Pakistan’s ineptitude at the climate change summit

Published: December 10, 2015
The writer is an environmental journalist. She holds an MA in Environment and Development from SOAS in London

The writer is an environmental journalist. She holds an MA in Environment and Development from SOAS in London

Pakistan was already off to a disappointing start at the UN Climate Change Conference 2015 in Paris when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif gave an empty speech that was even shorter than the three minutes allocated to the heads of states, who showed up on the opening day. I had hoped that at least the 25-member strong Pakistani delegation would contribute meaningfully to the negotiations. However, the Pakistani delegation’s first side event, which was held alongside the Sri Lankans’, entitled “Resilience to Climate Change” was far from impressive.

The Pakistani delegation was represented by the Minister for Climate Change, Zahid Hamid and the Punjab Minister for Environment, Zakia Shah Nawaz Khan. They sat on the podium along with the Sri Lankan negotiators and Abid Suleri, the head of Sustainable Development Policy Institute. Zahid Hamid pointed out that Pakistan’s contribution to global warming was minimal — just 0.8 per cent of the global emissions and yet it was one of the most climate-affected countries in the world. “Germanwatch yesterday released their latest report and we are now the eighth-most affected country in the world from climate-related disasters,” stated the minister. “We are facing extreme weather events on a recurring basis such as floods”.

He listed the “note-worthy steps” Pakistan has taken to build resilience: the establishment of a dedicated ministry and the implementation of the National Climate Change Policy (from 2014-2030) so that climate change is mainstreamed. There is also a National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) in the country and the Glacier Lake Outburst Flood project in the north — one of the first projects to be funded by the UNFCCC’s Adaptation Fund. He also mentioned efforts for promoting forestry under the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+) mechanism. He hoped the climate talks would result in a “comprehensive agreement” and said that Pakistan would seek the financing and transfer of technology. He added that “the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor will be a game changer for the region”.

However, I know for a fact that the National Climate Change Policy has still not been implemented; the NDMA barely has any funds at its disposal and the Glacier Lake Outbursts Flood project has recently closed down since its donor funding came to an end and the government could no longer sustain it. As for the REDD+ mechanism, there are actually some countries at these climate talks that are pushing for the end of the mechanism so it might not come into force any time soon. As for the CPEC, why was the minister silent on all the polluting coal power plants that we will be building soon as part of the project? One thing that will definitely come out of the Paris conference is the strong push for renewable energy; now that it has become increasingly affordable, everyone, from bankers to billionaires, like Bill Gates are talking about it.

Yet, in Pakistan all the news is about the upcoming coal power plants. Pakistan has also submitted an extremely weak one-page-long Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) document, which someone described on twitter as: “Pakistan’s INDC reads like a fat kid’s diet — eat as much as possible then stop”. According to Ali Sheikh, the head of LEAD-Pakistan, “The World Bank and Asian Development Bank are now looking to develop a mechanism to support the INDCs — the INDCs are taking centre stage at these talks.” Since Pakistan offered nothing in its INDC document, it has put itself in a position where it will receive nothing.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 11th,  2015.

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