Climate Change requires thorough international efforts as seen through the formulation of Glasgow Climate Pact brought forth at the United Nations Climate Change Conference, although Pakistan has achieved tremendously at the national level through tree plantation drives and preservation acts under the current government.
The United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) is over. World leaders, delegations from various governments, United Nations, business leaders, civil society and media descended on Glasgow in November, many coming straight on from the G20 Summit in Rome, to discuss the catastrophic risks posed by climate change. Hopes and expectations were both high and unrealistic.
Pakistan, re-elected as the Vice-President of COP26 and as a member of six important committees, was an active participant at COP26 and a positive contributor to the debate. The delegation was led by the Prime Minister’s Special Advisor on Climate Change, Malik Amin Aslam, joined by Minister of State for Climate Change, Zartaj Gul Wazir, along with other leading climate experts, participated in numerous meetings and side events to highlight Pakistan as a high priority for climate support.
So, what did COP26 set out to achieve? Countries were asked for their plans to cut emissions by 2030.The stated goals were: to secure global net zero by mid-century and keep the goal of 1.5 degrees in global warming within reach; adapt to protect communities and natural habitats; mobilise climate finance; and work together to deliver.
Notably, the targets agreed at COP21 in Paris in 2015 for countries to reach by 2020, including emissions reductions, have not been met. Much has also been made of the failure of rich countries to put up the $100 billion a year they promised in 2009 to support developing countries address climate change. While it is difficult to define exactly what has been financially committed and utilized since 2009, recent reports indicate that the target will not be reached until at least 2023. It is unlikely to be enough. The withdrawal from the Paris Agreement by the U.S. after Donald Trump won the U.S. Presidency was a setback as was the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic, soaking up trillions of dollars from the global economy. Can we expect any difference following the COP26 to meet the commitments made? Time will tell.
Climate change is such a diverse topic that it is considerably easy amongst all the complex reports, agreements, jargon and acronyms, to lose sight of what are the dangers to every country on the planet. According to the United Nations, the increasing threat of global warming presents a catastrophe for human beings and all other forms of life on earth: hotter temperatures; more severe storms; increased drought; warming, rising oceans; loss of species; not enough food; more health risks; as well as poverty and displacement. It will take decades to reverse the damage and loss and require innovative and substantial financing and commitment.
After two weeks of speeches, lobbying and intense negotiations, the Glasgow Climate Pact was signed after undergoing several re-drafts and some last-minute interventions by coal producing countries. While some experts hail the Glasgow Climate Pact as a step in the right direction, opinion is divided and many most affected developing countries, including Pakistan, hold concerns whether it will achieve the steps needed to hold back and reverse the impacts.
The ‘hot’ climate change topic focuses on the catastrophic impact caused by fossil fuels – one of the key drivers of global warming. Astoundingly, until COP26, coal and fossil fuel subsidies (almost $6 trillion globally) have never been explicitly mentioned in the 26 years of treaties and decisions at UN climate talks. Coal-producing nations and the global fossil fuel lobby are powerful and have a vested interest in delaying action. Although many fossil fuel companies are now starting to also invest in clean energy alternatives, significant resistance to moving to net zero in the coming decades remains. In a recent positive step, many banks and global investment funds have committed to shifting their funds away from supporting fossil fuel projects and instead investing in clean energy and technologies. Community activism with large climate protests in many countries; media and social media campaigns and shareholder activism, have all played a role in drawing investor attention to the need to do this.
In a surprise announcement on the second last day of COP26 negotiations, China and the U.S. – the world's two biggest CO2 emitters – announced they have agreed to boost climate cooperation over the next decade. The two countries pledged to ‘recall their firm commitment to work together’ to achieve the 1.5C temperature goal set out in the 2015 Paris Agreement and called for stepped-up efforts to close the significant gap remaining in achieving the target. Given the intense rivalry between these two global powers on many issues, this was a significant moment of cooperation.
In the closing days of COP26, UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres said, “This is the most important battle of my life, and I will not give up.” He said, “we can and must win the fight against the climate crisis.” Secretary-General Guterres continued saying, “We must end fossil fuel subsidies. Phase out coal. Put a price on carbon. Protect vulnerable communities. And make good on the $100 billion climate finance commitment to support developing countries.”
Pakistan, re-elected as the Vice-President of COP 26 and as a member of six important committees, was an active participant at COP 26 and a positive contributor to the debate.
But moments before the outcome was adopted, India intervened to propose a significantly diluted version of the language on coal, changing to ‘phasing down’ of coal instead of ‘phasing out.’ Despite several countries expressing their anger at the last-ditch move by India, the weaker text was officially adopted. A visibly emotional and frustrated COP26 President, Alok Sharma, said he was ‘deeply sorry’ for the way the final minutes unfolded. The outcome is reflected in paragraph 36 of the Glasgow Climate Pact which ‘Calls upon Parties to accelerate the development, deployment and dissemination of technologies, and the adoption of policies, to transition towards low-emission energy systems, including by rapidly scaling up the deployment of clean power generation and energy efficiency measures, including accelerating efforts towards the phase-down of unabated coal power and inefficient fossil fuel subsidies recognizing the need for a support towards a just transition.’ (‘Unabated coal power’ refers to the use of coal that isn't mitigated with technologies to reduce the CO2 emissions. A ‘just transition’ refers to the need to transition millions of workers whose jobs would disappear in the shift from fossil fuel industries to new careers.)
