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Pakistan was supposed to launch The National Sustainable Development Strategy (NSDS) during UN conference of sustainable development (also known as Rio+20) held on June20-22 at Rio de Janerio, Brazil. But, it could only succeed in launching an unapproved draft of NSDS on June 22 on the sideline of the conference.

According to sources in Pakistani delegation at UN conference, despite several attempts officials of Climate Change Ministry could not convince the minister to present the strategy to federal cabinet for approval.

It was quite embarrassing that Pakistan was among the first countries to prepare and present National Conservation Strategy (NCS) in 1992, at the first Earth Summit but was unable to launch its official NSDS 20 years down the road.

The NSDS is now established in more than 106 countries of the world and in almost all countries of south Asia. The NSDS has been in the policy pipeline in Pakistan for a number of years now and the rolling draft has been revised twice before in 2006 and then in 2009 without getting through the approval process. It got delayed due to a host of logistical and administrative reasons which can often work to block such initiatives.

The NSDS by its very nature is a document which endeavours to shift the traditional development pathway. Officials say it is also an attempt to define sustainable development and the pathway to a ‘green economy’ in Pakistan’s context.

“NSDS has more than 120 clearly defined goals spread across a wide range of priority sectors. It lays out an adaptive system and approach that can be continuously improved, through regular updates, to respond to evolving challenges. The focus has been on integrating not only across the three overall dimensions of economic, social and environment, but also integrating the goals with the existing development paradigm with the aim of shifting it on to a more sustainable pathway,” Jawed Ali Khan, director general (environment), Ministry of Climate Change tells TNS.

The drafted strategy emphasises on the adoption of sustainable development and green economy for Pakistan. According to ‘Pakistan: Strategic Country Environment Assessment’ prepared by the World Bank in 2007, environmental degradation cost Pakistan six percent of GDP per annum.

Experts say the economic growth and development in Pakistan over the last decade has faced certain unique and unprecedented challenges such as a string of mega-natural disasters, most of them climate change triggered, and including two devastating floods in 2010 and 2011, two major droughts of 1999 and 2002, three big cyclones hitting the southern coast and the horrific earthquake, which shook the Northern Areas and parts of KPK and AJK in 2005.

“During the last three years, Pakistan has been going through a difficult phase with economic growth averaging a meager 2.6 percent against 5.3 percent in the last eight years,” says Jawed Ali Khan. “The cost of environmental degradation in Pakistan is one billion rupees daily. For us the foremost step towards greening of economy is to minimize this cost. If we would have been able to decrease this cost by 50 percent in next 10 years, it would be a good achievement”, he says.

The strategy, according to him, is an attempt to define sustainable development and the pathway to a ‘green economy’ in Pakistan’s context. “The focus has been on integrating not only across the three overall dimensions of economic, social and environment, but also integrating the goals with the existing development paradigm with the aim of shifting it on to a more sustainable pathway.”

Khan tells TNS that Pakistan’s economic progress is marred with a number of inefficiencies in the water, energy and agricultural sectors. “Overall, it is challenged by the exponentially high population growth, rapid urbanisation, weak enforcement of environmental regulations and move towards unbridled consumerism all of which further drain an already strained economy.”

To ensure an effective implementation of the NSDS the enlisted strategic goals are translated into a focused agenda encompassing three levels of national governance — federal, provincial and local – along with an accountability structure. In this regard, the NSDS has identified ten core programme areas under a “Green Action Agenda” within the three globally accepted development dimensions.

Climate change, according to NSDS, directly and very strongly impinges upon future planning for sustainable development in Pakistan. It poses a major threat to food, water and energy security in the country.

The estimated cost for adapting to future climate impacts ranges from $6 billion to $14 billion annually for Pakistan over the next 40 years— the number of which is likely to escalate. “These figures re-enforce the inescapable linkage between climate impacts and sustaining future development in the country,” it reads.

The concept of the “green economy” is still a vague one and the Rio+20 meeting failed to deliver the expected clarity. It has only formulated a plan and time frame for countries to collectively define it in the coming year.

