Special Report: Why climate change is a real threat for Pakistan

What are global climate challenges and how will Pakistan respond to them?
Published November 14, 2017


BONN: A week into the UN climate change conference – also known as the COP23 — in Bonn, Germany, gruelling discussions on raising climate finance started on Tuesday.

Developing countries, Pakistan included, have shown interest in discussions on adaptation measures, capacity-building, and climate finance.

While the global objective is to curb emissions and protect people against climate change, the cost of funding climate action initiatives, such as greener infrastructure and turning to more renewable energy usage, are increasing. In a series of discussions on climate finance, key takeaways included the need to get finance to flow so that the potential to invest in areas such as clean energy and climate-friendly agriculture is realised. Eric Usher, the head of the finance initiative of the United Nations Environment Programme, said: “At the heart of the climate challenge are two gaps we urgently need to bridge — the ambition and the investment gap.”

On Monday, the Green Climate Fund announced that it had committed $2.2billion in expenditures whereas it has $40bn worth of projects marked for execution.

Countries susceptible to rising sea levels, droughts and flooding are particularly anxious about climate finance drying up as the US withdraws its financial contributions.

The majority of submitted national climate plans with an adaptation component prioritise water requiring finance to the tune of $295bn annually to meet targets.

A lack of funding for the water sector would mean compromising on other development goals (energy, food security, education) for countries such as Pakistan.

Meanwhile, US billionaire media mogul, Michael Bloomberg, has pledged $50 million towards the global effort to scrap coal power even though the Trump administration has officially spurned climate action and favours promoting fossil fuels.

On Sunday (Nov 12), global leaders signed the Bonn-Fiji Commitment for further and faster climate action at the local government level.

This is a significant commitment to sustainable development when more than half the world’s population lives in cities — expected to reach to two-thirds by 2050.

Bridging the emissions gap

The target of reducing global warming to below 2°C set by the Paris Agreement has defined the direction of climate action for the coming decades.

It has been agreed that countries will undertake voluntary actions and reduce emissions though their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). According to UNEPs Emissions Gap Report 2017, released concurrent with COP23, current pledges do not cover more than a third of the emissions reduction needed.

In other words, even if all countries’ NDCs were implemented, the numbers still fall short of global targets.

If the emission gap is not bridged by 2030, it is extremely unlikely that the goal of holding global warming at 2°C will be achieved.

There is a growing consensus that national emission levels, particularly for larger economies, need to peak and begin to decline now rather than waiting for 2030.

This necessitates immediate action by major emitters and corrective measures by those who are anticipating a faster growth rate, like Pakistan.

As nations begin to report on the implementation status from 2020 onwards and periodically revise their NDCs for deeper and more ambitious reductions, equity and transparency will emerge as the central issue.

No wonder, then, that the agreement on the Paris ‘rulebook’ has become one of the moot points at Bonn.

Meaningful engagement during these global negotiations require detailed prior preparation at national and provincial levels, engaging experts, specialised institutions and concerned government departments.

Because most of these issues are negotiated concurrently, delegations are stretched and understandably prioritise certain areas at the cost of others.

What’s at stake for Pakistan

Between Bonn and COP24 in Warsaw in 2018, federal and provincial governments will need to bring their NDCs to the front burner assuring implementation to reach targets.

Pakistan has yet to initiate and agree on the process of clarifying provincial responsibilities to meet specific targets, procuring financing and formulating reporting mechanisms.

Like mitigation, adaptation is another important issue on the agenda of COP23.

The fact that COP23 is hosted by Fiji has reflected the priority of developing countries to talk more about adaptation with a twin purpose of building greater resilience to counter the impact of climate change and boost access to climate finance adaptation.

Pakistan has been consistently ranked high in several vulnerability indices, reflecting the need for augmented investments to reduce climate vulnerabilities and enhance resilience through water, food and energy security and enhancing livelihood options.

However, currently, given the Fijian presidency of COP23 as well as the recent wave of hurricanes in the Caribbean, attention has been drawn towards these highly vulnerable island nations — and away from Pakistan.

