk Index (1998-2017), according to the German think-tank Germanwatch, making it one of most vulnerable countries to climate change. The Index stated that Pakistan lost 10,248 lives and US$ 3.8 billion of GDP due to climate change.

However, Pakistan now plans to increase its emissions by fourfold under the 2015 Paris Agreement. This pledge is also referred to as the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), which states that Pakistan demands financial support of US$ 40 billion to reduce up to 20 per cent of its emissions and needs approximately US$ 7 billion to 14 billion annually for adaptation.

This fourfold increase in emissions is to meet the country’s to energy requirements. However, this can further expose Pakistan to extreme weather events and climate experts are worried. Dr Adil Najam, Dean, Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies, Boston University and lead author of the third and fourth assessment reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) commented on the situation and said, “Developing coal fired power plants is a bad idea for Pakistan because it is an outdated and dying technology. Renewables are a good idea because this is the dominant energy of the future, even the present.”

Dr Najam also lamented the developed world for not fulfilling their obligations. “The tragedy is that without them doing so, particularly on international assistance, developing countries like Pakistan will find it very hard, maybe impossible, to meet their own targets,” he said. He also expressed disappointment that Pakistan has not taken enough steps with regards to climate change adaptation to address  heatwaves in Karachi, droughts in Thar and floods in Chitral.

As Pakistan has not been able to access any climate finance, it has now announced a proposed revision of its NDCs to reflect the climate change adaptation and mitigation initiatives that the country has financed by itself. “Of particular note is the Billion Trees Tsunami Afforestation Project (BTTAP), which has been executed through total self finance of US$120 million. Through the project, over 1.12 billion trees have been successfully planted, which has helped restore over 600,000 ha of forest, generating 0.5 million green jobs and becoming the first entity to meet its Bonn Challenge target,” informed Malik Amin Aslam.

Malik Amin further informed how another domestically funded afforestation project will contribute to the NDC. “The country has now embarked upon a national 10 billion tree plantation drive, for which US$ 1 billion over the next five years is required. Although our NDCs remain  conditional, our intention is to highlight what Pakistan already did despite lack of climate finance.”

Pakistan’s climate vulnerability resulted in massive floods from 2010 to 2014 and lead to losses of up to US$18 billion. The situation calls for devising alternative plans to protect vulnerable populations from climate change impacts. While discussing the issue with Aisha Khan, Executive Director, Civil Society Coalition for Climate Change (CSCCC), she urged Pakistan to fulfill its international climate commitments as signatory to the Paris Agreement. She said, “Pakistan’s NDCs are largely conditional and no concrete steps have been taken to develop a Plan B. The 10 billion tree plantation programme is the only big initiative taken for carbon capture but we also need other support and complementary actions to meet climate change mitigation and adaptation targets.

“Pakistan has to review its NDCs for two reasons; firstly, to show a raised level of ambition in 2020 and secondly to make it more realistic and achievable. Without a transition plan and without identifying the sectors, timelines or strategies, it will be difficult to access financing,” concluded Khan.

The most serious impact of climate change is on the water resources, as surging temperatures have made 5,000 glaciers in the northern areas of Pakistan vulnerable to melting. This is leading to flash floods, GLOFs and triggering landslides, etc. The threats of climate change are multiplied with the burgeoning population of over 200 million, which is exerting immense pressure on depleting water resources. The per capita water availability in Pakistan has decreased from 5,260 cubic metres per year in 1951 to around 1,000 cubic metres in 2016, which may further drop down to about 860 cubic metres by 2025, marking Pakistan’s transition from a water stressed to a water scarce country.

Limiting temperatures below 1.5°C, as pledged under the Paris Agreement, is imperative for Pakistan. The recently launched IPCC  report has warned that mankind has already witnessed 1°C of global warming and the world is left with only 12 years to limit warming to 1.5°C.

Pakistan’s decision to mobilize its own resources to boost climate change adaptation and mitigation is a welcome move but the western world should also assist Pakistan in this regard. However, development should be sustainable and it must not be at the expense of increasing the vulnerability of millions of people by installing coal-fired power plants. Greater climate action is needed to reduce Pakistan’s vulnerability to climate change.

The writer is an international award-winning environmental  journalist and a Chevening Scholar pursuing an MA in International Journalism at Cardiff University, UK.