Money Matters Climate of change
The federal government has come up with its budget for the fiscal year 2017-18 and it claims it to be a people-friendly budget intended to improve the quality of citizen’s life. The government camp terms it a landmark budget with the biggest ever allocation of Rs2,113 billion for this year’s Public Sector Development Programme (PDSP). Of this amount, Rs1,001 billion have been set aside for the federal departments whereas a sum of Rs1,112 billion will be passed on to the provinces.
While there are escalations in budgets earmarked for different sectors, there are reservations that very little amount has been spared for environment protection and climate change adaptation/mitigation measures. This low allocation they say is despite the fact that Pakistan ranks 7th among the most adversely affected countries by climate change, according to the Global Climate Risk Index (2017).
In the recent past, Pakistan government has taken cognizance of this challenge and taken some encouraging measures. These include passage of “Pakistan Climate Change Act 2017” and consequent formation of Climate Change Fund, Climate Change Council and Climate Change Authority. These entities will be instrumental in implementing the said law in true spirit if empowered and provided the required resources.
Against this programme, the allocation of “meagre” Rs815 million for various ongoing and new schemes of the Climate Change Division has come as a surprise to many. They were expecting the amount to be far higher than this as the country has suffered huge losses due to the environment and climate change related disasters it has faced. Apart from the allocation, the fact that only two new schemes have been introduced this year raises concerns about the government’s alleged neglect towards this issue.
However, some environmentalists and development sector experts have come to the rescue of the government. They explain the figure is deceptive as it talks only about the projects taken up by the Climate Change Division and not the overall spending on combating climate change and environmental degradation. There are separate allocations for production of hydropower, water security and provision, food security, clean and renewable energy, disaster management and preparedness, but no integrated figure has been shared, they state.
If we look at the government document on climate change, it says it poses three big challenges relating to the water, food and energy security of the country. Other adverse effects of climate change include “extreme temperatures, seasonal droughts, heavy rains, monsoonal storms/ cyclones, devastating floods, unusual fogs, melting of glaciers, landslides and avalanches in the mountain areas and threatening inflows into Indus River System (IRS)”. So, one has to see how much have these been taken care of.
Shafqat Munir, a research scholar and development sector expert, says though the figure of Rs815 million looks small keeping in view the scale of the problem, the good thing is that the government has for the first time come up with Disaster Risk Management Fund. He says earlier, whenever a natural disaster hit any part of the country, instead of responding the government had to seek help from the world. Another issue was that there used to be no focus on preparedness, but this time this angle is also covered. He says from now onwards this fund, created with an endowment of Rs12.58 billion, will be used for disaster management and preparedness assistance to communities. The Rs30 billion proposed for the Prime Minister’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) programme and the Rs38 billion earmarked for water projects such as building dams and canals/water courses also targets several areas that fall in the ambit of climate change management, he adds.
Coming back to the Rs815 million for Climate Change Division, one finds that Rs764 million have been allocated for the ongoing projects and Rs51 million for new projects announced this year. The ongoing projects are Green Pakistan Programme’s Revival of Forestry Resources in Pakistan and Green Pakistan Programme’s Revival of Wildlife Resources in Pakistan. The two new schemes are “Construction of Boundary Wall of Zoo-Cum-Botanical Garden” and the Green Pakistan Programme’s “Strengthening Zoological Survey of Pakistan” that will document inventory of endangered wildlife species and habitats across Pakistan. Under the forestry programme, 100 million new indigenous plants including 20 percent fruit plants will be planted in the country over a period of years.
Dr Abid Qayyum Suleri, executive director, Sustainable Policy Development Institute (SDPI), Islamabad, says environment has become a provincial subject after the 18th amendment and that is probably why there is little allocation in the federal budget. He shares the federal government spends funds only to fulfil commitments, send delegations to important international events, cover administrative budgets and pay staff salaries and execute a handful of special projects.
Suleri, who is also a member of the Commission on Climate Change formed by the Lahore High Court (LHC), says in the current scenario it becomes imperative to form a uniform policy that gives guiding principles to all the provinces and departments to integrate environment-friendly steps in their policies and day to day working.
No doubt efforts are being made in this regard by different entities but these are not done in a cohesive manner, he adds. Suleri says the Climate Change Authority has been formed at the federal level and it is quite likely that a framework will be there soon with the purpose of giving guidelines and ensuring compliance. It will also be considered how it can monitor implementation of environment-friendly policies throughout the country both at state and people’s level.
Engineer Suleman Khan, a water and energy expert and head of Indus Water Council, says there is criticism on the government for going for coal-powered plants and announcing environment-friendly policies both at the same time. He says the government is in a very tricky situation because it wants to bring the cost of electricity production down in a situation where there is lack of consensus on building of big reservoirs.
He says electricity produced from coal would cost consumers Rs14 per unit whereas that produced from furnace oil costs Rs35 per unit. But this cost benefits comes at a high environmental cost; so the government must go for hydropower projects that are clean as well source of far cheaper source of electricity, he concludes. There are allocations for some small to medium sized hydro projects in this budget but need is far bigger keeping in view the growing demand for electricity and concerns about environmental degradation.
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The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.