In December this year, a very important conference in Paris will decide the future of civilisation as we know it. At the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meeting in Paris — known as the 21st Conference of the Parties, or COP21 — countries are expected to agree to a new global deal to tackle climate change. Scientists say that if we cannot restrict global warming to two degrees Celsius, the world will face “catastrophic” climate change.
In October, with just over a month to go before the conference in Paris, the French Embassy in Islamabad with the help of various NGOs working for the environment held a large climate forum in Lahore. Civil society organisations like LEAD-Pakistan, UNDP-Pakistan, WWF-Pakistan, the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), the Mountain and Glacier Protection Organisation, IUCN and the Centre for Climate Research and Development (CCRD) at COMSATS University, all worked voluntarily with the French embassy for months to put the forum together.
The two-day long forum, entitled “Pakistan say Paris” held at the Al Hamra in Lahore with discussions on adapting to climate change, disaster risk management, climate policy and renewable energy, was a big success. Hundreds of students, civil society members, journalists and government officials attended the sessions. Ambassador Kamal of CCRD described the forum as the coming together of “the Pakistani climate coalition”. According to Nathalie Dupont, the political officer from the French Embassy, “We believe the momentum should be pursued before and after Paris and hope that … it will be a lasting and a long-term platform.”
A renewed pledge is needed to tackle climate change
Ali Tauqeer Sheikh, the head of LEAD-Pakistan, concluded that: “We cannot emphasise enough that we need to instigate climate action into our development planning in order to ensure inclusive and rapid economic development.” The eminent environmental lawyer, Dr Parvez Hassan noted in his closing speech: “My prediction is that COP21 will be a game changer — after deadlock and suspense and all-night caucuses, there will emerge consensus and success”.
Climate change is currently considered one of the biggest challenges for humanity and Paris is where the world hopes to come up with a solution. The global carbon budget has largely been consumed and the window of opportunity to find solutions is narrowing. In preparation for Paris, the countries of the world have agreed to publicly outline what post-2020 climate actions they intend to take known as their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). To discuss Pakistan’s “Commitments on Climate Change” or INDCs, the Heinrich Boll Foundation in Islamabad last week held a training workshop for journalists to familiarise them with COP21.
The workshop brought together experts from LEAD-Pakistan and SDPI and government officials from the pioneering Quaid-i-Azam Solar Park in the Punjab and the innovative Billion Tree Tsunami project in Khyber Pukhtunkwa to discuss what are INDCs and what are Pakistan’s commitments. Around 25 journalists from both the print and electronic media, representing the major media houses in Pakistan, attended the workshop and filed stories and TV reports about what they learnt.
According to Marion Mueller, the country head of Heinrich Boll Foundation, “Paris is indeed an important conference. At the global level we see that with this COP the old agreements between the countries will end therefore a renewed commitment is required from the leaders of the world. Moreover, with the increased threat we need to be clearer and have a comprehensive plan of action for mitigation and adaptation. The new agreement to be negotiated in Paris this year must achieve commitments from the political leaders of the involved countries as to how quickly to implement the new agreement.”
Pakistan already ranks amongst the top 10 countries in the world most affected by climate change according to the Global Climate Risk Index. Pakistan is now continuously suffering from monsoon flooding, along with the recession of glacial and snow reserves, heatwaves in urban centers and droughts. Pakistan’s INDCs have still not been approved by the Prime Minister and submitted to the UNFCCC; other countries like Afghanistan and India managed to meet the Oct 1 deadline for submission.
However, former ambassador Shafqat Kakakhel who is the Chair of SDPI says “Pakistan’s INDC document is likely to be finalised soon because the joint statement on Prime Minister Sharif’s (visit to the US) clearly mentions Pakistan’s promise to submit its INDC document soon. Pakistan’s INDC paper should be done in such a manner that it serves as a brief for our delegation (going to Paris) consisting of diverse elements.” Pakistan is promising either a 10 per cent reduction from business as usual or 20pc reduction from business as usual (in emissions) if it is given the required funding.
According to Nadeem Ahmed of LEAD-Pakistan “What Pakistan really needs is an accurate greenhouse gas inventory — that is at the heart of everything.” Pakistan’s Ministry of Climate Change, which prepared the INDCs document, however is underfunded and does not have many resources at its disposal. “The time was too short and there was a lack of data and lack of understanding,” he explained further. However, Bilal Anwar, a researcher from the US who helped to guide Pakistan’s INDCs: “All the countries did it in a rush … this bottom up approach might be voluntary now but it will become binding.”
Pakistan’s INDCs document, which has been sent to the Prime Minister for approval, includes the new 100 MW solar park in Punjab and the KPK’s government’s ambitious tree plantation activities. The focal person for the Quaid-i-Azam Solar Park, Dr Rana laid to rest many controversies about the project, pointing out that it is Pakistan’s first big solar project and should be supported given the fact that the whole world is now moving towards solar energy, especially Europe.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, in his recent meeting with President Obama in the US, has expressed his commitment to press for an ambitious agreement on climate change in Paris. The United States and Pakistan “welcomed the fact that the United States has communicated its INDC and that Pakistan stated its plan to soon submit its INDC.” The two leaders underscored the importance of longer-range efforts to transition to low-carbon economies and of continued, robust financial support to help developing countries build low-carbon and climate-resilient societies.