COP-28 and Pakistan: pledges galore, but any action?

Published December 11, 2023
The UN climate conference opened with countries under pressure to increase the urgency of action on global warming and wean off fossil fuels. Photo: AFP
The UN climate conference opened with countries under pressure to increase the urgency of action on global warming and wean off fossil fuels. Photo: AFP

COP-28 – the 28th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – is coming to an end in Dubai on Tuesday.

The conference, which aimed to discuss and address climate change issues and their impact on the world, was attended by representatives from nearly 200 countries, including Pakistan.

This year, COP28 began on a high note, with the establishment of the inaugural Loss and Damage Fund.

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If one recalls, Pakistan, at COP27, had lobbied vociferously for such a fund – fresh off the devastation of the floods that caused more than $30 billion in damages – and rightly so, as it remains among the countries most vulnerable to the harmful effects of climate change without being a large contributor to it.

However, there still remains a catch. Several rather.

Pakistan has to adhere to stringent checks and balances in order to activate that funding, so its progress remains to be seen.

While most of the world’s largest economies have committed to achieving a net-zero carbon emissions balance by 2050, how they get there is truly now the six-trillion dollar question.

Although progress has been made through innovation, investments, and incentives – for example, the US has reduced CO2 emissions by approximately 40% over the past 20 years – there still remains a long way to go. A report earlier indicated that the world may cross the crucial 1.5C global warming threshold in seven years as fossil fuel CO2 emissions continue to rise.

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Understanding the gravity of the situation, several pledges were made at COP28.

One was the methane pledge where more than 50 oil and gas companies, including Saudi Aramco, ExxonMobil and Shell, signed the Oil and Gas Decarbonisation Charter (OGDC) – which calls for net-zero emissions by 2050 or before and near-zero upstream methane emissions by 2030.

Also on the table was a draft resolution regarding the future of fossil fuels – coal, gas and oil – with one option stating to do “nothing at all”, but oil producers like Saudi Arabia and top consumers like India, remained resistant.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday said that a key to the success of the COP28 climate summit was for nations to reach an agreement on the need to phase out fossil fuels, albeit with countries possibly moving at a different pace.

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This was bolstered by World Bank Group President Ajay Banga announcing plans for 45% of the organisation’s finances to be allocated to climate-related projects by 2025.

As the race to abide by the Paris Agreement’s 1.5 degrees Celsius mandate further stresses the urgency of change, Pakistan remains at the forefront of severe environmental challenges due to climate change and a variety of factors.

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According to data from the Global Climate Risk Index 2022, Pakistan is ranked 5th among the countries most affected by climate change. This vulnerability is evident in experiencing extreme weather conditions such as heatwaves, floods and droughts

UNICEF’s 2021 Children’s Climate Risk Index (CCRI) estimated that children in Pakistan along with Afghanistan, Bangladesh and India were at ‘extremely high risk’ of the impacts of climate change. Maldives, for one, is at risk of disappearing entirely by the end of the century.

Such conditions have had a significant impact on the country’s economy, agriculture, and health sector. The economic toll of climate change in Pakistan is substantial. The Asian Development Bank has estimated that Pakistan’s economic losses due to climate change could amount to 18-20% of its GDP by 2050.

But Pakistan has several other special sets of problems.

Plagued by external debt – where the question of sustainability has been posed – along with a financing gap that keeps widening, is Pakistan in a position where it can focus entirely on finding solutions to combat climate change?

But it keeps saying that it wants to make efforts.

Aside from launching several projects aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, promoting renewable energy sources and increasing forest cover, Pakistan also aims to shift to 60% renewable energy, and 30% electric vehicles by 2030.

But at the same time, in an effort to combat the energy shortage it has been rallying with, earlier this year, Pakistan sought to quadruple its domestic coal-fired capacity in the coming years – in contradiction to climate change goals.

It was also not immediately clear how Pakistan will finance the proposed coal fleet. In a conversation with Reuters earlier, energy minister at the time Khurram Dastgir Khan had said that setting up new plants will depend on “investor interest,” which he expects to increase when newly commissioned coal-fired plants are proved viable.

This initiative was also meant ease the burden of Pakistan’s fuel imports and protect from geopolitical shocks. Another hurdle was that financial institutions in China and Japan, which are among the biggest financiers of coal units in developing countries, have been backing out of funding fossil-fuel projects in recent years amid pressure from activists and Western governments.

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Similarly, Pakistan also lacks the physical infrastructure needed to support mass electric vehicle expansion such as charging stations and the technical capacity to facilitate its production.

Other initiatives such as the Billion Tree Tsunami project also suffered a setback during the floods.

In July, former federal minister for climate change and environmental coordination, Senator Sherry Rehman, highlighted that the government has introduced a comprehensive 10-year plan to generate 10,000 megawatts of electricity through solar and wind energy by the year 2031.

She underlined these plans during a high-level meeting with a delegation led by Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, President-designate of COP28 and UAE’s Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology at the Climate Ministry.

Recharge Pakistan’ is another ambitious project aiming to mitigate the risks of floods and droughts within the Indus Basin that has attracted a $77.8 million partnership between the US, the Green Climate Fund, the Coca-Cola Foundation and the World Wildlife Fund.

How we’re expected to reach these goals was not immediately clear. Clearly, its not ambition we’re lacking, just planning and execution.

No doubt, Pakistan’s participation in COP-28 was crucial because it provided an opportunity for the country to raise its voice on climate change issues and advocate for its interests, perhaps even hustle for more funds.

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But more than that, it provided Pakistan with an opportunity to learn from other countries’ experiences and best practices in mitigating and adapting to climate change.

However, metrics and attendance can only tell us so much.

Globally, and at home, there remains much more to be done in order to mitigate the effects of climate change. Time is running out.

The article does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Business Recorder or its owners

Faiza Virani

The writer is Life & Style Editor at Business Recorder


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