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Three years from now 143 countries will be celebrating the 50th year of the World Environment Day. It is a day for invigorating awareness, advocating environmental causes and raising voice for action on persisting environmental challenges and issues confronted by the global community.

For Pakistan it carries a high significance as it is amongst the top 7 frontline states that are most vulnerable to the increasing climate variability. German Watch in its 2017 Global Long-Term Climate Risk Index has ranked Pakistan No. 7, just after the Philippines and Bangladesh. Pakistan’s vulnerability stems from its geographic, demographic and diverse climatic conditions. It is projected that both the intensity and frequency of extreme climatic disastrous events is expected to increase in the coming years. The country will also experience incremental changes in rainfall patterns and air temperature variability. Moreover, Pakistan is in a geographic region where temperature increase is expected to be higher than the global average.

According to ICIMOD report on Mountains and People the major environmental issues of Pakistan include but not limited to (i) water pollution (from raw sewage, industrial wastes, agricultural runoff), (ii) limited natural freshwater resources, (iii) access to potable water, (iv) deforestation, (v) soil erosion, and (vi) desertification. Whereas, some of the key CC related effects include changing patterns of monsoons, receding glaciers, reducing water reservoir capacities, reduced hydropower, extreme water stress, food insecurity, changes in forest area, biodiversity losses, ecosystems degradation, coastal erosion, severe cyclones/storms, rising sea levels, decreased river flows, salt water intrusion etc.

As consequence of 18th Amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan enacted in 2010, 47 federal functions were devolved to the provincial level that included climate change. The Federal Ministry of Environment, which is now Ministry of Climate Change (MoCC) retained the responsibility for (i) implementing international agreements and treaties related to the environment and climate change, and (ii) national and international policy and obligations in this regard. Resultantly, the Federal Government is undertaking CC related policy making and the implementation of international agreements and conventions whereas the implementation role is at the provincial level. This has created a dichotomy between intent and implementation as there is no effective mechanism for the transfer of climate policy to the implementation level.

Over time there were efforts made to bring clarity in the working protocol/framework between the federal and provincial governments but a lot more is yet desired in order to effectively address the grave challenges posed by the dynamics of climate change in Pakistan. In this regard, the Pakistan Climate Public Expenditure and Institutional Review (CPEIR) 2017 reconfirms that the devolution process resulting from 18th Amendment has posed significant challenges for the institutional set up for climate change in Pakistan, therefore requiring higher degree of coherence and clarity. It suggests this could be achieved through (a) the establishment of a provincial commission, (b) the creation of an enabling legal environment for CC, and (c) considering the inclusion of CC criteria in the NFC fiscal transfer formula.

Based on recent assessments it is quite evident that Pakistan is experiencing heavy economic losses due to CC. To make the matter worst, Pakistan is one of the most indebted countries of the world. It suffers crippling debt despite possessing the richest of natural resources. As per Euro Convergence criteria, government debt-to-GDP ratio should be below 60% whereas Pakistan’s debt-to-GDP ratio currently is at 87%, which unfortunately is quite a precarious level.

Pakistan considers CC as central to its economic growth approach that caters for growth, poverty reduction and well-being of the population. Despite the continuing and increasing pressure on economy due to Covid since early 2020, Pakistan has struggled to make substantial progress in regaining macroeconomic stability over the recent years. Exports have registered growth of $2.48b (13.5%) compared to last year. However, Pakistan has been registering trade deficit consistently since 2003, mainly due to high imports of energy. According to Bureau of Statistics (BoS), the deficit increased to $14.96b in the first 7 months of 2020-21, which is 8.27% over the corresponding period last year.

Unfortunately, poverty in Pakistan has over time spread to those who were never poor before. Productivity has declined, unemployment has risen and the wages have gone down over time. Once food-sufficient, Pakistan now imports food. As a result, more than 35% of the population is confronted with the menace of food insecurity despite Pakistan having achieved self-sufficiency in main staple crops.

Climate change and the accompanying increase in temperature and varying rainfall pattern has adversely impacted agricultural production in Pakistan which in turn has led to food insecurity and hunger in the country. Climate change therefore, is seen as the main and central reason for causing food insecurity.

In the absence of remedial action, climate change is also adversely impacting nutrition through decrease in (i) food quantity and access, (ii) dietary diversity, and (iii) food nutritional content.

To sum up, Pakistan is a country in the midst of being extremely affected by climate change and due to that food security challenges are both increasing and compounding. A balancing act is therefore required between climate change priorities and providing cheaper yet more healthier and nutrient variants while selecting food items for import.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021