Investing in climate resilience

30 Apr 2016


The writer is CEO, LEAD Pakistan, a think tank focusing on climate and water issues.
The writer is CEO, LEAD Pakistan, a think tank focusing on climate and water issues.

THE Paris Agreement is a historic milestone. Last week, Pakistan joined the world community as one of 171 countries to sign the agreement. Having signed the first major multilateral agreement of the 21st century, we now need to prioritise its implementation — and grasp opportunities that are staring us in the face.

These opportunities can accelerate economic growth by helping us to become inclusive and pro-poor in our budgetary allocations. Investments at the local level in climate resilience, adaptation and mitigation will open new fronts for long-term sustainable growth. Our transition towards a low-emissions economy can send positive signals to entrepreneurs, businesses and both domestic and international investors. Focusing on green sectors will help create jobs and generate better trading opportunities with our major trading partners.

Effective implementation mandates that the natio­nal and provincial governments recognise four key points:

Climate change is an economic growth issue, which cannot be left to global climate modellers alone. The cost of economic development is accelerating due to damages and disasters triggered by climate change. This government’s Vision 2025 aspires for Pakistan to become a middle-income country by increasing per capita income to $8,160. But a recent Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development study suggests that if global temperatures rise higher than two degrees Celsius it will be difficult for the country to cross the $6,526 threshold. Pakistan cannot cope with this per capita differential loss of $1,634 on its own, and therefore needs to look at climate change through an economic lens. The ministries and departments of finance, economic affairs, and planning and development need to take the lead, and work closely with the international community to access financing for climate compatible development.

It is time to move from basic disaster management to investing systematically in risk reduction.

Climate change is a provincial issue, which has been left to the federal government for far too long. Global negotiations or reporting are no substitute for a domestic agenda on climate change. The provinces need to develop their own climate change policies and action plans, launch their own climate change centres, and design their own green growth funds in collaboration with the private sector. Punjab, Sindh and KP are already developing climate policies. Others need to follow; the provincial peculiarities are too important to be overlooked.

Sea-level rise and frequent threats of cyclones and tsunamis require that Sindh have preparedness and evacuation plans for its urban and rural coastal populations, particularly for cities like Karachi. The province also needs heatwave-management plans given that ‘urban heat islands’ are expected to increase the frequency of heatwaves. The World Bank estimates the environmental cost to Sindh could go as high as Rs372 billion — more than 15pc of the provincial GDP — a severe blow to its economy.

Each province has its own complex climate challenges — ranging from glacier melt to recurring droughts, from frequent flooding to depleted groundwater. Add changing monsoon patterns to this daunting list, and patterns of trans-boundary flooding emerge. Only provincial policies can effectively bring these challenges to the forefront. Provincial budgets will need to include (sooner rather than later) line items and allocations for climate-related spending at the district and sub-district levels.

Climate is an energy access issue. While Pakistan’s share of global emissions is minuscule, as the sixth largest population in the world we have major responsibilities. We struggle to meet present energy demands, let alone provide reliable and clean energy to our fast-growing population and economy.

Luckily, credible alternative sources of energy have become viable. Homes, commercial units and industrial enterprises are switching to off-grid solutions. Many countries have already introduced reverse metering; energy generated by private renewable sources is sold to national grids, which reduces the burden of generating energy from a few central locations.

For Pakistan, this is a good way to attract private investments, provided an incentives regime is introduced in the next fiscal budget. Many private-sector companies, cities, even countries, are announcing plans to become carbon neutral. The shift is visible and irreversible. Pakistan’s friends and foes, regional and otherwise, are all racing to avail new economic and investment opportunities.

The provision of equitable access to energy in Pakistan poses a far greater challenge than seeking investments for energy generation and transmission lines. It should plan a progressive transition, instead of dirtying its hands with coal; the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor should not allow private Chinese companies to dump their dirty technologies here. With China’s remarkable leadership in global renewable markets, we have the potential to develop a clean CPEC — linking the entire region in clean energy trade.

Climate change is a disaster risk reduction issue, which Pakistan is ill prepared to cope with. Both fragile and disaster-prone, we are often told that Pakistan is one of the 10 most vulnerable countries in the world. Hardly an enviable position, it is as embarrassing as pointing out Pakistan’s position in the global Human Development Index. It is obvious that Pakistan has not made sufficient investments to reduce its population’s vulnerability to climate-induced disasters.

It is time to rectify this, and move from basic disaster management to investing systematically in risk reduction. This requires that the roles and responsibilities of existing institutions at all tiers of governance be revisited. There is a case to be made for an annual allocation of 5pc of (national and provincial) budgets for risk reduction — countries that invest a percentage of their budgets on risk reduction are better equipped to tackle climate challenges.

This can help initiate a process of undertaking climate-resilience audits of our infrastructure. Climate change is a very long-term threat. Luckily, about 70pc of the infrastructure in this country has yet to be constructed; offering a ripe opportunity to move down a climate resilient path. There is no better use of 5pc of our budgets than to invest directly in neighbourhoods and communities to reduce climate vulnerability.

Signing the Paris Agreement acknowledges Pakis­tan’s sense of climate responsibility. Availing ourselves of this occasion, we should submit our Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, which we promised to the world in November last year.

The writer is CEO, LEAD Pakistan, a think tank focusing on climate and water issues.

Published in Dawn, April 30th, 2016