Combating climate change: why it matters

Dawn's special coverage of the Sustainable Development Goals 2015-2030 continues.
Published October 2, 2016

Goal 13: Climate action

• Environmental degradation costs Pakistan 9pc of its GDP

• With 70pc of the population living in seven big cities in coming decades, investment is needed in low carbon development

By Ali Tauqeer Sheikh, Hina Lotia, Nadeem Ahmed

Ali Tauqeer Sheikh is the CEO of Lead Pakistan. He tweets @atsheikh. Hina Lotia is the director of programmes at Lead Pakistan. She tweets @hinalotia. Nadeem Ahmed heads the Knowledge Hub on SDGs. He tweets@nydeem

Pakistan’s ‘super floods’ in 2010 (that affected around 20 million people), prolonged drought in Tharparkar in Sindh, and the 2015 Karachi heat-wave constitute significant impacts of climate change, thereby, increasing public awareness about extreme weather events. Such changing weather patterns reinforce the need to integrate climate change measures into national policies, strategies and budgetary allocations. Therefore, with UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 13 specifically calling for ‘urgent actions to combat climate change and its impacts’, Pakistan has its work cut out. About 45 of the 169 targets related to this goal highlight the need to tackle climate change and avert impacts, particularly on food, water, energy and economic development. Governed through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) SGD 13 underscores the need to strengthen the link between development and climate to promote climate compatible development agendas. In other words, Goal 13 - including its 50 associated targets - is focused on the implementation of the Paris Agreement on Climate Action, signed by Pakistan alongside 200 other countries. Pakistan may have submitted its climate action plan, or Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC), to the UNFCCC Secretariat last November – missing the Oct. 1, 2015 deadline – but has yet to make firm commitments on climate mitigation action.

Furthermore, the challenges of climate change and its adverse impact undermine the ability to achieve Vision 2025 — Pakistan’s development blueprint. Adverse climate impacts are reflected through increased floods, prolonged droughts, changing temperatures and extreme weather events — heat-waves, glacial melting, changing monsoons and cropping cycles. The climate threat is heightened because successive governments have consistently failed to make adequate investments in climate compatible development during the period of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) from 2000 to 2015. It may be difficult to combat the effects of climate change with Pakistan’s energy consumption and emissions, which is expected to rise with its growing economy in the future.

Loss and damage caused by climate change adds to the price tag of economic development.—White Star
Loss and damage caused by climate change adds to the price tag of economic development.—White Star

Meanwhile, the loss and damage caused by climate change are constantly adding to the price tag of economic development. A 2015 World Bank study, Sustainability and Poverty Alleviation, estimates that environmental degradation is costing Pakistan 9pc of its GDP — the cost in Sindh is believed to be as high as 19pc. More recently, a study by the Climate Development Knowledge Network (CDKN) has shown that Pakistan will risk not making progress on meeting the targets set by the SDG, if global temperatures increase by two degrees, and perhaps achieve a per-capita income of no more than $6,526 compared to $8,160 envisioned in Vision 2025. National and provincial policy planning departments need to understand that, unless climate change is treated as central to the development agenda, vulnerabilities will continue to rise and erode resilience levels.

Interestingly, Pakistan was the first South Asian country with a dedicated Ministry of Climate Change (MOCC) in 2012 that successfully developed the National Climate Change Policy (NCCP), followed by the Framework for Implementation of Climate Change Policy (2014-2030). The latter, complete with 735 suggested actions, including what are termed as 242 priority actions and 380 short-term actions, 108 medium-term and five long-term actions. Despite this elaborate plan, we learnt through our work at the Climate Change Commission – set up by the Lahore High Court to ensure implementation of the NCCP – that most federal ministries or departments in Punjab, as perhaps in other provinces, were barely aware of the existence of a climate change policy, let alone had the capacity or intent to implement such plans. That most of the priority areas, to be addressed by December 2015 at the completion of the first three years of the policy were not implemented comes as no surprise. Even so, progress has been made in the last few months with the provincial governments in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab and Sindh working on policies and action plans to demonstrate that they are seriously taking on climate change.

—White Star
—White Star

For implementing the above framework, Pakistan needs a three-pronged approach to meet its targets:

Invest in resilience: Prioritise investments in local social and physical infrastructure to reduce climate vulnerabilities.

Invest in low carbon development: With projections showing that 70pc of the population will live in seven big cities in coming decades, investment in low carbon, (or carbon neutral) mass transit systems and energy-efficient building codes, including the housing sector, is imperative.

Invest in national and provincial capabilities: This will lead to accessing international climate finance to meet targets. Presently, the country is not able to attract international or private sector climate finance and is not accredited to the Adaptation Fund, nor has it secured accreditation to the much larger Green Climate Fund. It will need to draw and spend about $1 billion annually until 2020 from these sources to mitigate climate risks.

Meeting targets will need action in the provinces. However, to do so their capacity to access international finance and technical support needs strengthening. This is possible only if Pakistan is able to submit its Second National Communication reports and the Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) to the UNFCC Secretariat. The first will give a baseline on Pakistan’s emissions; while the second will present national plans to stabilise the country and reduce emissions from 2020 onwards. These key plans will set the foundation to meet targets and, demonstrate commitment and most importantly, deliver a sustainable future for our next generation.

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