Investing in SDGs to meet climate change targets

There is seldom reference to the Sustainable Development Goals in the NDCs, because they were finalised and ratified about a year after the NDCs were submitted.

Because climate change has emerged as a development issue, there is an emerging window of opportunity to invest in the SDGs to meet climate targets as set in our NDCs.

Both commitments have been voluntarily agreed upon by our government; regarding both, there is growing global expectation for meaningful and verifiable progress.

The SDGs and NDCs have been designed for implementation in an integrated manner and adopt bottom-up practices requiring financial resources from domestic and international sources.

In Pakistan’s context, the arena of action for both lies in the provinces, after the 18th Amendment, and are anchored firmly in planning and development departments.

The NDC submitted by Pakistan, for example, focuses primarily on energy, agriculture, industrial processes, land use and forestry, and waste.

These priorities relate to specific SDG targets. Meeting these commitments will hinge on sustained political will through changes in government, cohesive public and private partnerships, and parliamentary oversight to ensure transparency.

Infographics designed by Nabeel Ahmed.

Published in Dawn, Nov 15th, 2017

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ALTHOUGH Pakistan does not contribute significantly to global carbon emissions — ranking 135th in per capita emissions — it is amongst the top 10 countries most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

According to a recent country profile by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), “Climatic changes are expected to have wide-ranging impacts on Pakistan, affecting agricultural productivity, water availability, and increased frequency of extreme climatic events.”

Addressing these risks will require climate change to be mainstreamed into national strategy and policy, the report notes.

Noticeable changes in Pakistan’s weather patterns include an increase in the annual mean temperature by roughly 0.5°C in the last 50 years, according to ADB research, increasing the likelihood of extreme weather events.

Annual heatwave days have increased nearly fivefold in the last 30 years — in 2015, Karachi’s severe heatwave killed over 1,200 people.

Meanwhile, the sea-level along Karachi’s coast has risen approximately 10 centimetres in the last century. Sea-levels are projected to rise by one metre by 2100, severely affecting low-lying coastal cities.

Annual precipitation has also increased in the last 50 years. Increasing temperatures will result in a decline in snowpack and permafrost (frozen soil and rock), which might lead to less water in rivers in the future.

More than 50 per cent of the flows from the Indus river system come from melting snow and glaciers.

There is also the probability of greater flooding. In 2010, floods that were triggered by unprecedented rainfall killed 1,600 people and caused around $10 billion in damages.

Given that the country is just about self-sufficient in food production, these climatic changes can prove disastrous to its rate of increase, which may be unable to keep pace with surging populations.

Qamar-uz-Zaman Chaudhry, former director general of the Pakistan Meteorological Department, explains, “Both are difficult prospects given the negative impacts of climate change affecting water availability and crop yields.”

The government must be cognisant of an impending food shortage as yields of wheat and rice are expected to decline which could drive production northward subject to water availability.

Photo courtesy *Global Climate Risk Index Report, Germanwatch **The Lancet, 2017
Photo courtesy *Global Climate Risk Index Report, Germanwatch **The Lancet, 2017

Chief executive of the World Wildlife Fund-Pakistan Hammad Naqi predicts the country’s water crisis will be exacerbated because of how water resources are being used.

“Pakistan has gone from being water surplus to water stressed, and soon there will be water scarcity.

We have to change the way we grow certain commodities of crops. For example, we cannot afford to grow sugar cane in large areas when we don’t have enough water.

Our leadership needs to make tough decisions, and soon.”

Distracted leadership, weak governance

Experts say that research into key areas impacted by climate change, including the future of glaciers and water security, are lacking.

For its part, the government has revamped the Global Change Impact Studies Centre previously staffed by retired nuclear scientists.

The appointment of Harvard-trained economist, Tariq Banuri, as executive director is reason enough, many believe, that mitigation policies may gradually see implementation.

Unfortunately, the country’s policymakers are too distracted by militancy and political instability to focus on pressing environmental challenges.

Although Pakistan is one of the world’s few countries to have a dedicated federal climate change ministry, it was only activated in 2015 by the current government.

In fact, when the PML-N came to power in 2013, it downgraded the ministry to a division, removing its ability to make high-level decisions.

