Shahzada Irfan Ahmed
The News on Sunday
Published Date: Jul 5, 2015
Ready for the change?
Pakistan’s first National Climate Change Policy (NCCP) was approved by the federal cabinet in April 2012. It was around this time when the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) government created the Ministry of Climate Change by renaming the Ministry of National Disaster Management.
The policy focuses on subjects such as water resources, weather patterns, agriculture, livestock, forestry, human health, disaster preparedness, industry, transport and energy in the context of climate change. It also provides a framework for addressing issues that the country faces due to climate change.
In fact, the draft of the policy enlists vulnerabilities of various sectors to climate change and prescribes appropriate adaptation and mitigation measures to avoid harms due to this phenomenon.
For example, it predicts considerable increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, coupled with erratic monsoon rains causing frequent and intense floods and droughts, projected recession of the Hindu Kush-Karakoram-Himalayan (HKH) glaciers due to global warming and carbon soot deposits from trans-boundary pollution sources, increased siltation of major dams caused by more frequent and intense floods and rising temperatures, resulting in enhanced heat and water-stressed conditions.
The policy also talks about the chances of further decrease in the already scanty forest cover, increased intrusion of saline water in the Indus delta, threats to coastal areas due to projected sea level rise and increased cyclonic activity due to higher sea surface temperatures, increased stress between upper riparian and lower riparian regions in relation to sharing of water resources and increased health risks and climate change-induced migration.
A “Framework for Implementation of Climate Change Policy” has also been worked out which talks about implementation of proposed plans and sets targets for the concerned departments and governments to achieve. Under this framework, the proposed actions have been designed into four timeframes. First, there are Priority Actions (PA) to be carried out within 2 years, Short-term Actions (SA) within 5 years, Medium-term Actions (MA) within 10 years and Long term Actions (LA) to be taken over a period of 20 years.
Though the NCCP recommends around 120 policy measures, a few of these are mentioned here to give an idea. The policy requires of the concerned ministries to assess and address needs for additional water storage and distribution infrastructure, develop necessary infrastructure to harness the potential of hill torrents, develop new breeds of crops and livestock which are less vulnerable to climate change impacts, and assess the health vulnerabilities of communities in areas most likely to be affected by the adverse impact of climate change, etc.
It also urges enforcement of laws and regulations required for addressing the illegal trade in timber/deforestation, establishment of forest fire prediction and protection services in the country, community participation in early warning dissemination and disaster risk reduction activities, particularly in developing evacuation plans and preferential status to the development and promotion of hydropower generation.
Curbing rural-to-urban migration by developing infrastructure and supporting facilities in smaller agro-based towns and periphery urban areas, developing of capacity to monitor and estimate emissions locally for each industry, setting of annual afforestation and reforestation targets, capacity building and awareness raising of concerned staff of different departments and taking measures that enable the country to benefit from international funding opportunities are some other actions expected from the concerned entities.
The targets and plans are quite ambitious but the question is how much the state has achieved in terms of implementation of this policy? Besides, it is yet to be determined how effective the climate change ministry has been regarding adoption of its guidelines by various departments.
Sardar Asif Sial, a leading environmental lawyer and international consultant on climate change, is not impressed by the ministry’s performance. He says the ministry was established following the super floods of 2010 and the focus of the NCCP was more on disaster prevention than climate change and environment protection. “When the Pakistan PML-N government took over it converted it into a division and slashed its already meagre budget by 64 per cent,” he adds. Though the ministry, he says, “has been revived what can one expect from it within a couple of months, especially when it has been a low priority subject for the government?” Sial, who reviewed Pakistan Environment Protection Act 1997 as national consultant, says the progress on implementation cannot be worked out due lack of baseline data. “When there is no data it is not possible to find out the progress made in achieving set targets,” he says, adding, “One of the objectives of the policy is to integrate it with other inter-related national policies but this cannot be seen anywhere.”
Similarly, he laments the fact that Pakistan has not yet submitted its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) report, which it has to for participation in climate change conference in Paris in December this year. He says he requested the ministry to share its preliminary draft with him but they had nothing to share.
The sitting government, Sial says, “has earmarked Rs 39.75 million for Climate Change Ministry in the budget, an amount higher than last year but still less keeping in view the scope of ministry’s work.” He adds climate change cells are still non-existent in the provinces and necessary legislation suggested under the policy has not been initiated at all.
Engineer Arshad H. Abbasi, Advisor Water & Renewable Energy at Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), believes that progress on this count cannot be made without involving the people who are experts in the field of climate change adaptation and mitigation. He says the current team is not even aware that the glaciers in Pakistan are growing and those on Indian side depleting. “They simply adopt researches carried out at the international level and do not conduct research at the local level themselves.”
Secondly, he says, “there is no implementation mechanism under which the climate change ministry can make it binding on other ministries and governments to follow its guidelines. On the one hand, there is focus on renewable energy and, on the other, the government is launching coal power plants one after the other.” The policy calls for development of early disaster management and response systems but, he says, there was nothing in place to predict heatwave in Karachi and provide relief to the victims.
Against this backdrop, Pakistan’s first-ever Climate Public Expenditure and Institutional Review (CPEIR) report was launched this May that focuses on federal and provincial budgetary allocations for climate change.
Carried out with the support of United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and under the supervision of climate change ministry, it says the federal government is spending an average of six per cent of its total budgetary expenditure on tackling climate change. The spending on hydel power generation, renewable sources of energy, clean water projects, etc, have been calculated and accumulated under this strategy.
Mushahidullah Khan, Minister for Climate Change, tells TNS that they have accepted the challenge and will tackle environmental challenges on a war footing. Regarding Abbasi’s objection about non-involvement of experts, he says, he has recently established a think-tank comprising environmental and climate change experts who will work with the government and the public on a long-term basis. “The most urgent task is to make the concerned departments and governments design their policies according to the NCCP guidelines,” he says.
He says the provincial governments have been asked to establish climate change sections in their respective provincial planning and development departments and hopes they will soon be there and functioning. “Though not much was achieved regarding policy implementation, it is now a top priority and the ministry sees major breakthroughs in near future,” he says.