Climate change is a serious threat to the economic and social fabric of the country. Climatic shocks are diverse and have severe implications for the country. The last three decades witnessed a series of droughts, floods, heat waves, glacier outbursts and sea intrusion. The 2010 flood, the 1999-2003 drought and the formation of Atta Abad Lake stand out. Untimely rains aggravated the situation in some years. The impacts may become more severe in the future.
The situation demands that Pakistan devise a comprehensive policy and institutional framework to address its most urgent needs. The policy and institutional framework should be devised by considering ground realities.
The Climate Change Policy 2012, which was the joint work of the PPP government and experts, outlined a priority list. It recognised adaptation measures in certain areas as the most urgent need of the country and made them top priority of the government. The Framework for the Implementation of Climate Change Policy further highlighted the urgency of the adaptation measures.
The National Economic and Environment Development Study (NEEDS) of Pakistan came up with the same conclusion and provided a comprehensive guideline for actions, especially for adaptation and mitigation, with financial requirements. Malik Amin Aslam, the prime minister’s advisor on climate change, headed the effort.
Unfortunately, government actions have not reflected the importance assigned to adaptation. Pakistan is currently focusing more on mitigation activities like plantation, electric vehicles, etc. These are good initiatives that will help Pakistan meet the emission targets in the long run. Pakistan is already committed to these under its nationally determined contribution (NDC).
Plantation will also help maintain the quality of the environment, lessen the impacts of climate change and will help improve health. Forests will also lower carbon content in the atmosphere. The initiative is therefore creating goodwill for Pakistan at the global level.
However, adaptation is direly needed and is not getting the required attention. There is no major drive to push for adaptation. We can only find sporadic actions. For example, last year the Ministry of Climate Change announced that a comprehensive climate change smart agriculture programme will be launched. Funding for the project has been secured by FAO from Green Climate Fund (GCF) and now the government will be a partner in its implementation. However, the programme is still in the planning stages. The FAO is hoping that the government will lead the implementation by providing its share of funds and leadership.
This is a direly needed intervention as climate change impacts on agriculture are increasing with every passing day. A few years ago a study was conducted by the Global Change Impact Study Centre (GCISC). It underlined that a 1-degree increase in temperature will reduce the growing season by 14 days in a mountainous region, 6 days in a sub-mountainous region, 6 days in a plain semi-arid region and 5 days in a plain arid region.
The key message of the findings was that if the government fails to address the challenges, it will have severe implications for food security and poverty.
Sea intrusion is another major problem that the government needs to work on. A number of reports underscore the possible impacts of sea intrusion. It has been estimated that about 2.4 million acres of land are under threat. Badin is already suffering badly and losing land and infrastructure. This has severe implications for the economy and social fabric. Other places along the coastlines of Balochistan and Sindh are likely to face the same problem in the future.
Health problems related to climate change are another area that requires urgent attention of the government. Pakistan is already experiencing impacts of climate change on health in the form of dengue fever and malaria. Heat waves are also posing serious threat to health.
In this context, Pakistan needs to bring institutional and policy reforms that ensure actions according to the needs of the country. The PML-N government tried to bridge the legislative gap by introducing the Climate Change Act and the establishment of Climate Change Authority. However, there is a need to do more. First of all, the government must develop an adaptation plan. The plan must be followed up by the allocation of financial resources. It is unfortunate that a country high on the United Nations vulnerability list, does not have an adaptation plan. It is good to know that the government is trying to develop a plan with the help of a UN agency. Financial resources can be mobilised from international partners by establishing a National Implementation Entity (NIE).
To tackle future challenges and immediate needs, the government should invest in research and development. The research should be divided in two categories: 1) soft research, which focuses on projections, modelling, impact study, policy frameworks, etc; and 2) hard research, that focuses on the development of technology, seeds and species. For that purpose, the government will have to invest in education and strengthen the institutions, especially higher education institutions.
Besides, there is dearth of climate-specific research institutions that can steer the research agenda of the country according to its needs. The other side of the coin is that the few institutions Pakistan has, are facing severe challenges to continue working. The Global Climate Impact Study Centre (GCISC) lacks permanent leadership. There is also a need to activate the Climate Change Authority.
The social engagement and consultation process must be strengthened. Hameed Jan Afridi model of engagement delivered tremendous progress and Pakistan was able to develop a climate change policy that secured our interests at the global level. It is expected that Malik Amin will further strengthen the engagement and bring in innovation. The government should start the process by activating the Prime Minister’s Climate Change Council, which has never met since its establishment. According to the Climate Act 2017, the council must meet twice a year.
Pakistan should adopt a wise and smart climate change policy to secure financial resources from its international partners. Presently, our main focus is on sharing actions on mitigation. There is no major drive for adaptation. Such a policy focuses on presenting success stories and ignoring our needs.
It is hoped that the government will make adaptation its top priority in fighting climate change.
The writer is a political economist. He has authored Understanding China for Future Cooperation