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OPINION: After Paris – “Pakistan has a long way to go to get from intended to implemented” – Ali T. Sheikh

With melting glaciers of the Himalayas threatening the flows of many of its most important rivers, Pakistan has a lot at stake from climate change. The climate in Pakistan has become unpredictable. Furthermore, this country contributes less than 1% to global greenhouse gas emissions. Ali Tauqeer Sheikh, CDKN´s Asia Director, examines the challenges and prospects opened up by the Paris Agreement in Pakistan – in conversation with Miren Gutierrez. Read more from this series in After Paris – Perspectives from developing countries.

The Paris Agreement created an ambitious mandate for the global community. Does it change the national conversation in Pakistan about action on climate change? If so, how?

The Paris agreement has indeed changed both political and technical discourse in Pakistan. Newspaper articles and TV programmes have covered the climate change issue more frequently than previously. The opposition parties, particularly PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf) led by Imran Khan, has frequently questioned the lacklustre performance of the federal and Punjab governments when it comes to the environment. The federal government is now actively pursuing new policies for the forests, water and energy sectors. Climate change issues are more frequently discussed in Parliament too. In particular, increasing forest cover has become a popular issue and has generated healthy competition. To match the popularity of PTI’s Billion Tree Afforestation Project in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, the federal government launched the ‘Green Pakistan Programme’ in March 2016, whereby over 100 million trees are to be planted. Likewise, the planned coal power projects face growing opposition. This conversation revolves around using the latest and most efficient clean coal technologies, while also focusing on options such as renewables, hydropower and nuclear.

Moreover, civil society is asking for more public expenditure on climate and disaster resilience. The government has recently promised to spend Rs177.61 billion (about US$1.67 billion) on different structured and non-structured measures to implement a 10-year flood protection plan to save lives and property.

These are positive signals; however, the responses do not follow a coherent policy. I think, if prepared well, Pakistan’s INDC (Intended Nationally Determined Contribution) can help the government to deliver coordinated actions on climate change.

What will it take to get from ‘intended’ to ‘implemented’? What are the big opportunities and challenges?

The INDC submitted by Pakistan was considered the most silent of the INDC submissions, and it had neither quantified mitigation targets nor an adaptation plan. No clear pathways were outlined with regard to the reduction of carbon emissions or building resilience of people or infrastructure. The government’s excuse for submitting a one-page document was that they had an outdated baseline on which to work.

In addition to this reported reason, Pakistan wanted to account for its mega development plans under CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor)[1] before it commits something to the world community. Now there is more clarity to the government on CPEC and the new greenhouse gas emissions inventory is almost complete. I think this should allow the government to re-package its INDC to be backed up with current data.

Pakistan´s INDC has a long way to go to get from intended to implemented. The one-page INDC document submitted by Pakistan does not provide any quantifiable information or clear direction that the country is to take for implementation.  The main challenge for Pakistan is to identify and calculate greenhouse gas emissions, peak emissions levels and future projections. This is the first step that must be taken before a clear path can be set for implementation.

Pakistan is among the few countries in the world where courts are taking an active interest in ensuring that the government delivers on climate change. Last year, the Punjab High Court ordered the government to fulfil their duty for both reducing greenhouse gas emissions and also the adaptation from climate change risks. The judicial activism has fast-tracked the implementation of the government action plan to deliver its National Climate Change Policy (2012).

Pakistan committed to reduce its emissions after reaching peak levels to the extent possible subject to affordability, provision of international climate finance, transfer of technology and capacity building. This sounds a bit indeterminate. How do you see this evolving?

The commitment to reduce emissions after reaching peak levels is, as mentioned above, not based on concrete data and calculations.  This commitment will evolve with efforts to calculate and project peak emissions as the first step.  However, Pakistan’s focus on developing and utilising indigenous coal resources to fuel growth that will likely result in an increase in future emissions is a hindrance to the government committing to emissions reductions.

If you check most INDCs from developing countries their emission reduction targets are subject to technology development, international climate finance and capacity building. What would happen if the means of implementation does not flow?

Indeed, many developing countries followed targets of a business-as-usual reduction type, with a majority of them having conditional targets. According to a recent LEAD study, the average of conditional targeting in Asia is around 8%, which means significant investment is needed to flow from developed countries to developing countries. Since Pakistan, so far, hasn’t provided any quantified target, it is difficult to assess what exactly would be the requirement for emission reduction. Moreover, Pakistan has not specified its climate finance and technology requirements, most countries have provided detailed needs.  For example, India has a climate finance requirement of US$ 1040 billion, 80% of which is for mitigation.

Overall, Pakistan’s Vison 2025 document is a good starting point and provides some guidance to reduce greenhouse gas emissions particularly in the energy sector which constitute about 51% of the total greenhouse gas emissions. According to our assessments, the government requires about US$ 30 billion to achieve Vision 2025 energy targets through cleaner energy sources.

The Paris Agreement calls for limiting average global temperature rise well below 2C, as close to 1.5C as possible. Pakistan´s emissions are low, but growing – what hope to see economic growth and human development with lowered emissions in the specific case of Pakistan? Concretely how do you go about reducing greenhouse gas emissions, as well as developing sustainably?

