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Climate change: Pakistan's anti-climactic response

Updated July 01, 2013
Dr Pervaiz Amir, an environmental expert and member of the Prime Minister’s Task Force on Climate Change, says Pakistan falls in the most vulnerable categories of the climate change but “we are doing nothing to cope with the challenge.” — File/Reuters photo.
Dr Pervaiz Amir, an environmental expert and member of the Prime Minister’s Task Force on Climate Change, says Pakistan falls in the most vulnerable categories of the climate change but “we are doing nothing to cope with the challenge.” — File/Reuters photo.

At a time when developing and developed countries across the globe are investing heavily in adaptation to and countering climate change, Pakistan has not only dissolved it’s climate change ministry but also slashed its development budget by more than 60 percent.

The government allocated a total of Rs58.8 million to combat climate change in the Public Sector Development Program for 2013-14 as compared to Rs168.1 million allocated to the climate change ministry in 2012-13. The ministry has now been transformed into a division.

Environmentalists and officials say the move may have serious repercussions on different fields in the country including agriculture, water and forestation besides losing representation at international forums. International donors and organisations working on climate change are also unlikely to support Pakistan in dealing with the relatively recent, but highly dangerous threat.

Dr Qamaruz Zaman Chaudhry, a lead author of the National Climate Change Policy and an expert on climate change, says Pakistan may face isolation in the international community if it doesn't take effective measures to cope with changing weather patterns.

“We need to link all our development activities like dams, roads, canals and bridges with climate change; otherwise all the development may go waste,” he observes.

At the moment, Pakistan receives around $3 million for a climate adaptation fund and $3.5 million in Glacier Lake Outburst Funding through international aid. “This aid is peanuts,” Dr Chaudhry says.

To cope with climate change, developed countries have established a ‘Green Climate Fund,’ for which the plan is to raise a hundred billion dollars per annum by 2020. Unfortunately, Pakistan has no share in this, mainly because of its inefficiency in dealing with the environmetal challenge.

“We need to develop sellable projects and enhance our capacity to get our share from the global fund; otherwise we may face regional and global complications,” Dr Chaudhry maintains.

According to the 2006 Pakistan Strategic Country Environmental Assessment Report, the annual cost of environmental degradation in Pakistan has been estimated at Rs365 billion ($4.2 billion). Inadequate water supply, sanitation and hygiene account for Rs112 billion ($1.3 billion), agriculture soil degradation for Rs70 billion ($807 million) and range land degradation and deforestation Rs6 billion ($69 million).

Environmental experts believe the annual cost of environmental degradation has now reached around Rs450 billion ($5.2 billion) in financial losses.

The data available to Dawn.com reveals the annual rate of deforestation ranges from 4-6 percent while carbon dioxide emissions are increasing annually at the rate of 8-10 percent. Moreover, an estimated 250 million gallons of untreated water out of Karachi is dumped into the Arabian Sea every day, causing great harm to both humans and the ecosystem.

Recent data indicates that over one million acres of fertile, arable land in the Indus delta has become saline and unusable, largely due to the retention of freshwater flows by large dams across the Indus River.

Dr Pervaiz Amir, an environmental expert and member of the Prime Minister’s Task Force on Climate Change, says Pakistan falls in the most vulnerable categories of climate change but “we are doing nothing to cope with the challenge.”

He says that India and Bangladesh have been spending a lot on addressing evolving weather patterns, and are also receiving millions of dollars from developed countries in climate change aid. India is spending over 2.6 percent of its GDP to cope with such challenges. It is also one of the biggest recipients of climate change aid.

Pakistan’s allocation for climate change, meanwhile, is stuck at just 0.02 percent of the total Rs295.5 billion of development funds.

Dr Amir laments that Pakistan is also losing its representation at international forums for addressing this issue, mainly because of official apathy: “Representatives from India and Bangladesh effectively fought their case in the Bonn conference to seek international funding but there was no official representative from Pakistan to present a case. It is unfortunate.”

He says the international community takes Pakistan as a ‘non serious country’ and this may lead to the country’s isolation at an international level. “The government should revive the climate change ministry and develop different viable projects to seek international funding for them.”

Dr Amir fears that Pakistan may also lose foreign investment in different sectors if it doesn't express its willingness to deal with the challenges of climate change. Transnational and multinational companies will prefer to invest in India, Bangladesh and other developing countries, since the latter are investing heavily in their environment.

Pakistan launched its first National Climate Change Policy in February this year to cope with the threats of climate change through adaptation and mitigation measures but has not achieved even a single target so far. After the 18th Amendment, the environment ministry has been devolved to the provinces. Now there is no cooperation between the centre and the provinces to deal with the menace.

“The provinces are only dealing with environment-related issues while climate change is a vast subject and needs the attention of the federal government. The responsibility of drawing international funding and investment in different sectors mainly lies with the federal government,” Dr Amir clarifies.

According to the National Economy and Environment Development Study 2011, Pakistan needs around $6 billion to $14 billion for climate change adaptation measures while mitigation efforts will cost around $7 billion to $18 billion dollars from now to 2050. For this, the country needs to develop climate change related projects to get its monetary share from the Green Climate Fund, since it cannot cope with these challenges from its own resources.

Muhammad Khalid Siddiq, a joint secretary at the climate change division, told Dawn.com that the Planning Commission initially approved their new projects for the next fiscal year but later dropped them without explanation. The agreed-upon projects with the commission were related to water sanitation, solid waste management and curbing rapid deforestation in the country.

“We will take up the issue of new projects with the government and seek funding for them,” he says, adding the dissolution of the ministry has also not sent a good signal to the international community.

“Numerous international donors and organisations working on climate change have conveyed their annoyance over the decision and we hope the government will revive the ministry for effective adaptation and mitigation measures on climate change.”

Siddiq says the economic meltdown may have forced the government to dissolve the ministry and slash funding but, “they should have exempted the climate change ministry because of its importance on the global level.”

The writer is a freelance contributor. His Twitter handle is AamirSaeed_.