Pakistan is number eight on the list of countries most vulnerable to climate change. More than 800 people died because of a drought in Tharparkar last year and 260,000 families were directly affected. In Chitral, hundreds of houses were destroyed and 33 people were killed in an unexpected flood. And at least 2,000 people died because of an extreme heat wave in Sindh last summer.
The government is preparing a “comprehensive plan” to tackle the threat, according to Zahid Hamid, the minister for Climate Change. The National Climate Change Policy includes wide, cross-sectoral measures, he told the National Assembly earlier this month.
But the total budget allocated to addressing the problem this year is Rs 58.8 million. That is less than half of the Rs 135 million set apart for climate change in 2012-13, when Pakistan announced its first National Climate Change Policy amid much fanfare in February 2013.
A 350-word document was handed over to the UN
The plan was shelved after a change in government, but Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s cabinet included a new full-fledged ministry for Climate Change. Despite reservations, many saw the new office as a positive step ahead of the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, or COP 21. But all hopes fell apart when, after months of preparation, the ministry failed to submit Pakistan’s Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) on time. Instead, a mere 350-word document was handed over to the UN, containing incorrect calculations and referring to policies that did not even exist.
“We do have a climate policy, but it does not say much. We have a climate ministry, but it does not do much. We need a serious rethink on both,” says Adil Najam, the dean of Frederick S Pardee School of Global Studies.
In his speech at COP 21, the prime minister did not address the threats Pakistan faces, its vulnerable position, or a vision to combat the issue.
“Whoever devised our Paris process lost a chance to influence a treaty, caused Pakistan massive diplomatic embarrassment, and made us irrelevant in the negotiations,” adds Adil Najam.
The Global Change Impact Studies Centre (GCISC), the research wing of the Ministry of Climate Change, was set up 11 years ago, to track climate change trends, analyze their effects on Pakistan, and help the government develop climate change policies and action plans.
Years ago, the center’s employees were on a strike because they had not been paid their salaries in months. The top and middle tiers of the staff left the organization. Today, tit does not have an executive director. The inspector general of forests, Syed Mahmood Nasir, is holding the additional charge.
“We need to conduct state-of-the-art research of our own, instead of depending on external literature for policymaking,” says Dr Fahad Saeed, head of the Environment and Climate Change Unit at SDPI. “We need to have research-based evidence for claims such as the melting of glaciers and the true impact of the phenomenon,” he says.
Pakistan’s work on its INDC was disregarded when it was announced that Beijing will build coal-based power plants in the country as part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), Dr Fahad said.
“The first INDC, formulated after 10 months of work, was not approved by the prime minister,” according to Rina Saeed Khan, an environmental journalist. Her sources tell her it was because the policy would affect a number of CPEC projects.
The spokesman for the Ministry of Climate Change was not available for comment.
Dr Fahad believes Pakistan does not have the capacity to implement its new current climate change policy. “It is idealistic, to the extent of impracticality,” he says. “It covers almost everything that needs to be done but lacks practical elements, related to how it will be implemented,” he adds.
Saima Baig, a Karachi-based environmental economist and climate change consultant, is more optimistic. “I expect Pakistan to launch its new climate change policy before COP 22 this year in Morocco.”
But she insists that requires across-the-board action. “The strategy to combat the monster of climate change must not be an isolated effort,” she says. “It must be integrated with economic development.”
A storm is brewing
A list of the most serious climate change threats to Pakistan
- Considerable increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, and erratic monsoon rains causing frequent and intense floods and droughts
- Recession of glaciers, threatening water inflows into the Indus River system
- Increased siltation of major dams, caused by more frequent and intense floods
- Rising temperatures, resulting in enhanced heat and water-stressed conditions and reduced agricultural productivity
- A decrease in the already scanty forest cover, because of climatic conditions changing too rapidly to allow natural migration of plant species
- Increased intrusion of saline water in the Indus delta, affecting coastal agriculture, mangroves and the breeding grounds of fish
- Threats to coastal areas due to rising sea levels and increased cyclonic activity
- Increased stress between upper riparian and lower riparian regions in relation to sharing of water resources
- Increased health risks and climate change induced migration
Adopted from the National Climate Change Policy of 2012
The writer is a freelance journalist
based in Islamabad