Govt Has No Plan, Allocated No Funds To Tackle Climate Change: SC

Court directs government to complete the recruitment process in Climate Change Authority and make it funcitonal within two weeks

Govt Has No Plan, Allocated No Funds To Tackle Climate Change: SC

The Supreme Court has observed there appears to be no governmental policy to address the challenges posed by climate change and lamented that no action has been taken in this regard. The top court subsequently ordered the federal government to set up an authority under the Pakistan Climate Change Act 2017 within a fortnight.

The top court has also ordered the establishment of a fund to address the dangers posed by climate change to be completed.

"Our understanding is that NDMA (National Disaster Management Authority) and the PDMA (Provincial Disaster Management Authority) are disaster management institutions, while the Ministry of Climate Change has to come up with preventive policies addressing the challenges of climate change head-on. It appears that no such policy is in place and no action on the ground has been taken," the top court said in its written order. The order was issued in response to a petition filed by the Public Interest Law Association of Pakistan regarding the existential threat posed by climate change.

"Still, we provide an opportunity to the Climate Change secretary to place the relevant policy on the record and apprise the court on the next date as to what are the key challenges of climate change and what strategies and plans have been put in place by the Ministry and what action has so far been taken," the order stated.

The order was issued by a three-judge bench headed by Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah, which comprised Justice Muhammad Ali Mazhar and Justice Shahid Bilal Hassan. 

The top court observed that climate change poses a serious and existential threat to the people of Pakistan. Such existential threats directly affect the fundamental rights of Pakistanis, the top court observed, further lamenting that, "still the recent provincial budgets have not allocated any climate fund for climate change or come up with any effective strategies." 

"This becomes doubly worrying as monsoon rains are around the corner and the country has still not recovered from the devastating floods of the year 2022," the top court noted.

During the hearings, the order stated that Prime Minister's Coordinator on Climate Change Roomina Khursheed Alam, Secretary of the Climate Change Ministry, appeared before the bench along with the Additional Attorney General. They informed the court about the progress made in establishing the authority. They said that thus far, five posts for members of the authority, established under Section 5 of the Pakistan Climate Change Act, 2017, have been advertised, and as a result, 752 applications have been received, which are under process, and soon these posts will be filled. 

The top court ordered to complete the exercise within a fortnight. 

"The notification of a duly constituted authority be placed on the record on or before the next date of hearing," the top court directed.

The top court further inquired whether the Ministry of Climate Change has any climate change policy in place and whether effective steps have been taken to address the challenges posed by climate change. However, the court noted that nothing concrete was placed before the bench, but it was informed that the NDMA and PDMA are looking into the matter.

The top court also heard from the chief secretaries of the provinces and expressed dissatisfaction with their submissions.

"We are not satisfied with their (chief secretaries) submissions and notice with concern that no material steps have been taken by the said provinces to deal with the challenges of climate change as there is no clear strategy(ies), action plans or any adequate steps taken on the ground," the top court observed. 

According to the written order, the provincial chief secretaries undertook that they will submit relevant strategy/action plans to deal with the issue of climate change in their respective provinces before the next date. 

"Let the said strategies clearly identifying the threats/challenges of climate change in their respective provinces and steps taken to address the said challenges," the top court said. 

When all the chief secretaries were asked whether a special budget had been allocated for climate change in the recently passed provincial budgets, they responded in negation. 

"However, as far as Punjab is concerned, it has been pointed out that a loan of $50 million through the Asian Development Bank has been obtained and parked as a Climate Change Fund, however, no document in this regard has been placed on the record," the order stated.

The top court has further directed that all the chief secretaries and Roomina Khurshid, as well as all the concerned officers, will appear before the court on the next date of hearing and apprise the court of their strategies and steps taken. 

The top court has also appointed Acumen Regional Managing Director Ayesha Khan as amicus curiae. 

"Considering the critical importance of the issue, let a copy of this order be dispatched to the prime minister secretariat so that the same be placed before the prime minister for his perusal," the top court stated in its written order and adjourned the case for July 15. 

The writer is an Islamabad based journalist working with The Friday Times. He tweets @SabihUlHussnain