Pakistan in Marrakech – a new beginning?

Pakistan's delegation to Marrakech was far more prepared than the delegation it sent to Paris, but there are very big challenges ahead, the Pakistani minister for climate change says
<p>Pakistan is amongst the countries most vulnerable to climate change induced disasters [image by UNclimatechange]</p>

Pakistan is amongst the countries most vulnerable to climate change induced disasters [image by UNclimatechange]

Pakistan sent a 20 member delegation headed by the Minister for Climate Change, Zahid Hamid, to the Marrakech UN Climate Change Conference 2016. Days before arriving in Marrakech, there was a flurry of activity on the climate front as the government of Pakistan, distracted by the Panama leaks scandal in which Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s family is embroiled, finally ratified the Paris Agreement and submitted a revised document detailing Pakistan’s commitments post 2020 for curbing carbon emissions, called Nationally Determined Contributions or NDCs. The government also introduced a Pakistan Climate Change Bill which aims to set up a high-level, policy-making council headed by the PM, along with a Pakistan Climate Change Authority, to fast track the implementation of adaptation and mitigation projects in various sectors.

Zahid Hamid, who also serves as the Law and Justice Minister and was given additional charge of the Climate Change Ministry shortly before the Paris conference last year, said he is more than happy with achieving all these targets, since in Paris, “we had little to say or show”. Pakistan’s original NDC was a vague, one page document for which it was heavily criticized in Paris. During his speech at the high level ministerial segment in Marrakech, the Minister took more that the allocated 3 minutes to highlight all the actions taken by Pakistan recently including a national risk reduction strategy, a national sustainable development strategy, a law to promote the efficient use of energy and the Green Pakistan Programme to increase afforestation throughout the country.

Massive strides – but only on paper

“We have made massive strides – we are only the 4th or 5th country to have introduced a climate change bill,” he pointed out to Next week, upon his return to Islamabad, he wants to push through the climate bill since he said, “Climate change is multi-dimensional in nature and no one province can handle it; we need to do the necessary coordination and inter-cooperation”.

The fact remains, however, that Pakistan has seen many policies and strategies made in the past, including the National Climate Change Policy (readied in 2012) and the excellent National Conservation Strategy (that was passed in 1992) yet there has been very little implementation, or indeed successful impact, on the ground. The Green Pakistan programme foresees the plantation of over 100 million trees in a country with a forest cover of less than 3 percent; and the PM only ordered it once his bitter political rival, Imran Khan, embarked upon a massive “billion tree tsunami” afforestation project in Khyber Pukhtunkwa province.

See: Pakistan’s ‘Billion Tree Tsunami’ takes hold

The government of Pakistan is known for making policies that are left to gather dust on the shelves of various ministries. Today, a country of over 200 million people is reeling from the effects of climate change, which include annual floods in various districts (including glacier lake outbursts in the north) and erratic monsoon rainfall along with sea intrusion in the coastal south. The minister agreed, “We are one of the worst sufferers of climate change – we have gone up one place from number 8 to number 7 in this year’s Long-Term Climate Risk Index brought out by Germanwatch”.

The new NDC, CPEC and Trump

In the newly revised NDC document submitted under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, Pakistan has asked for USD 7 to 14 billion annually for adaptation. It is also envisions a 4 fold increase in its emissions from 405 metric tonnes to 1,603 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide by 2030. “We have the potential to go further up before coming down. If we get international finance of USD 40 billion, we can make a 20% reduction in emissions on the mitigation side by 2030,” explained the minister.

Pakistan is currently a low emitting country, contributing less than 1% of global emissions but all that is due to go up with the development of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor. The NDC was prepared in support of the Paris Agreement, which recently came into force on November 5th, but with Donald Trump’s recent election as President of the US, the issue of climate finance at the Marrakech conference, already thorny is now in deep trouble. “We don’t know for sure what Donald Trump is going to do” the Minister pointed out.

See: Trumped climate summit struggles to regain relevance

But the indications are not good as Trump is already appointing climate deniers to key posts in his cabinet. The hope that is being spread by international NGOs gathered at Marrakech like Friends of the Earth International is that: “Trump’s election must unify the world in treating the US as a climate pariah, and respond to his Presidency by redoubling ambition”. However, as Friends of the Earth Africa pointed out: “in this conference we saw very little movement on the crucial issue of finance… Dodgy accounting and fishy finance reporting by rich countries means that the millions already experiencing floods and droughts in every corner of Africa will be left to help themselves. Broken promises will not help us survive a crisis we did not create.”

The office of the Pakistan delegation (left) and the Pakistan pavillion (right) at Marrakech [image by Rina Saeed Khan]
The office of the Pakistan delegation (left) and the Pakistan pavillion (right) at Marrakech [image by Rina Saeed Khan]
Planning for the future

They are already looking to next year’s climate change conference to be held in Germany to urge global leaders to be more accountable. Perhaps the key message for a developing country like Pakistan, which has promised no unconditional cuts in emissions, to take home from this conference is that counting on international finance to take major action on mitigation and adaptation could prove to be a futile exercise.

“What is needed now is a coordinated effort at the national level – the money might not be forthcoming but through citizen engagement, coordination and better governance, a country coordinating mechanism which can link up the NDCs can deliver and it doesn’t need that much money… plus clean energy has never been as cheap as it is now” pointed out Liane Schalatek from Heinrich Boll Foundation who has been following the Green Climate Fund (GCF) closely. The GCF is nowhere near the USD 100 billion by 2020 promised by rich countries to help developing countries in their fight against climate change.

“It is true that developed countries need to do more when it comes to mitigating climate change and providing climate finance and transfer of technology to developing countries,” said Abid Suleri from the Sustainable Development Policy Institute, who was at the conference to speak about transitioning to low carbon pathways. “But developing countries also need to bring their own house in order. In Pakistan we have abundant policies but what we need is for all our responsible ministries and departments whether they are forest, livestock, food or land revenue to work together to implement action on the ground”. To build long-term resilience in the country, aside from all the national level plans, what are urgently needed are local adaptation plans. “The national budget allocation is low and we need fiscal support networking within the country. We need concrete measures and efforts on the ground”.