In Pakistan, the NSDS exercise was also used to try to define this concept within our own country driven context and our domestically defined priorities. “It is believed that the confusion and lack of clarity at the international level provided Pakistan the flexibility and freedom to carve out our own version of a future “green economy” which was free from any global biases.”

These array of goals have been further prioritized into a “green action agenda” comprising 10 core objectives. “Most of the defined goals and objectives make perfect economic and political sense providing opportunities even if the promises of global funds and technology transfer are not delivered. However, conducive and specialised financing and an access to appropriate technologies, whenever it materializes at the international level, will certainly aid this process towards sustainability in Pakistan”, says Malik Amin Aslam, ex-environment minister of Pakistan and senior Climate  Policy Adviser to UNDP who has prepared the latest draft of NSDS.

The crux of the NSDS draft that was launched at Rio+20 is to define a future development pathway for Pakistan which can balance the needs for social responsibility, economically inclusive growth while addressing the rising environmental challenges faced by Pakistan. The reduction of poverty, provision of jobs through an alternate green economic growth and the positive utilisation of the huge youth bulge of the country remain the key challenges.

“And definitely we have tried to ensure its relevance to the ground realities. That is precisely the reason why the previous version of the NSDS has been updated. The objective being to ensure that it reflects the social, economic and environmental challenges currently faced by Pakistan including, very importantly, the issue of climate change which has now been given additional focus. Also, on the administrative side, the post 18th amendment changes in respective responsibilities between the Federal and provincial levels has been duly reflected in the implementation arm of the strategy”, Malik Amin Aslam tells TNS.

The political changes back home is one of the major reasons which delayed its approval although it had gone through a very extensive consultation process involving a diverse array of stakeholders. “

“I was very impressed by the rigour and commitment shown by various stakeholders in providing inputs for improvement of the NSDS which were incorporated through the updating process. Thus, as the NSDS was in its final shape a decision was taken to go ahead with its international launch at Rio+20 as a final draft policy document. Hopefully the Ministry of Climate Change will try to get it approved from the Cabinet as soon as possible”, he says.

Experts doubt that NSDS would change anything on the ground in Pakistan as it has taken a number of decisions on sustainable development like adoption of the Economic Growth Strategy 2011, approval of plans of action on maximising energy efficiency and developing renewable source of energy, the approval of a Climate Change Policy and the creation of a Ministry of Climate Change and launching of an ambitious programme of hydropower generation.

Like all other policy initiatives, implementation of the stated goals of the NSDS certainly remains one of the key challenges if not the biggest one. “NSDS is a good document but the main issue remains what would be the institutional framework to implement it.

The bigger question is how different ministries and provincial government would establish liaison and who would provide finances to implement it. It is also needed that NSDS should be made a living document which can easily be changed according to the changing ground realities”, Dr Abid Qayyum Suleri, executive director of Sustainable Development Policy Institute tells TNS.

The strategy has tried to define practical timeline for implementation along with predefined “triggers” to propel and sustain the process of implementation. All of this, according to officials, has been done to ensure that, once approved, the NSDS does not become another “dustbin” strategy that withers away on an office stack.

These implementation triggers include the enactment of appropriate legislation in the Parliament within a specified timeframe, the empowerment of a National Sustainable Development Council along with similar bodies at the provincial and local levels, creation of a specialised sustainable development fund and the establishment of Standing Committees of Parliament on Sustainable Development which can periodically monitor and guide the process of implementation.

“So far, we have failed to see any political interest in NSDS. It took us six months to prepare to take part in Rio+20 but only after two weeks of the conference government transferred the secretary of climate change ministry while new secretary is going to be retired in November and has least interest in NSDS. We were hoping that developed world would make promises to provide funds and transfer green technology to developing countries at Rio+20 but both things have not happened there. Now, we once again are going to restart a consultation process to review NSDS according to the latest situation. It can take several months now on to prepare final draft of NSDS and then several more to get approval of cabinet to declare it as official strategy of country”, says an official of ministry of climate change on the condition of anonymity.

This article was originally published at: The News

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.