In January 2015, Senator Mushahidullah Khan, a long-time party loyalist with little climate change experience, was appointed minister of the newly reinstated ministry.

Khan was replaced in August 2015 by Zahid Hamid, who took additional charge of the ministry and headed to the Paris conference in December 2015.

In Paris, alongside over 190 countries, Pakistan had pledged to limit the global average temperature increase to below 2°C which scientists say is the limit for safety — meaning that global carbon emissions need to peak by 2020 at the latest, and get to net-zero by 2050.

The Agreement included mechanisms for pledges to be reviewed, but without setting rules — these will be decided at Bonn this week before being finalised in Warsaw in 2018.

Pakistan’s plan of action after the 2015 Paris Agreement

Mr Hamid’s two years at the ministry were productive — he helped ratify the Paris Agreement and submit Pakistan’s voluntary plans to cut emissions, called the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) document, to the UN.

Pakistan’s plan, however, foresees a fourfold increase in the country’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

It says the country will reduce up to 20pc of its 2030 projected greenhouse gas emissions, subject to the availability of international grants to meet the cumulative abatement costs amounting to approximately $40bn.

Annual adaptation needs have been identified as between $7bn and $14bn — an amount expected from international climate finance that might not be forthcoming given that the US, a big contributor, is pulling out of the Paris Agreement.

The recently operational Green Climate Fund has given Pakistan $37m for a project to scale up Glacial Lake Outburst Flood risk reduction in northern Pakistan.

The GCF was supposed to receive $100bn annually until 2020 from developed countries, but it has only raised $10.3bn so far.

Critics say that Pakistan’s NDC is hardly ambitious compared to other developing countries in the region, needing to be reworked to reflect emission cuts from installed and upcoming renewable energy projects like the Quaid-i-Azam solar park (which will go up to 1,000MW) and wind farms in Sindh.

Other projects under Mr Hamid’s tenure include introducing the Green Pakistan Programme with the objective to plant 100 million trees, ensuring the National Forest Policy was approved by the Council of Common Interests and passing the Climate Change Act (CCA), 2016.

But criticism remains that little has been achieved on the ground. “The fact remains that we have policies for everything, but where is the enforcement?” Mr Naqi asks.

The new legislation is, in fact, very similar to the Pakistan Environmental Protection Act (PEPA), 1997.

Environmental protection agencies set up under PEPA were widely regarded as ineffective and unable to enforce the law.

In an interview, the reinstated minister Senator Khan told Dawn that he is prepared to set up a new authority (envisioned by the CCA), including hiring half a dozen professionals and organising a meeting of a high-level climate change council chaired by the prime minister.

Interestingly, the council set up under PEPA was also headed by the prime minister, and it barely met.

Why the government should prioritise climate change

According to Mr Chaudhry — also the author of Pakistan’s National Climate Change Policy (NCCP), 2012 — steps proposed under CCA should have already been implemented.

“In the UNDP’s Climate Public Expenditure and Institutional Review, we learned that Pakistan spends 8pc of its total budget on climate relevant activities, which is a good figure.

However, there are certain areas, basically mitigation activities and climate adaptation, which should be taken more seriously.”

As a guiding document, the NCCP highlighted the objective of achieving climate-resilient development by mainstreaming it into various sectors. It was passed by the then PPP government; later, an implementation framework for the policy was also prepared.

After the 18th amendment, however, the onus was placed largely on the provinces to prepare their respective detailed action plans, although even at the time, there were concerns about a lack of capacity and competency at provincial levels.

Tackling climate change is beyond the ability of the provinces, admits Senator Khan.

On this, he concurs with the findings of the ADB report that there has been an “erosion of climate change policy ownership by the provinces, due to potentially conflicting or overlapping objectives ... between provinces and federal agencies.”

Working towards a solution, he says that his ministry has now helped coordinate and prepare drafts of policies and action plans in Azad Kashmir, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Gilgit-Baltistan and Punjab.

Given the communication gap between federal and provincial departments, he says he will “ensure that a member of parliament and a senator from each province are nominated to coordinate and oversee implementation in their respective province”.

