Pakistan offers nothing to Paris climate summit

Pakistan submits climate pledge to the UN with "no tangible commitments", enraging experts at home
<p>A child stands amongst the remains of buildings destroyed by the recent flooding in Sindh province, Pakistan (Photo: DFID)</p>

A child stands amongst the remains of buildings destroyed by the recent flooding in Sindh province, Pakistan (Photo: DFID)

The 350-word one pager submitted to the UN as its intended nationally determined contribution (INDC) to combat climate change makes Pakistan look “irrelevant” and a “laughing stock” in front of the international community, say experts.

It is also a far cry from a more substantive draft document the ministry of climate change put forward to the prime minister a few months ago, which pledged to reduce emissions between 5 and 18%.

See: Pakistan to pledge 5% emission reduction

“What Pakistan submitted is beyond weak…it said nothing,” Adil Najam, the dean of Boston University’s Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies, told angrily. “All that the world asked for was some statement of intent that we intend to do something.”

Countries around the world have submitted their INDC to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), setting out the extent to which they intend to control their greenhouse gas emissions and how. Even Iraq’s plan has more substance than Pakistan’s, Najam pointed out.

This document shows Pakistan is not “serious about climate change,” said environmentalist Naseer Memon. Pakistan could have offered very solid targets without jeopardising its development goals, he added.

Environment lawyer Ahmad Rafay Alam condemned the pledge as “very embarrassing”, considering how vulnerable Pakistan is to climate change.  “The person who drafted this should be sacked,” he said.

Hollow promises

The disappointment among Pakistani experts is particularly acute since Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif declared he would prioritise climate change at the UN General Assembly in September this year, saying: “Partisan interests must not stand in the way of ambitious and collective commitment to halt and reverse the damage to our planet.”

These words turned out to be empty rhetoric. “You don’t expect your climate action plan to say we are not ready to support the process yet,” said Kashmala Kakakhel, a development expert who closely follows the climate negotiations.

Pakistan should have presented its case to the UN more rationally, argued Abid Qayyum Suleri, head of the Islamabad-based think tank Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI).

Pakistan is facing pressing security threats from militants, energy shortages and poverty. The country could have argued that it “needed to create more jobs and was left with little choice but to take up China’s offer for the more affordable coal-backed power plants,” Suleri said.

Pakistan’s energy consumption and emissions are set to grow with new power projects under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline, falling oil prices and so on. However, the country still needs to come up with its own realistic “plan” to reduce future emissions, he argued.

Other experts argue that the INDC process is not relevant for developing countries including Pakistan, which should focus on adaptation, the bigger challenge, rather than its contribution to global mitigation efforts.

“Most countries have tried to develop an INDC which outlines a path towards cleaner growth, is more focused on renewables, and where there is a clear definition of when emissions will peak and how they are then brought down,” said Najam.

Damage control

Given the disastrous INDC, Pakistan should cut its losses and “push for a legally binding treaty” that will reduce emissions, said Ali Tauqeer Sheikh, Asia director of the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN). “We should align ourselves with the vulnerable developing countries and strongly support the demand to keep average global temperature rise within 1.5 degree Celsius,” he added.

Pakistan should have pushed industrialised countries to do more mitigation so everyone else has to adapt less, said Najam, while “Pakistan should also seek technology and technical assistance in renewable energy and sustainable infrastructure.”

Pakistan’s negotiating position is looking increasingly weak. There are rumours that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will lead a delegation comprising of no more than five to seven people, despite the number of capable people willing to participate, pointed out Suleri.

“It would have been good for the optics, if nothing else.” he said, recalling the 1,000 strong Bangladeshi delegation that came to COP19 in Copenhagen.

In the past Pakistan sent high calibre negotiators who were respected by the international community, now the government fields new officers every time, said Kakakhel. “This obviously results in limited contribution to international discourse,” she lamented.

After the commitments were submitted, Najam tweeted that Pakistan is no longer “a consequential player” in the climate negotiations. Pakistan has a number of internationally recognised experts, even within the Foreign Office, who understand climate and the country’s vulnerabilities and yet Pakistan no longer remains a leader in climate diplomacy. “What a tremendous diplomatic fall,” he bemoaned.