With a little over a month to go before the decisive UN Climate Change Conference 2015 is held in Paris, the French embassy, with the help of various NGOs working for the environment in Pakistan, held a large climate forum in Lahore. It offered an “unprecedented opportunity to all Pakistani stakeholders to coordinate their action”. Pakistan already ranks amongst the top 10 countries in the world that are most affected by climate change according to the Global Climate Risk Index. As the recent devastating floods in Chitral have demonstrated, Pakistan is now continuously suffering from monsoon flooding, along with the recession of glacial and snow reserves, heatwaves in urban centres and droughts. Meteorological expert Dr Qamaruz Zaman Chaudry explained at the forum, “Climate change is considered a threat multiplier that will aggravate all the other challenges the country is facing and will result in increased hunger, poverty and conflict”.

Endangered: ‘Climate change threatening languages’

Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of the French (their ambassador, HE Martine Dorance opened the forum in Lahore) and civil society organisations like LEAD-Pakistan, UNDP-Pakistan, WWF-Pakistan, IUCN and the Centre for Climate Research and Development (CCRD), which all worked voluntarily with the French embassy to put the forum together, the government of Pakistan still did not consider climate change enough of a priority to participate fully at the highest levels. While the event held at the Al Hamra was a success, drawing the participation of hundreds of students, civil society members, journalists and bringing together as Ambassador Kamal of CCRD put it, “the Pakistani climate coalition”, there were a few notable absences. Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif was invited to give the keynote address. However, he did not show up; neither did Tariq Fatemi, the special assistant to the prime minister on foreign affairs (he sent the Foreign Office spokesperson to read out his speech instead).

As Marc Andre Franche, the UNDP’s country director in Pakistan pointed out in his no-holds barred speech, “The chief minister of the Punjab who is seen each year during the floods wearing his rubber boots will continue to wear those boots in the near future unless there is a change of paradigm in the way we think about development in this country; we need to integrate climate change in every project, in every investment we make.” Pakistan’s ambitious National Climate Change Policy, which was prepared with the support of the UNDP by the Ministry of Climate Change and is, in fact, a compendium of climate-smart solutions has shown “thin results” as so far there has been no implementation of the policy.

Knowledge regarding climate change in Pakistan appalling

Climate change is currently considered “the first big challenge for humanity” and Paris is where the world hopes to come up with a solution. Already as Ghulam Rasul, the head of Pakistan’s Meteorological Department pointed out at the forum, “The climate is changing faster than predicted by scientific models”. The global carbon budget has largely been consumed and the window of opportunity to find solutions is narrowing. Countries across the globe have committed to create a new international climate agreement by the conclusion of COP21 (as the Paris conference is called). In preparation, they have agreed to publicly outline what post-2020 climate actions they intend to take, known as their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs).

As Malik Amin Aslam, vice president of IUCN pointed out, “The INDCs are floor commitments for Paris rather than ceiling commitments”. Paris is where each country’s commitments (which will be synthesised into a document) will lay the basis for negotiations. Unfortunately, Pakistan failed to submit its INDCs on time; the deadline was October 1, 2015. The document was not approved by the prime minister in time, and in fact, it still has not been submitted. Other countries, like Turkey and India, managed to meet the deadline. Our government clearly needs to get its priorities in order. 

Published in The Express Tribune, October 19th, 2015.

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