Reacting to the lack of implementation on the NCCP, a farmer from Lahore recently petitioned the Lahore High Court. Justice Mansoor Ali Shah set up a 21-member climate change commission to investigate the implementation of the NCCP’s short-term and medium-term measures by relevant government departments. Mr Naqi, who serves on the commission, says, “The problem is that government departments relate everything to adaptation.

The agricultural department says we are helping farmers level the land and that is adaptation or the forest department says we are planting trees so that is adaptation. That is all true, but we have to do so much more.”

Not a deal breaker: Pakistan at the Bonn Climate talks

Children are seen during a climate march prior to the opening session of the COP23 UN Climate Change Conference 2017 in Bonn, Germany. ─Reuters
Children are seen during a climate march prior to the opening session of the COP23 UN Climate Change Conference 2017 in Bonn, Germany. ─Reuters

Following a year of increasingly visible climate change impacts like frequent and intense hurricanes and wildfires across continents, government officials and delegates from over 196 countries have gathered from Nov 6 to 17 in Bonn, Germany, for the 23rd annual UN climate change conference, also called 23rd session of the ‘conference of parties’ (COP 23) signatory to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The conference is under the presidency of the government of Fiji this year.

Pakistan’s delegation comprising officials from the foreign office and ministry of climate change, civil society and the media is led by Senator Mushaidullah Khan, the climate change minister.

As a developing country more vulnerable to climate change, Pakistan will be pushing for the rapid operationalisation of the Paris Agreement effective in 2020.

Although all countries have submitted their national plans to lower emissions, these do not currently reach the goal of limiting temperature increase to below 2°C.

“Pakistan is not a deal broker or game changer at these negotiations given its low emissions,” Abid Suleri, the head of the Sustainable Development Policy Institute explains.

He says Pakistan’s position is to support like-minded countries in the group of developing countries (the G-77 plus China) and look at how best to make use of carbon financing possibilities.

According to Tariq Banuri, executive director at the government’s Global Change Impact Studies Centre, “Pakistan is already acting in ways that can contribute to the global climate goals by lowering its greenhouse gas emissions, in particular through the highly ambitious afforestation programs, significant investments in low-carbon energy generation (hydropower, solar, wind, bioenergy, and others), replacement of liquid fuels with imported LNG, and the raising of fuel efficiency standards.

This needs to be highlighted as a demonstration of the country’s commitment, and an indication that more could be done with the provision of international financial and technical support.”

Meanwhile, COP23 is currently under the shadow of US President Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris Agreement.

Will the rest of the world decide to forge ahead with the global agreement by putting their houses in order? Or will other countries use the US as an excuse not to comply either?

The US — the second biggest emitter of greenhouse gases after China — cannot formally withdraw from the Paris Agreement until the end of 2020 so their delegation, albeit smaller, will be at Bonn. Analysts predict China will probably step in and fill the leadership vacuum.

Published in Dawn, Nov 15th, 2017

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Air pollution is the fourth highest risk factor for premature deaths globally.─File photo
Air pollution is the fourth highest risk factor for premature deaths globally.─File photo

AS a thick, toxic haze envelops parts of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, rising levels of air pollution, a consequence of industrialisation and urbanisation, threaten to destroy the environment.

Currently, the poor air quality has prompted school closures, delayed flights and caused car accidents in cities most impacted.

In the past, Pakistan has experienced smog in the winter of 2016 when cities in Punjab, especially Lahore, Gujranwala and Faisalabad, were engulfed in it. At the time, the province’s chief minister constituted a committee to recommend a contingency plan.

Air pollution is the fourth highest risk factor for premature deaths globally. Moreover, it stunts economic growth and exacerbates poverty, making pollution not just an environmental problem, but a pervasive threat impacting aspects of health and wellbeing.

Therefore, the kind of choking air quality being experienced currently has potential to create a public health emergency in the future. According to a study published in the medical journal, The Lancet, last month, 311,189 Pakistanis died as a result of air pollution in 2015.

This year, the situation in the country’s second-largest city, Lahore is at crisis point as a toxic haze blankets the entire province; similarly, most districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have also been affected.

