Pakistan not a polluter, but paying a price

Govt gears up climate change laws, authority

Pakistan not a polluter, but paying a price
On November 3 last year the federal cabinet approved the Pakistan Climate Change Act, keeping in mind the guidelines issued in COP21, Paris, the United Nations Climate Change Conference in 2015. Five days later, Germanwatch launched the Global Climate Risk Index 2017 at COP22 in Marrakech, highlighting Pakistan as the seventh most vulnerable country in the world.

According to Pakistan’s National Climate Change Policy 2012 the most prominent climate change threats to the country include, but aren’t limited to the recession of the Hindu Kush-Karakoram-Himalayan glaciers, floods caused by erratic monsoon rains, heatwaves damaging agriculture, thinning of forests, sea level rises and cyclonic activity.

At COP22, the world community was informed that Pakistan’s contribution to global warming is minimal, said Climate Change Minister Zahid Hamid. “We emit less than 1% of total annual global greenhouse gas emissions. Yet we are ranked amongst the top ten countries most vulnerable to climate change. Millions of people are affected and colossal damage is caused on a recurring basis.”These threats pose major survival concerns for Pakistan, particularly in relation to the country’s water security, food security and energy security, he added. They also have enormous adverse consequences for all socio-economic sectors, impeding our ability to promote sustainable growth and development and economic prosperity of our people.

Former Pakistan Meteorological Department DG Dr Qamar-uz-Zaman Chaudhry agrees, saying that there are multiple factors that make Pakistan uniquely vulnerable to climate change. “Its location, population growth, poverty and dependence on agriculture and natural resources, are highly climate sensitive.”

On March 18, Zahid Hamid introduced his climate change legislation in the Senate, after it was approved by the National Assembly. “The Act has been made to tackle pressing climate risks and secure global funding to implement projects to boost the country’s climate resilience, protect lives and livelihoods of the people, mainly those associated with agriculture,” Hamid told the Senate.

The act, which was passed by the Senate, calls for the establishment of the Pakistan Climate Change Council, which will be chaired by the prime minister, with a 30-member advisory body.

It also stresses that a climate change authority be set up to implement the climate change policy through consultations among all stakeholders.

“The climate change authority will provide a framework to mitigate and adapt to the effects of global warming on various sectors of the economy,” said Hamid.

Pakistan has joined more than 190 other countries to submit its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to address climate change beyond 2020.

As per the INDC, Pakistan’s Ministry of Climate Change has identified three sectors to work with relevant ministries and departments. These include: Energy & Transport, Industry & Waste and Agriculture & Forestry. “The principle in Paris was: common but differentiated responsibility,” says ministry’s secretary Syed Abu Ahmad Akif. “It basically says that even though the problem is common, the developed world would pay the developing world, because they have a 200-year head start in polluting the world.”

Akif says that there is a globally recognised legal principle: the polluters pay. “So we can’t initiate a clampdown on greenhouses gases and let it impact the power supply for the masses. We have submitted our INDC, outlined our plan and now the developed world should help us.”

Even so, the secretary maintains there will be focus on domestically addressing climate change as well, as outlined by the National Climate Change Policy, which details “appropriate measures relating to disaster preparedness, capacity building, institutional strengthening; technology transfer; introduction of the climate change issue in higher education curricula.”

The policy is designed to “ensure environmental compliance through Initial Environmental Examinations and Environmental Impact Assessments; address the issue of deforestation and illegal trade in timber; promote Clean Development Mechanisms; and raise Pakistan’s stance regarding climate change.”

Ali Tauqeer Sheikh, the CEO of Leadership for Environment and Development Pakistan, says any climate change policymaking would need to ensure that it doesn’t encroach on provincial autonomy. “Following the 18th Amendment, the provinces have their own climate change policies and hence division of responsibility needs to be clarified, especially with the formulation of the Climate Change Authority,” he says. “The key question is ownership.”

Sheikh adds that the biggest challenge for the Climate Change Council would be “to put the money where their mouth is.” “Climate change is the single biggest threat to Pakistan. Whether or not the upcoming budget reflects that would be a key question.”

The Climate Change Act is now the President’s approval away from being passed into law.