The Rio Conference in 1992 was a defining watershed focusing attention on global environmental problems, the risks of climate change and the need for collective action. Rio+20 seeks to revive a process often seen as faltering. Instead of climate change, the focus will be on “The Green Economy”. How to define it and how to reach it will dominate the conference. While the preparatory meeting are about to take place, the summit in Rio is from June 20-22, 2012.
In Pakistan, intensive and inclusive consultations have been held in public hearings conducted by the Ministry of Climate Change and its Advisory Group composed of government, UN and NGO experts. The SDPI under Ambassador Shafqat Kakakhel organised a well attended seminar on the green economy with valuable recommendations. The high-level Pakistan delegation led by the Prime Minister will carry national reports defining Pakistan’s vision of a green economy suited for our conditions to be presented in a well planned side event.
The consultations process, laudable though it has been, raises the question as to how to further broaden policy attention in this area which has traditionally remained in the hands of a small elite composed of a few experts in this field. While they must be credited with doing their best, awareness at the civic society level, within the government framework and the legislature has to be raised. Till that is done, the very process of implementation will remain less sustainable than required to face the grave challenges confronting Pakistan.
The implications of the green economy for the developing countries need to be constantly analysed. Pointing out the risks and opportunities is, indeed, very important. Not seizing these opportunities is itself a risk, as is not collectively forestalling risks such as new conditionalties on trade protocols and assistance flows. Identifying areas on which to focus is also essential. To give an example in Rio in 1992, transfer of technology was a key demand; however, subsequently technology flows were driven by commerce and investment. Is that a lesson for the developing countries on this issue now?
While the definition and parameters of the Green Economy concept continues to evolve, Pakistan in the negotiations has to continually advance its own interests through advocacy and forming or joining coalitions on key issues. Its diplomats have done well and need to build on that in the conference and beyond.
The regional dimension needs to be kept in mind. While relations with both India and Afghanistan are not encouraging for regional cooperation, efforts should be made through bilateral, civic society and academic channels and through multilateral and regional mechanisms such as SAARC and ECO to address issues of common concern. Watershed and pollution management are key issues. Learning from advances in alternative energy technologies and practices in our region and elsewhere is another opportunity.
On the central issue of the green economy, there is no doubt or question that Pakistan faces grave and well documented problems: occurrence of natural disasters from extreme events due to climate change; water stress including water logging and aquifer depletion; environmental degradation comprising soils and atmospheric pollution; sanitation problems leading to gastric diseases and infant mortality; and unsustainable population growth.
To begin with, we must agree on where to place implementing our national concept of a green economy within the list of overall challenges that Pakistan and its people face. Not so that we accord it less attention than it deserves, but to assess how far we can advance without addressing the other critical issues.
The other well known challenges we face are: governance and institutional reform; terrorism and extremism; lack of focus in and resources for inclusive education across the board; lack of economic growth due to inconsistent policies, inadequate export promotion and energy shortages; galloping population growth; high debt repayment and defence expenditure, which requires higher economic growth and/or reduction of tension with our neighbours, not dependent merely on Pakistan.
Faced with these challenges given the best of intentions and policies on the sustainable and green economy progress will be modest. This is not a counsel of despair, but a pragmatic call to place the green economy in the pantheon of problems Pakistan faces, so that we accept the need to address them all simultaneously, to recognise the limitations we face in this crucial field.
As other countries, we face tradeoffs. Our need for energy drives us to exploit coal from indigenous or imported resources if we can attract the investment, and to change all power units to more efficient combined cycle systems. In fact, improved energy efficiency is needed across-the-board.
Our failure so far to pipe in natural gas from Central Asia, Iran and the Gulf, needs to overcome as such projects would be essential for our economic progress, plus environmentally much sounder than the alternatives of coal and furnace oil for power production.
The key question here is not the policy framework which this process represents, but the implementation issue. Have government policies and institutions set up for specific purpose been able to deliver? Let us make a score sheet and compare ourselves with other developing countries. Take alternative energy development, agricultural research, sanitation, work for livelihood supplementation including lining of canals, and other sectors. How do we fare? Such analysis will help us identify policy and implementation problems and issues, and how to overcome them or at least to do better.
The essential task should be to move from the academic and policy framework to the practical task of making things happen, thus making a difference.
The 18th Amendment formalised the reality that the provinces operationally dealt with all the major sectors of health, law and order, education and agriculture, and where all developmental projects took place. The capacity imbalance always present in the provinces has been aggravated, despite a larger share of the national budget now at their disposal, because the centralised intermediary function of the federal government in dealing with bilateral and multilateral aid flows is no longer there as donors have found to their cost and are scrambling to come to terms with. Improving provincial capacity remains a key issue, including in the field of the green economy and what it stands for.
Are negotiating skills, policy formulation and an improved institutional framework the keys to the kingdom? While they are all extremely important, other pressing issues need to be addressed in parallel. Raising awareness to change attitudes, habits and practices so that they become an intrinsic part of civic responsibility for each citizen and school child is required. Without that we will not move ahead. Making that happen should be our collective objective.
The writer represented Pakistan as the G77 Chairman for the Climate Change Convention and Rio Declaration in the 1992 Rio process.
This article was originally published at: The Nation
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.