The visibility is so poor it is hard to even drive on Lahore’s main roads and motorways exiting the city, say residents.

Experts say that levels of the dangerous particulates known as Particulate Matter (PM) 2.5, small enough to enter the lungs and the bloodstream, have reached 1,077 micrograms per cubic meter (ug/m3) which is more than 30 times what is considered the safe limit.

This year the smog started to build up close to Oct 10 in Lahore and surrounding districts, following which the air quality deteriorated to unprecedented unsafe levels around Oct 20, spiraling out of proportion on Oct 30.

According to data by the SEAL air monitoring laboratory in Lahore, on Oct 31, the level of PM2.5 particles were found to be 134, 288ug/m3 — way above the safe level of 35ug/m3.

On his part, Naseem-ur-Rehman, the director of Punjab’s Environment Protection Department (EPD), explains that the increase in vehicles and old polluting automobiles constitute part of the problem, which leads to traffic congestion and increasing emissions.

Other contributing factors including stubble burning from both Pakistani and Indian Punjab, emissions from industries, power plants, brick kilns and generators, and burning trash and hospital waste also adversely impacts the environment.

Air quality and forestation

Punjab’s new smog policy to control this kind of eye-stinging and throat burning smoke focuses partly on the creation of woodlands in and around major cities because trees are effective in regulating carbon dioxide and other gases.

The role of urban forests in controlling air quality and pollution is well documented.

Woodlands help to control the micro-climate, protect populations from heatwaves and add oxygen to the atmosphere that eventually leads to rainfall.

Explaining the co-relation between forest cover and air pollution, Tahir Rasheed, the head of the South Punjab Forest Company (SPFC), says that “forests are known to deal with air pollution, including smog, so, if our urban centres have a healthy proportion of forests, this will yield various environmental and economic benefits.”

Unfortunately, Lahore is left with minimum forestland, which is also threatened by developmental projects.

On its part, the Punjab government has geared up for conserving its forests by promoting commercial forestry on 99,077 acres of land in Bahawalpur, Rahim Yar Khan, Rajanpur, Muzaffargarh and DG Khan.

Land has been distributed to investors for afforestation under a public-private partnership model; a project based on a produce sharing formula, helping to provide sustainable farmed wood to the wood-based industry.

This will help to reduce logging pressure on the country’s natural forests. Because Pakistan is left with only 1.9pc of forest cover according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation, this scenario also underscores the need for preserving woodlands and planting additional forests.

According to Mr Rasheed, the land will be awarded to successful bidders for afforestation activities by December 2017.

This initiative plans for 13 million trees for south Punjab in the next 15 years, amounting to carbon sequestration of approximately 5.6m tons — a project that aims to reduce smog in the future.

Similar models can be replicated in cities with the planting of rooftop gardens and through urban forestry. At the national level, a hundred million trees are earmarked for countrywide plantation says Ibrahim Khan, project director for the Green Pakistan Programme.

This project when implemented will improve forest cover, conserve wildlife and sequester carbon dioxide.

How Pakistan’s largest eco-investment could clean our environment

Explaining reasons for the dense, grey smog enveloping KP this year, Malik Amin Aslam Khan, chairman for KP’s Green Growth Initiative, says air pollution is not a provincial phenomenon but a trans-provincial environmental problem.

“It is evident that the smog is engulfing the entire region but is most acute and exponentially enhanced in Delhi and Lahore. It is this accumulated smog, which is seemingly traversing the whole of Punjab, that has also hit Peshawar.”

He, too, underlines the importance of trees as one of the best filters and natural scrubbers for controlling air pollution.

“Under the Billion Tree Tsunami Afforestation Project (BTTAP), more than 2,500 hectares of new forests, almost three Changa Manga forests in Chandan Garhi, Aza Khel and Jarroba, have been planted over the past three years with a survival rate of over 85pc.

These will turn into fully grown forests within the next few years acting as a natural defence mechanism against growing air pollution.

The Peshawar division, as a whole, has 9,000 hectares of new plantations while 8,500 hectares have been planted in and around Mardan over the past three years.”

