Author: Ghulam Shabir Arain, on May 2 2017 - The Paris Agreement has been ratified on climate change lays out obligation for nations to limit their greenhouse-gas emissions and contain the impact of global warming. Pakistan's Permanent Representative to the UN Maleeha Lodhi deposited the Instrument of Ratification signed by the President of Pakistan.  Representatives were among the loudest voices lobbying in favor of the agreement, which entered into force in November 2016. And cities will have a massive role in its implementation by 2020 they are both the source of 70 percent of the world’s greenhouse-gas emissions and also where the most contemporary low-carbon solutions are being implemented.

 Until now 144 countries have ratified the Paris Agreement; Pakistan is 104th in number in agreement ratification showing an unprecedented urgency with which the world community has moved to lock global temperatures “well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C.” Pakistan, very much vulnerable to climate change because it has a warm temperature which has deep effects on agriculture practices, has ratified the Paris Agreement and is obliged to implement the agenda settled in the meeting. The INDC (the intended national determined contribution) documents are a test of national will to act on reduction of national emissions in all key sectors particularly in industry, transportation, waste, housing, agriculture, and forestry. Some countries are already developing their NDC implementation strategies or sect oral implementation plans. Pakistan’s NDC has committed conditional reduction of emissions in two sectors - energy and agriculture. The resources needed for implementation are miles away from the actual need.

According to IPCC Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change, the developing and the least developed countries are expected to suffer more due to climate change as compared to the developed countries. Pakistan lies in a geographical region where the temperature increases are expected to be higher than the global average; its land area is mostly arid and semi-arid, its rivers are predominantly fed by the Hindu Kush-Karakoram Himalayan glaciers which are reported to be receding rapidly due to global warming; its economy is largely agrarian and hence highly climate sensitive; thus, the country faces increasingly large risks of variability in monsoon rains, hence large floods and extended droughts. Under the influence of all these factors the Water Security, the Flood Security and the Energy Security of the country are under serious threat. The Indus Delta is already located in the intense heat zone and any rise in temperature would impact human health due to heat strokes, diarrhea, cholera, and vector borne diseases; and human settlements will be affected by frequent floods, droughts, and cyclones. Pakistan is no stranger to climate change - it is among the most vulnerable, ill-equipped and ill-prepared countries to deal with climate change. Our stakes are high - and so, also, was our engagement level in Marrakech for enhancing our adaptive capacity, strengthening resilience and reducing vulnerability to climate change.

There are reasons why ratifying the Paris climate agreement is critical for Pakistan and why urgent implementation of the Climate Change Bill in Pakistan should be given national priority; the reasons are as follows:

  • Pakistan is one of the most affected countries from the present climate crisis. It has already suffered from extreme and deadly climate events such as the massive floods of 2010 and 2012.
  • Pakistan needs international assistance and cooperation if it wants to mitigate and adapt from the effects of climate change. 
  • Pakistan is home to around 191 million people that makes it the world’s sixth most populous country; but its global contribution to climate change is a mere 1% of the global emissions. 
  • Pakistan, as a developing country, faces an acute and serious energy crisis. One of the solutions to free the country from this menace would be moving towards a clean energy transition that is sustainable, low carbon and cost effective.
  • Pakistan, which happens to not only be a victim of widespread terrorism and political instability but equally suffers from the effects of impending climate crisis, must see climate change as a security threat that endangers not only the stability and prosperity of the country but also threatens the most vulnerable and poorest in the country. 

Thus, ratifying the Paris Agreement isn’t where the work ends, implementing it matters the most because climate change is a threat that must not be ignored at any cost. The Paris agreement will come into effect in 2020, empowering all countries to act to prevent average global temperatures rising above 2 degrees Celsius and to reap the many opportunities that arise from a necessary global transformation to clean and sustainable development.

The question that arises here is: Does it change the national conversation in Pakistan about action on climate change? If so, how?

The Paris agreement has indeed changed both political and technical discourse in Pakistan. Newspaper articles and TV programmes have covered the climate change issue more frequently than previously; moreover, civil society is asking for more public expenditure on climate and disaster resilience. The government has recently promised to spend Rs177.61 billion (about US$1.67 billion) on different structured and non-structured measures to implement a 10-year flood protection plan to save lives and property.

What will it take to get from ‘intended’ to ‘implemented’? What are the big opportunities and challenges?

The INDC submitted by Pakistan was considered the most silent of the INDC submissions, and it had neither quantified mitigation targets nor an adaptation plan. No clear pathways were outlined with regard to the reduction of carbon emissions or building resilience of people or infrastructure. The government’s excuse for submitting a one-page document was that they had an outdated baseline on which to work. Pakistan´s INDC has a long way to go to get from intended to Implemented. The one-page INDC document submitted by Pakistan does not provide any quantifiable information or clear direction that the country is to take for implementation.  

The main challenge for Pakistan is to identify and calculate greenhouse gas emissions, peak emissions levels and future projections. This is the first step that must be taken before a clear path can be set for implementation.

Since Pakistan, so far, hasn’t provided any quantified target, it is difficult to assess what exactly would be the requirement for emission reduction. Moreover, Pakistan has not specified its climate finance and technology requirements, most countries have provided detailed needs.  For example, India has a climate finance requirement of US$ 1040 billion, 80% of which is for mitigation.

Climate Change is a serious global threat and Pakistan has been ranked eighth on the list of countries most vulnerable to climate change by the German watch Global Climate Risk Index. According to a UK-based global risk consulting firm, Verisk Maplecroft, three cities of Pakistan are considered at high risk from climate change that includes Lahore, Faisalabad and Karachi. . It is important to note that the National Climate Change Policy framed in 2012 was not properly implemented and the National Climate Change Divisions established at provincial level after devolution of environment to the provinces in 2010 could not perform effectively.

However, Pakistan has been severely criticized for its 350 word-long Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) brief submitted to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change shortly before the Paris summit. In contrast, other developing countries provided detailed INDCs giving targets and showcasing their contributions. In this lackluster document, which was not the original document prepared by the Ministry for Climate Change, the federal government offered no specific targets for emissions reductions, and failed to highlight Pakistan’s extreme vulnerability to the impacts of climate change (floods, droughts, sea-intrusion and glacial melt).

The present government also has to realize that the Paris agreement is a signal to businesses and governments that the transition to a low carbon economy has begun, and Pakistan needs to become an active part of this future economy. Investing in dirty coal power plants at this late stage is not a wise decision, especially when renewable energy is becoming increasing affordable and future funding and some transfer of technology will soon become available in this sector. Pakistan also needs to start implementing its National Climate Change Policy as soon as possible, and start taking its Ministry for Climate Change more seriously as a coordinating agency that can help the provinces implement and mainstream policy into existing development initiatives.

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