Is Pakistan ready for the Paris summit?

Despair among climate experts turns to hope as new climate minister lays out the country’s position in Paris
<p>Students in Karachi  in front of the Environment Ministry and Quaid&#8217;s Mausoleum (Photo by</p>

Students in Karachi in front of the Environment Ministry and Quaid’s Mausoleum (Photo by

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and a few senior aides are expected to stop over in Paris on their way back from the Commonwealth Summit in Malta to attend the UN climate summit (COP21), described as the defining event of the year.

Zahid Hamid, the newly appointed Minister of Climate Change will lead the Pakistani team during the two week negotiations, comprising federal and provincial government officials. A dozen or so representatives of leading non-governmental organisations and civil society groups will also participate in the conference.

An explosion of climate change activities and debate about what it means for Pakistan over the past year has helped create an unprecedented understanding of the agenda of the Paris conference in Pakistan.

Leading NGOs such as SDPI and LEAD Pakistan, think tanks, civil society organisations and agricultural research centres have published studies on the negative fallout of climate change on Pakistan. Even the National Defence University, which focuses on traditional security issues, convened workshops on the effects of climate change on Pakistan’s national security.

The French Embassy collaborated with NGOs and think tanks and government officials to hold a two-day conference in Lahore in October which brought together Pakistan’s top climate and environmental experts and economists to exchange views on what is at stake at COP21. Pakistan has already suffered the impacts of climate change in the form of recurring extreme events such as floods, droughts, heat waves and surging sea water. Pakistan’s English language newspapers have also carried scores of stories and opinion pieces on climate change.

Against this growing call to arms, the government’s failure to submit the country’s Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) to the UN on time caused widespread disappointment among environment and climate activists.

Scrapped INDC

The Climate Change Ministry had compiled a 20-page draft document based on inputs from government agencies ministries, NGOs and multilateral institutions and posted it on its website. Reflecting the position taken by other developing countries, the document warned that Pakistan’s INDC was meant to serve only as a statement of “intention” and did not constitute an international obligation or commitment.
The document described the socio-economic conditions of Pakistan, its dire financial and human resource constraints, its small greenhouse emissions – amounting to a meagre 0.8 % of the global greenhouse gas GHG emissions based on 2012 calculations. It highlighted Pakistan’s vulnerability to the impacts of climate change, such as the increased variability of monsoons and rapid recession of the Himalaya-Karakoram-Hindu Kush glaciers feeding the rivers of the Indus Basin. The country is also facing increased risks of floods and droughts, falling yields of food crops and intrusion of saline sea water in the Indus delta threatening coastal ecology, fisheries and farming.

The draft contained excerpts from the 2012 national climate change policy on mitigation and adaptation in respect of energy, agriculture, forestry, coastal regions and the institutional capacity of the country to implement the suggested policies. It also mentioned the country’s efforts to promote renewable sources of energy. The document was especially weak in identifying Pakistan’s financial, technological and capacity constraints inhibiting the implementation of policy measures.

It outlined “initial contributions” by 2030 including: a 37% reduction in GHG emissions from the energy sector compared to the business as usual scenario; a 22% reduction in energy demand, an 8% reduction in emissions from the transport sector; and 5.5% reduction in emissions from agriculture and forestry.

Also read: Pakistan to pledge 5% emission reduction

The INDC draft reiterated Pakistan’s commitment to the objectives of the UNFCCC and its resolve to work with the Parties to achieve a balanced agreement based on equity and the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR) through open, transparent, inclusive and consensus-based negotiations.

The draft INDC failed to secure the approval of other ministries and Pakistan missed the deadline of October 1 for its submission to the UN. Evidently the dismay of domestic observers was shared by the Americans who raised the issue during Prime Minister Sharif’s visit to Washington in the third week of October.

On November 12, Pakistan submitted a 350-word INDC document which it claimed was rooted in its Vision 2015 – the country’s development “road map” – and climate change policy. It mentioned, inaccurately, Pakistan’s agriculture and water policies, which do not exist.

Also read: Pakistan offers nothing to Paris summit
The INDC paper asserted that the country’s “development needs are expected to grow necessitating the requirement(sic) of affordable sources of power generation, development of infrastructure and enabling industry to take a lead  (sic)role in meeting the transformation”. But it voiced a commitment 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”. The document also linked “specific commitments” on reduction of GHG emissions to the availability of “reliable data on peak emission levels” adding that an effort to make future emission calculations was underway”.

Pakistan’s INDC said nothing about the country’s acute vulnerability to climate change impacts which have slowed down its GDP growth rate, deepened poverty and ill-health, devastated  agriculture and  placed unbearable pressure on  its disaster management capacity at a time when it was hard pressed to combat home grown and externally supported terrorism.

Nor did it mention the significant advances made by Pakistan in developing clean, renewable sources of energy, including hydro power, solar and wind which would preclude large GHG emissions. The document is silent on Pakistan’s expectations from COP21.

Ray of hope

Whilst the poorly crafted submission drew vehement criticism, the appointment of eminent legal expert Zahid Hamid as minister of climate change a few weeks before the climate summit has raised hopes Pakistan can play a robust role at COP21 and implement its national climate action plans. Hamid helped draft Pakistan’s landmark Environmental Protection Act 1997 (PEPA) and served as head of the country’s Environmental Protection Agency.

According to the Ministry of Climate Change, Pakistan’s delegation in Paris will seek to not only highlight the country’s vulnerability to the threats of climate change but also underscore the nation’s vision and  resolve to address the threats in a pro-active manner. The delegates will explain that whilst Pakistan will prioritise adaptation, it is ready to contribute to reducing global emissions by adopting a climate compatible growth trajectory.

As a founding member of G77, Pakistan will strive for a fair and ambitious agreement to address the global challenge of climate change and strengthen the mechanisms on mitigation, adaptation, finance, technology and capacity building.

Pakistan will also seek to ensure that the agreement reached at COP21 provides for an effective Loss and Damage Mechanism – the compensation clause envisioned in the UN Climate Change Convention.