Referring to scientific studies that woodlands can actually remove 50pc of particulate matter and dust pollution, thus filtering out the smog in the air, Mr Khan says this project will work as KP’s future defence mechanism against air pollution.

Meanwhile, the BTTAP has fulfilled its pledge to restore 348,000 hectares of forest land as promised under the Bonn challenge — an international effort to restore 150m hectares of the world’s forests by 2020 and 350m hectares by 2030.

Because forests have supported mankind and provided shelter, livelihood and comfort, it is evident that in present times when human-induced climate change is threatening the survival of cities, woodlands are once again helping combat air pollution.

Only by acknowledging this crisis by demonstrating strong leadership will the government be able to act. For starters, forming an emergency national action plan and placing monitoring systems where needed to collect and accurately check air quality data are prerequisites.

To combat changing weather patterns, we need an integrated approach with long-term solutions, including, the introduction of rapid mass transport urban systems; sustainable agriculture; improving fuel quality; introducing emission control equipment for factories; reducing emissions through solar and other renewable energy sources; and changing lifestyle patterns which will altogether create the overall impact necessary to breathe in clean air once again.

Published in Dawn, Nov 15th, 2017

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As thousands gather in Bonn, Germany at the 23rd UN Climate Talks (COP23), to sound the climate alarm and demand an immediate end to the use of fossil fuels, in Karachi, unbeknownst to him, the family of Roger Thomas, a nurse, is already feeling the vagaries of climate change.

In the last couple of months, they have completely eliminated tomatoes from their cooking.

“From the time they went up in price to Rs 250 per kilogram to currently when they’re down to Rs 120 per kg, we are doing without them,” he says. Instead, they have replaced tomatoes with yogurt. “It’s worked out just fine,” the young man from Manzoor Colony in Jamshed Town says.

Sindh's chief minister Murad Ali Shah blamed hoarders for creating an "artificial price hike" and Thomas echoed the same.

Not for once did Thomas or Shah consider the possibility that an aberration in weather or scarcity of water in the river system may have caused a decrease in the production of tomatoes as alluded to by Dr Pervaiz Amir, director of the Pakistan Water Partnership.

“Everyone will come up with different sets of theories, blaming the government, merchants, even India, but fail to connect the dots and attend to the root cause,” explains an exasperated Ali Tauqeer Sheikh, heading LEAD Pakistan, an Islamabad-based think tank working on environment and development issues.

“Climate change is a development issue and if the government fails to understand this simple truth, it must prepare itself for dire consequences,” Sheikh warned.

Explaining that climate change “interfaces with youth, water, population, governance, migration, food, energy,” he says “even the smog in Lahore and Peshawar can be linked to climate change.”

Michael Kugelman of the Woodrow Wilson Center's Asia Program, terming Pakistan one of the most climate-vulnerable countries in the world also sounds the alarm bells.

"Not acting preemptively to tame this threat now could produce catastrophic results some years down the road.”

And with Pakistan being at a certain geographic juncture with huge swathes of agricultural and coastal areas, facing water shortages and a runway population do not help matters either.

Climate-related disasters knock at cities

Live footage of hurricanes in the Americas, the flooding in South Asia, including Pakistan and Nigeria, increased frequency of wildfires in the US and Europe, the smog in Chinese and Pakistani cities also glaringly show how natural calamities are fast reaching cities causing devastating disruptions in the lives of some of the world's poorest.

One reason is that the world is becoming increasingly urbanised. Today more than half the world's population lives in urban areas; by 2050, it will be 66pc. Pakistan is no different.

According to the recent census, 36.4pc of the country's 207.8 million people live in cities and towns; and this may swell to 40pc by 2050.

Cities grow in three ways: migration (for economic opportunities); multiplying city populations and the reclassification of nearby non-urban districts; and all require proper planning to absorb the influx.

This is clearly challenging for Pakistan where the government had not prioritised urban planning.

During the 2015 Karachi heatwave that killed 1,200 people, all fatalities were reported from urban poor households.

High temperatures have also seen an increase in the incidence of vector-borne disease like dengue and chikungunya – presently studied through the lens of climate change by scientists.