Though Pakistan is investing in clean technologies such as hydropower and solar, the government is targeting major economic growth and human development by utilising indigenous coal reserves. Agriculture is the mainstay of the national economy in Pakistan with 21% share of the GDP and accounts for 60% of exports. It provides livelihood to about 68% of the country’s population living in rural areas and employs 45% of the national labour force. After adjusting for the carbon dioxide of urea, the share of greenhouse gas emissions (CO2 equivalent) of the agriculture sector is roughly 40% of total national emissions  Therefore, it is in Pakistan’s interest to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from this sector while sustainably increasing productivity and resilience to climate change.

Concrete measures to achieve mitigation can include adopting new cultivation methods that will result in lower methane emissions and introducing new methods of fertilisers that can reduce nitrous oxide releases from the soil.

Adapting to climate impacts and improving food security can be achieved by developing new breeds of crops with high yield, resistant to heat stress, drought tolerant, less vulnerable to heavy spells of rain, and less prone to insects and pests. There is the potential to improve crop productivity and water use by increasing the efficiency of agricultural input as well as input of irrigation water by introducing new technologies and adopting modern farming techniques.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have many climate-related components, as well as a dedicated climate goal. What are some of the ways that the SDGs will influence the planning and practice of development in Pakistan in the coming years?

Climate change is a cross-cutting theme across several SDGs. In addition to having standalone targets, climate change is directly related to goals on hunger, energy, sustainable cities, biodiversity, forests, and oceans. Some of the other goals are poverty, health, economic growth, gender, and peace. This will require deep integration of climate actions across many government departments and line ministries. In fact, both the Paris agreement and the SDGs have to be co-delivered through strong policy coherence for maximum benefits with fewer resources.

I think translating the ambition and the multifaceted and intertwined SDGs agenda into a workable action plan at the national level will be a challenge. The provincial governments are showing greater interest in SDGs right from the start. They were the missing link during the MDGs period. The inclusion of several environment-related goals in SDGs is bringing greater focus on climate change. Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh have already started developing their climate change policies and expressed their interest to align their new policy instruments with the SDGs.

Despite rising interest in translating SDGs into policies and plans and the better understanding of climate change issues, the technical capacity to deliver these policies will be a serious challenge.   As the SDG implementation begins to unfold in the country, the government will get a clear picture of what development pathways they should follow, what their capacities are to deliver, what sort of data architecture they need to track the progress. Such a paramount task will require governments to begin such assessments without delay. I think Pakistan requires at least three years to prepare before they start implementing SDGs.

Are there any development initiatives in Pakistan that, for you, provide perfect examples of how the country can meet the high aspirations of the Paris Agreement and the SDGs?

Both the Paris agreement and the SDGs are ambitious plans asking for a paradigm shift in the way developing countries undertake development. Both of these global development plans are very new and countries will take time to adjust to meet the aspirations of the goal goals.

There are some initiatives that the government of Pakistan has recently focused to change the energy mix with a greater focus on new hydropower dams, solar parks, bio-mass/waster-to-energy and the wind. Two initiatives worth mentioning are the Quaid-i-Azam Solar Park and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa’s Billion Tree Tsunami projects.  Both these projects are contributing to Pakistan’s efforts to tackle climate change by avoiding and reducing carbon emissions. The Quaid-i-Azam solar project will reduce Pakistan’s present and future carbon footprint. Once completed, it aims to be the largest solar park in the world and a part of Pakistan’s policy commitment of producing, at least, 10% of its energy through renewables. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Billion Tree Tsunami is preserving and enhancing the forest resource in the province and is also sequestering carbon and building local resilience to the impacts of climate change. The project managed to capture global attention and was recognised as part of the voluntary Bonn Challenge. It was showcased at COP21 as a unique initiative — the first of its kind of a subnational entity.

The current share of non-fossil fuels is about 38.6%. This is expected to change when current hydropower, solar, the wind and other clean energy sources added to the national system by 2018. Moreover, the government has introduced tax breaks for import and production of renewable energy equipment in the budget 2015-16.

Both federal and provincial governments have started to introduce mass transit in major cities in an attempt to reduce emissions in the transport sector. Several public buildings are being switched to solar power. Pakistan’s Parliament now runs entirely on renewable energy.

Like climate change, disaster risk reduction is also cross-cutting across SDGs. The government has a functional disaster risk reduction policy and national as well as provincial disaster management authorities. Every year, the government spends sizeable income on response to disasters. The focus so far has been post-disaster emergency response and recovery. Both the SDGs and the Paris climate agreement require focusing on resilience to avoid damages to both human and ecosystems. The government has committed to develop a National Adaptation Plan (NAP) with renewed focus on resilience.

For other stories in this series, please read: After Paris – Perspectives from developing countries

Image: World Bank, Pakistan


[1] See According to Dawn, “The much touted US $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) will pass through this beautiful province in the north to reach Chinese-operated Gwadar port in the country’s south. While there is hope it will transform the economy and help bridge Pakistan’s power shortfall, CPEC has also triggered concerns that the local people might be left out of the gains”.



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