This is hardly more than a polite request but at least it made it into the agreement at all. It is not binding and means at least another 40 or 50 years – maybe longer – of fossil fuels polluting the environment by which time, the world will be a very unhealthy place.
Speaking in response to the optimistic comments by U.S. Climate Envoy, John Kerry, about the slow process of reaching an agreement in Glasgow and his support for activists pushing leaders to do more, Pakistan’s Special Advisor, Malik Amin Aslam, was quoted in The Washington Post praising Kerry’s passion but saying, “The average age of decision-makers is 60. We’re talking about 2060, 2070 targets and none of these guys are going to be around. The people affected are the ones out on the streets. They’re the ones whose lives are at stake.” The New York Times also reported his comments in their updates on the negotiations. He is absolutely right. Those making – or not making – the decisions today will not be around to deal with the mess they have left behind.
It is well known that Pakistan is one of the ten top countries affected by climate change. We only need to look around us to see how the environment is being heavily polluted and degraded. Recognising the need for action, Pakistan has been participating in climate conferences and negotiations for over a decade. In preparation for COP26, Pakistan’s comprehensive submission of its Updated Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) under the Paris Agreement was prepared.1
Pakistan’s NDCs set an ambitious target of 50% overall reduction of projected greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. While some might challenge the ability to achieve these targets, it shows the seriousness with which climate change is being addressed and the realisation, based on experience and predictions, of what awaits should action not be taken.
To reach the target, Pakistan aims to shift to 60% renewable energy and 30% electric vehicles by 2030 with a complete ban on imported coal. The country seeks to expand nature-based solutions through the implementation of The Billion Tree Tsunami Programme, Recharge Pakistan, and the Protective Areas Initiative.
According to the NDC submission, Pakistan’s climate goals are focused on the current climate-induced vulnerabilities and aimed at reducing poverty and ensuring the stability of the economy. Pakistan intends to set a cumulative ambitious conditional target of overall 50% reduction of its projected emissions by 2030, with 15% from the country’s own resources and 35% subjected to the provisions of international grant finance that would require $101 billion just for energy transition. However, as has become clear, climate financing pledges by richer countries to support developing nations have not been forthcoming so it begs the question, ‘where can Pakistan find that funding?’ It will require sustained advocacy and determination to engage with global funders to ensure Pakistan is at a high priority for consideration.
To reach the target, Pakistan aims to shift to 60% renewable energy and 30% electric vehicles by 2030 with a complete ban on imported coal. The country seeks to expand nature-based solutions (NbS) through the implementation of The Billion Tree Tsunami Programme (TBTTP), Recharge Pakistan, and the Protective Areas Initiative (PAI).
“I call on all nations to follow the example of Imran Khan who has pledged to plant 10 billion trees in Pakistan alone. And we in the developed world must recognise our obligation to help.”
–British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the UN General Assembly, NY, September 2021
Pakistan has made an excellent start on this. The deforestation has devastated the environment and biodiversity over many years through illegal logging for construction, communities cutting down trees for fuel, and the increasingly severe weather events have denuded the mountains, farming lands and grasslands across the country. This deprives the wildlife of their natural habitat and food, degrades the soil, destabilises the mountains and fertile areas and has a devastating impact on the livelihoods and economy. Exacerbated by the high risk of natural disasters – drought, earthquakes, landslide and others – climate change has already wrought havoc across the country.
The Billion Trees Tsunami Project championed by Prime Minister Imran Khan, was originally piloted in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa with a target of one billion trees. Today, the ‘tree tsunami’ has gone national with a target by 2023 of ten billion and captured the public imagination with tree planting initiatives becoming a regular community and school activity, supplementing the government programme.
Other countries are highlighting Pakistan’s example on tree planting by addressing their own deforestation issues and to reach their targets for reducing carbon emissions. In a surprising mention in his speech at the United Nations General Assembly in New York in September 2021, British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, highlighted Imran Khan’s pledge to plant 10 billion trees as what countries should be doing in restoring the natural balance and reversing the loss of trees and biodiversity, saying, “I call on all nations to follow the example of Imran Khan who has pledged to plant 10 billion trees in Pakistan alone. And we in the developed world must recognise our obligation to help.” This is a powerful statement of support.
Tree planting programmes require substantial consideration to ensure the appropriateness of species for the area, water issues, as well as encouraging a community culture of protection and care. Along with the planting of new trees, encouraging the regeneration of existing forests, helping the saplings that have grown from fallen seeds to thrive is also critical as native trees will take hold faster and encourage flora and fauna to return. It is a delicate balancing act and has been well considered in Pakistan’s reforestation initiatives.
