Why doesn't Pakistan care about climate change?
You may have come across news about climate change or an agreement in Paris in December, and ignored it. For many of us, this threat seems far off from Pakistan; but it is coming our way, and if we don’t prepare ourselves the right way, the damage could be insurmountable.
The threat I am referring to is one posed by climate change. Greenhouse gas emissions are causing world temperatures to rise and if we don’t act to slow down, and eventually stop carbon emissions, our planet will become uninhabitable for our grandchildren.
People in Pakistan might question why this matters for a country like ours; it is not as if we are responsible for emissions. It is the western industrialised nations who have caused this, and they should be the ones to fix it. It would be partially correct arguing this. Unfortunately, we live in a world where laying the blame solely on someone else, and expecting them to solve the problem, is not a sustainable solution (in reference to climate change and elsewhere).
Climate change affects us all; from the mountains in the north, to the fertile plains of the Indus, to the deserts in Sindh, and the entire coastline in Balochistan. A temperature rise of two degrees or higher would mean rising sea levels, change in weather patterns, extreme storms and floods.
Yes, floods, like the one Pakistan had to suffer through in 2010 that nearly destroyed a quarter of the country and affected millions of people. Such floods offered a stern example of the threat that lingers in Pakistan and should serve as a warning to us. The floods were devastating and a stark reminder of how incapable we are as a nation to handle the challenges of climate change.
Adaptation to the effects of climate change is a big part of the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change. Negotiators from all member countries meet at this convention several times a year to discuss climate change issues.
Of late, these negotiators have been working to formulate a deal, to be brokered in Paris in December, which will provide a framework for countries to reduce their carbon emissions, adapt to the effects of climate change and arrange for finances – all while ensuring a fair and ambitious agreement is reached between all countries.
To ensure that each country played their respective part, all were asked to submit their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) that lay out each country’s plan to both reduce emissions and adapt to climate change.
The deadline to submit the INDCs was in October. Pakistan, however, submitted its INDC on November 12, 2015.
While the majority of other countries have put forward a plan that lays out how they intend to reduce emissions by reaching peak emissions, and reducing their current emissions, Pakistan has failed to make any such commitment. As an example, China has committed to reach peak emissions by 2030 and start drawing 20% of its primary energy needs from non-fossil fuels by the same time.
Bangladesh has committed to reduce its GHG emissions from Business-As-Usual (BAU) by 15 % in 2030 based on adequate provision of international support and Afghanistan has committed to a reduction in GHG emissions from BAU of 13.6% by 2030, conditional on international support. Pakistan’s INDC states that we were not able to measure our emissions and vaguely mentions that we may choose to reduce emissions in the future.
A major concern for Pakistan is not to lose access to cheap energy like coal. And while that may make short term political sense, the INDC provided us with an opportunity to explore a development pathway that was both green and sustainable and highlight such efforts as Quaid-e-Azam Solar Park.
The need to choose between development and a green economy no longer exists, and the New Climate Economy reports have shown that it is possible to sustain high GDP growth rates and become increasingly green. In fact, in the long run, especially, as fossil fuels run out, it would be more beneficial to switch to renewable energy to fulfil our development needs. For once, the government of Pakistan could have chosen to be forward-thinking and chosen a development path which is sustainable, both economically and environmentally. But, hey, who cares about the environment, Lahore is getting a new theme park!