After COP21: Does Pakistan have a Climate Change Plan?

A landmark agreement at the U.N. Conference on Climate Change in Paris this December saw representatives of 195 nations pledge to cut greenhouse gas emissions to a level that will limit the global average temperature to a rise ‘well below’ 2 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels. But as the euphoria of delegates at the U.N. climate talks fades, and individual governments turn towards the palpably more difficult task of implementing agreed-upon proposals, Jinnah Institute turned to three climate change policy experts from Pakistan to speak about Pakistan’s role at COP21, ask whether or not the present government has a credible plan to combat the effects of climate change, and what policy steps – if any – need be taken at the federal and provincial levels in the coming weeks and months.


Adil Najam, Dean Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University, took the view that the global climate negotiation enterprise is likely to become more hectic after Paris. With wind behind its sails, a notional ‘agreement’ in hand, the need to put meaning into the general clauses agreed upon at Paris, and the momentum of what so many wish to see as a ‘breakthrough,’ interlocutors are likely to see an uptick in the intensity of negotiations in the coming years; including on the key issue of resourcing and implementing the Paris accord. Despite Pakistan’s lackluster performance at COP21, there is opportunity – indeed, responsibility – for Pakistan to play an important role in this process. With India and China no longer willing or able to lead the developing world, there is a leadership vacuum among ‘middling’ developing countries. As a frontline state in terms of climate impacts and given its historical record, Pakistan should, and can, fill this vacuum. For Pakistan to be able to influence and possibly lead in future climate change policy negotiations: (a) political capacity, buy-in and interest need to be (re-)created, particularly amongst parliamentarians and in the federal and provincial cabinets; (b) institutional confusion and turf tensions – particularly between the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Climate Change, and the Planning Commission need to be resolved; (c) professionally competent and stable negotiation expertise needs to be developed and deployed; (d) policy and negotiation capacity has to be nurtured and housed within government while deeply involving and consulting Pakistan civil society and experts; it should benefit from, but certainly cannot and should not be outsourced to international consultants or experts.


Malik Amin Aslam Khan, former minister of state for environment and the Global Vice-President of the IUCN, asserted that while Pakistan was not short on plans, strategies and policies, the implementation of these grand plans remained to be seen. While Pakistan has a national climate change policy, a dedicated Ministry, a notified inter-ministerial task force chaired by the Prime Minister and a framework for action, actual implementation has been weak on all these fronts. On the subject of Pakistan’s performance at the U.N. Conference on Climate Change, Mr. Khan noted that Pakistan has historically played a lead role in climate negotiations – from the G77+China, as well as individual country platforms. This time at COP21, for unknown and incomprehensible reasons, Pakistan chose to undermine its role and remained apologetically marginalised from global negotiations. This backslide began with the scrapping of a well-researched Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) brief for a pathetic one-pager that was criticised as the shortest climate plan submitted by any country, and was followed by an even shorter, insipid speech delivered at the Global Leaders Forum. Pertinently, Pakistan has a strong case when it comes to climate change, being a highly impacted country facing up to the global challenge with its own resources while taking steps to meaningfully contribute to its redressal. However, a golden opportunity was lost to register these concerns and make a strong national case at COP21. Looking to the future, Pakistan now needs to focus on ensuring climate resilient infrastructure development, climate-proofing existing infrastructure, effective flood plain management, early warning systems, and urgent research on adaptive agriculture and disaster risk reduction systems for both exposed urban and rural populations (i.e. climate adaptation measures). On the mitigation side, Pakistan needs to shift towards low carbon pathways through the deployment of best available technologies, tapping into its renewables potential in solar, wind and hydro-, as well as arresting and enhancing its depleting forest resources. Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa is one province leading these efforts through its ‘Green Growth Initiative’, which encompasses most of the above steps through actual on-ground projects, particularly with regard to forestry (the Billion Tree Tsunami initiative) and clean energy (365 mini hydro- and other hydel projects). KP also happens to be the only province aiming for ‘carbon-neutral’ economic growth in Pakistan.


Rina Saeed Khan, a freelance environmental journalist based in Islamabad who covered COP21 in Paris, explained that Pakistan’s federal cabinet had approved a comprehensive National Climate Change Policy under the last PPP government, and it was launched in 2013 just prior to the general elections. However, this was shelved by the PML-N government which came to power. While the new government did appoint a federal Minister for Climate Change, he was forced to resign following controversial comments given to the media. The present government has since appointed Zahid Khan, a lawyer who drafted the Pakistan Environment Protection Act in 1997, as federal Minister for Climate Change. At the U.N. Conference on Climate Change in Paris, Zahid Khan announced the implementation of a National Climate Change Policy (2014-2030) to mainstream climate change. However, Pakistan has been severely criticised for its 350 word-long Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) brief submitted to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change shortly before the Paris summit. In contrast, other developing countries provided detailed INDCs giving targets and showcasing their contributions. In this lackluster document, which was not the original document prepared by the Ministry for Climate Change, the federal government offered no specific targets for emissions reductions, and failed to highlight Pakistan’s extreme vulnerability to the impacts of climate change (floods, droughts, sea-intrusion and glacial melt). During the negotiations, Pakistan held a side-event alongside Sri Lanka, organised by Pakistani civil society. The Pakistan government’s tiny booth at the Paris summit was also secured by NGOs, while poorer countries like Benin and Peru had bustling pavilions. The federal Minister for Climate Change was new to the job, and although he made an effort to try and understand and follow the complex negotiations, his delegation itself did not contribute meaningfully as it had done in the past when the Foreign Office played a leading role in the G-77 group of developing countries. The only positive news out of Pakistan at the conference was the Khyber-Pakthunkhwa government’s pledge to restore 384,000 hectares of degraded land via reforestation under its ‘Billion Tree Tsunami’ initiative at a side event held by the Bonn Challenge, a global initiative that plans to restore 150 million hectares of degraded land around the world by 2020. Going forward, Pakistan needs to submit a new and revised INDCs document soon as it is foreclosing itself to future climate funding and indeed even World Bank and Asian Development Bank assistance. The present government also has to realise that the Paris agreement is a signal to businesses and governments that the transition to a low carbon economy has begun, and Pakistan needs to become an active part of this future economy. Investing in dirty coal power plants at this late stage is not a wise decision, especially when renewable energy is becoming increasing affordable and future funding and some transfer of technology will soon become available in this sector. Pakistan also needs to start implementing its National Climate Change Policy as soon as possible, and start taking its Ministry for Climate Change more seriously as a coordinating agency that can help the provinces implement and mainstream policy into existing development initiatives.