Another important and complementary initiative announced by the Prime Minister in 2020 is the Protected Areas Initiative (PAI) to facilitate the promotion and development of key wildlife habitats across major national parks of Pakistan for conservation and ecotourism purposes. The PAI is planning better management of 23 protected areas across the country through developing the National Park Service and ecologically compliant infrastructure.
These are just a few of the many initiatives currently being planned by the Ministry of Climate Change in coordination with other Ministries and Line Departments in the provinces; often in partnership with the United Nations Agencies and international donors. But it requires sustained commitment and funding.
For countries like Pakistan seeking access to global climate funding, the process is far from easy and highly competitive. One source of potential funding is the Green Climate Fund (GCF). The GCF was established by 194 governments to ‘respond to climate change by investing in low-emission and climate-resilient development to limit or reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in developing countries, and to help vulnerable societies adapt to the unavoidable impacts of climate change.’ Pakistan has already been successful in receiving funding from the GCF for several projects along with funds from the Asian Development Bank and others. The major projects currently under implementation can be classified as either adaptation or mitigation.
Adaptation: Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOF)
The melting of the Hindu Kush, Karakoram and Himalayan glaciers in Northern Pakistan due to rising temperatures have created 3,044 glacial lakes in the provinces of Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). It is estimated that 33 of these glacial lakes are hazardous and likely to result in glacial lake outburst floods. Such flooding releases millions of cubic metres of water and debris in just a few hours, resulting in loss of lives, destruction of property and infrastructure, and severe damage to livelihoods in some of the most remote areas of Pakistan. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), partnering with the Ministry of Climate Change, has received $37.5 million for a 15-year project to address GLOFs and improve the lives of 29.2 million beneficiaries.
Mitigation: Recharge Pakistan – Building Pakistan’s Resilience to Climate Change through Ecosystem-Based Adaptation for Integrated Flood Risk Management
The Indus River is Pakistan’s lifeline and is now experiencing catastrophic floods and droughts exacerbated by climate change. Pakistan relies on costly hard-infrastructure flood and water management measures with limited efficacy. This project will build Pakistan’s climate resilience and water security through cost-effective ecosystem-based adaptation. Recharge Pakistan will increase water storage and recharge through wetlands, floodplains, and hill-torrents management; promote climate-adapted community-based natural resource management and livelihoods; and ultimately forge a paradigm shift to scale up this approach. This project unifies several government entities in an unprecedented collaboration with World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Pakistan to effect nature-based solutions for crucial climate change adaptation in Pakistan. The $47.7 million project has a lifespan of 20 years and will improve the lives of millions of people.
Mitigation: Asian Development Bank (ADB) – Building Zero-emissions Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) System that is Safe and Accessible to All
The project aims to establish a 30 kilometre, fully segregated bus rapid transit (BRT) system operated with the ‘world’s first’ biomethane hybrid bus fleet in Karachi. The project includes innovative features such as a dedicated biogas plant covering 100% of the fuel demand and the last mile connectivity via bikes and e-pedicabs and includes flood proofing of the road.
The $585 million project has an estimated lifespan of 20 years and is aimed at reducing air and noise pollution in the densely populated and polluted city, reduce crowding on transport and make it safe for the commuters.
These are far from the only initiatives being pursued by the government under the Ministry of Climate Change and other partners, but each brings with it a clear indication that action is already underway in Pakistan. But so much depends on the global response.
Despite covering 97 paragraphs under nine different headings – science and urgency; adaptation; adaptation finance; mitigation; finance, technology transfer and capacity-building for mitigation and adaptation; loss and damage; implementation; and collaboration – the Glasgow Climate Pact is not a binding agreement. Instead, it is populated with ambiguous words such as, ‘urges’, ‘requests’, ‘invites’, ‘emphasizes’, and ‘encourages’. In other words, the Pact is just that: a document of hope that countries will abide by what they have signed up to.
Leaving a better and liveable world for future generations means the time for procrastination and prevarication is over. The Glasgow Climate Pact recognizes ‘the important role of indigenous peoples, local communities and civil society, including youth and children, in addressing and responding to climate change, and highlighting the urgent need for multilevel and cooperative action.’ It also acknowledges the need to ‘increase the full, meaningful and equal participation of women in climate action’. Let us make sure everyone is included. But no nation or community can do it alone. Climate change is a global issue: what happens in other parts of the world can have a substantial impact on Pakistan. Global warming is universal.
Climate Change needs to stay at the forefront of national and global agendas. We don’t need to wait for huge expensive international climate conferences to get moving. It is up to all to make sure that does not happen by remaining engaged in the debate and contributing to change and encouraging everyone to get involved. The planet is counting on us all.
The writer is an Australian Disaster Management and Post-Conflict Reconstruction & Rehabilitation Advisor who lives in Islamabad. She consults for the government and UN agencies and has previously worked at both ERRA and NDMA.
E-mail: [email protected]
1. It is well worth reading in full on http://www.mocc.gov.pk/SiteImage/Misc/files/PakistanUpdatedNDC2021-compressed.pdf
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