Later this month, world leaders will descend on Le Bourget, Paris for a binding agreement on cutting carbon emissions beyond 2020. In this context, it should be hard for heads of government to keep a straight face when they show concern about climate change but don’t have a minister for that portfolio; when they pledge firm commitment but don’t have the time or appetite to revisit climate policy.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif did exactly that when he met US President Barack Obama last month in Washington. Drafters of Sharif’s talking points must have known how close climate change agenda has been to the Obama administration. But you can’t play the White House for chumps, unless, of course, you are a Vladimir Putin. They probably let Sharif’s hollow assertions slide, considering that Pakistan produces not even one percent of global carbon emissions (2012, EU database).
A UNDP report earlier this year noted that Pakistan was among the most-vulnerable countries to climate change, which cost the country about $6 billion annually. “Of particular concern are the climate change threats to water, energy and food security due to the inherent arid climate coupled with the high degree of reliance on water from glacial snowmelt,” the report warned. (To review a recent multilateral report on Pakistan’s vulnerability, read “Climate, poverty and Pakistan,” published here on November 12, 2015).
Faced with dire odds, it is unfortunate to see that the federal government isn’t using the Paris summit to rally resources and expertise to tackle the issue. It was already bad that Pakistan got six weeks late in submitting its greenhouse gas reduction commitment to the Secretariat of the UN Convention Framework on Climate Change, under whose aegis the climate change conference is being held in Paris. About 146 countries had submitted their commitments – also known as the INDCs – as of October end.
To add insult to the injury, Pakistan’s remarkably brief, single-page submission, has no targets or commitments. “A process of calculating the country’s future emission projections through detailed studies and analysis is currently underway,” the document reads. Apparently, lack of data isn’t the reason for a lack of pledge, as shown from the excerpt below.
“Pakistan’s development needs are expected to grow necessitating the requirement of affordable sources of power generation, development of infrastructure and enabling industry to take a lead role in meeting the transformation…” It’s like saying, hey, our time is just around the corner, so don’t expect us to change course. And there is no way around coal for us, so stop looking for any promises.
To make Pakistan’s climate-change position further compromised, there is a big shrug regarding any future commitment to curb emissions. Any future targets would be “subject to affordability, provision of international climate finance, transfer of technology and capacity building.” One wonders how Pakistan will be able to tap global green financing and technical expertise for climate change mitigation (which is 50% of global climate finance funding) when global stakeholders may view it as not bothered with the issue.
Pakistan’s current positioning on climate change will hurt Pakistanis the most. Apparently, folks at home don’t seem concerned. As per a Pew Research Center report released earlier this month, only 29 percent of the polled Pakistanis (1200) viewed climate change as a very serious problem, sharply lower than 76 percent in India who viewed it as a very grave issue.
Only 28 percent of Pakistani respondents were “very concerned” that climate change will harm them personally at some point in their lifetime (India, 69%). About 48 percent would support the government if it limited greenhouse gas emissions (India, 70%). Pew’s findings, of course, need to be put into context: it is plausible that folks are not making a direct connection between climate change and natural disasters – floods, heat waves, severe storms, and droughts – that have wracked the country in recent years.
It’s not that the government is sleeping at the wheel. Climate Change ministry officials have indicated that scientific data gathering on climate change impact is almost complete. However, the economic impact may remain unaddressed even after that exercise. So, there may not be any emission targets or pledges anytime soon. Maybe if the finance ministry was involved earlier, the needle could have actually moved on the issue.