Then, last month The Lancet came out with a landmark report, terming pollution (especially air pollution) the largest environmental cause of disease and premature death in the world today.

Presenting data, it has also documented how pollution-related disease contributed to intergenerational perpetuation of poverty.

For instance, in winters when both gas and electricity are in short supply, many homes in squatters in Pakistan’s urban centres turn to firewood to cook and keep warm which adds to environmental pollution.

The rapidly rising incidence of dengue viral infection is attributed mainly to the climate change favouring the rapid growth of the vectors.

Along with a lack of access to healthcare for the poor in most urban cities, Karachi-based urban planner Farhan Anwar points out that most live in undesirable and disaster prone parts of cities – along river beds which make them vulnerable to urban flooding, for example, or near garbage dumps and open sewerages.

“The poor are both hit hardest and are also least capable of recovering from the impacts because of their weak financial status as often their means of livelihoods get destroyed,” he explains, emphasising the urgency to “design smart and green cities and develop urban climate change mitigation and adaptation strategy.”

Raising awareness among the general public about the risks posed by climate change should be part of a multifaceted government strategy with the state investing more in basic services in cities ensuring that there isn’t a desperate scramble for increasingly precious resources.

Also, paying heed to lessening the push factors prompting large rural-urban migrations is critical.

As Kugelman says, “this will also provide more support to farmers, fisherman and others who head to cities because water shortages prevent them from earning livelihoods.”

Tackling climate change through sound leadership and policies

According to the World Population Review, 56 cities in Pakistan have populations between 100,000 and 1,000,000, while 285 cities have populations of at least 10,000.

However, urbanisation cannot be averted.

“Our climate change policy has failed to address the urban context,” Anwar says. In fact, he predicts major “battles” on climate change will be “fought” in the urban centres of the world.

Dr Fahad Saeed from the Berlin-based organisation, Climate Analytics, also believes there is a need to curb rural to urban migration trends by “introducing more livelihood opportunities in the rural areas” and diverting the influx of the migrants to intermediate cities.

Without plans for climate friendly smart and resilient cities; without policies for transitioning to renewable forms of energy and plans for urban smart transportation in the future, our cities will suffer adversely from climate change impacts.

Though Pakistan is one of few countries with a climate change ministry, climate change authority and policy, the obstacle to action is political will.

“Climate change has not been on top of national or provincial agendas; the budgetary allocation for existing structures are still insufficient and climate change, like the environment, is restricted to drawing room or conference discussions,” says Rafiul Haq at IUCN's Commission on Ecosystem Management.

As Anwar points out, globally state institutions from the central to the city level take the lead in enacting policies, structuring institutions appropriately, making the necessary financial adjustments etc.

“In Pakistan, on the other hand, it is not the state but non-governmental organisations that take the lead from enacting policies to training communities.”

Even if the government decides to take the lead, the task is certainly not easy.

Not only will it need assistance from the private sector and the international donor community but it must breathe life into an outdated climate change policy which has no plans or programmes for action and little attention to adaptation, say experts.

Adaptation is at the crux of negotiations at the Bonn conference – how wealthier countries who relied on fossil fuels (and damaged the planet) to develop can help their poorer counterparts become less dependent on oil, gas and coal.

Then, the concept of ‘loss and damage’ – a term to describe compensation for developing countries when climate-related natural disasters occur – are also part of discussions.

Being among the seventh most vulnerable countries to climate change, Pakistan now has a window of opportunity to negotiate for innovative technologies and international climate finance to fight impending disasters.

Infographics designed by Nabeel Ahmed.

Published in Dawn, Nov 15th, 2017

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In an interview with Dawn, Tariq Banuri, executive director of the Global Change Impact Studies Centre (GCISC) talks about the country’s approach to climate change challenges.

He was also the coordinating lead author of the inter-governmental panel on climate change (IPCC). The following are excerpts:

Pakistan is signatory to the Paris Climate Agreement to curb carbon emissions. How does this translate in terms of our responsibilities and has the government managed to work through them?

Paris is a good agreement based on voluntary commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change.

The world agreed to limit the global average temperature increase to below 2 degrees Celsius with the aim of reaching 1.5C which is where global emissions have to come down to.

Each country has now indicated what they are able and willing to do in their submitted Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) document.

There is a huge gap though between what needs to be done globally and what is volunteered. The Paris Agreement recognised it will take time to work on solutions and we need to figure out the ways together. It is the best that could be done.

The question is: who will bridge the gap? Emissions from just 15 of the largest economies (including European Union, USA, China, Russia, etc.) are more than 90 per cent of the total, so we don’t really have to worry about the rest of the world.

But the concern is that if you let the others off the hook, then the incentive to take action is not there. So we have this comprehensive system where everybody has a stake.

Pakistan’s stand is that we are more worried about the impact of climate change (adaptation) than what we can contribute towards mitigation.

We emit less than 1pc of global emissions, which is way below the global average. Our emissions won’t make any difference. We are a poor country and we need to grow; we are energy deficient.

If we grow at 10pc with the upcoming China Pakistan Economic Corridor, with incomes doubling every 7 years, in principle, our emissions will grow as well.

Emissions from coal power plants are included in our projected quadrupling of emissions by 2030 (stated in the NDC document).

However, we are already planting forests that will take down 1pc of emissions.

Then we have a renewable energy policy in place with solar parks and wind corridors coming up.

There are no exact numbers but roof-top solar is increasing and this might bring down another 2pc to 5pc of our emissions.

We are also moving towards greater fuel efficiency with Euro 2 standards and shifting to the import of LNG, which will replace furnace oil.

This could reduce our emissions by another 5pc.

Improvements in public transport, including metro-buses could increase transportation efficiency with another significant impact on emissions.

More can be done of course, but that will require subsidies from international sources such as the Green Climate Fund.

So far what steps has the government taken to address the impact of climate change?

The state’s response is institutional creation. We’ve seen a series of institutional changes to deal with climate change.

We have an entirely new disaster management system in place and a climate change authority being put in place. And the GCISC itself is an institutional response.

Before that, there were environment protection agencies, etc. So our response is to create institutions, give them responsibilities and rely on them to solve issues.

I would say there has been progress, but [policy] implementation is slow. Take our disaster management system – it took a few disastrous events (floods and heat waves) before we understood what needed to be done.

We now have monitoring systems and early warning systems in place.

Regulatory work still needs to be done. We need to move from response to prevention, which is a more comprehensive approach.

More research is needed; learning from threats rather than experience. Though it is an evolutionary process, the right set of policies can lead to action.

What would you say is our biggest environmental threat?

Water scarcity is our biggest problem. It has not been created by climate change but because of population growth.

Climate change will further reduce water resources and effect lives and livelihoods.

In the next 50 years, the country’s population will double.

This means from 1,000 cubic meters of water per person per year, we will go down to 500 cubic meters per person per year because of population growth by the middle of this century.

Climate change alone would only have brought it down by 20pc; so from 500 cubic meters per person per year down to 400 cubic meters per person per year.

This will make the country dependent on others for food security.

How is the government addressing environmental degradation?

Climate change is a component of environmental degradation where discontinuity [in the system] is obvious.

Air pollution, biodiversity loss, water scarcity have not proven disastrous as yet. There is still the belief that we can handle them and solve these problems.

With climate change, there is threat of discontinuity with its tipping points (pushing the planet’s climate system past the point of no-return).

So, runaway climate change is a much more serious threat – scientists believe that an increase in global average temperatures of more than 2C will be catastrophic for the human race.

There is a time limit; there is this sense of driving down a road where there is this looming precipice, after which you have a collapse of civilisation.

With climate change, we have a short window in which to act.

In Pakistan, after the process of devolution, the provinces were reluctant to concede any powers to the federation.

However, because Pakistan has ratified over two dozen international environmental agreements and the ministry of climate change has powers over multi-lateral environmental agreements signed, the provinces should agree to the federation’s input.

It is easier to give it this title than say the ministry of multi-lateral agreements, which would be a more accurate title.

Published in Dawn, Nov 15th, 2017

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