Climate threats

26 Nov 2017


IN recent years, Pakistan’s foreign policy has become overly India-centric. It is failing to fully recognise the risks and costs of non-traditional threats to national security and has lost much of its drive, initiative and creativity. It rarely serves the needs of climate-compatible development and barely engages proactively with major global initiatives, including the negotiations on climate change.

The long-term threats posed by climate change to Pakistan range from receding glaciers that may result in permanent reduction of available water and changing monsoon patterns leading to frequent droughts and disasters. Add to this climate-induced trans-boundary floods, air pollution, migration, and public health epidemics — the list is long and growing. But we have still not fully recognised climate change as fundamentally a development issue.

We need to take a fresh look at our national security policy to a) break international isolation, b) synchronise foreign policy with domestic economic needs, c) seize global opportunities that could boost trade, technology transfer and access to global finance and investments, and d) align with major global initiatives, negotiating blocs and interest groups.

This is the time to engage with active players.

COP23, or the Conference of Parties on Climate Change, that just concluded in Bonn, offered a chain of opportunities to Pakistan to pursue its broader economic and security interests in energy, food and water, a nexus that is at the heart of our climate challenge. With the conclusion of COP23, an elaborate process of background consultations and negotiations has begun. Instead of waiting for the end of the year for the next COP, this is the time to engage with active players and mitigate risks.

The Paris Agreement represents a growing global resolve to stabilise world temperature at 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius. This is possible only by making rapid transitions to renewable sources of energy, phasing out coal, and eliminating subsidies on fossil fuels. The emissions need to peak sooner rather than later in all large economies, followed by middle- and low-income countries. Coal phase-out is needed by 2030 in OECD countries, and no later than 2050 in the rest of the world to meet the Paris Agreement stipulations.

Considering the sharply declining prices of renewable energy, coal has no future. The Trump administration’s decision to exit from the Paris Agreement shows that the transition will not be painless. Against Donald Trump’s last-ditch battle to protect the US coal industry, other countries have begun to commit to time frames by when their emissions would peak or they would phase out coal. France and Germany are vying for global market of renewables. Britain and Canada, two of our important trading partners, launched the Powering Past Coal Alliance at COP23. More than 20 countries and several other sub-national actors have already joined the alliance, which aims to have 50 members by the next COP.

Pakistan’s carbon emissions, presently negligible, are projected by the government to accelerate and make the country one of the world’s biggest emitters in the coming decades. The share of coal is even smaller, but clearly expanding for the smog-afflicted landscape. It is a good opportunity for Pakistan to itself align with such new global alliances. In doing so, it need not commit to a particular phase-out date. Active engagement with such groups opens up technology and capital investment opportunities in the energy sector. The post-Brexit UK government is aggressively looking for opportunities to expand trade ties with Pakistan.

In some ways, the US has gifted China the opportunity for global leadership on climate change. But several forums at COP23 pointed out the need for China to clean its energy trade with developing countries. It is in the interest of both China and Pakistan to clean up and strengthen energy ties. CPEC provides an opportunity to become the world’s first clean energy corridor.

The climate clock is clicking and the economic cost of climate change is going up. A recent UNDP study by LEAD showed that Pakistan is spending more than eight per cent of its national budget on climate change. Yet, its ranking as one of the most vulnerable countries has not gone down. This drift will snowball unless climate-smart or climate-compatible development is adopted as long-term national policy.

It is time for our economic, foreign and security leadership to integrate the climate challenge into our policy planning and resource allocation. An ambassador-at-large should be appointed to spearhead our efforts globally. The government might want to call a special session of parliament to sensitise lawmakers. If done now, it will inform political leaders and their party manifestos for the 2018 elections.

The writer is CEO of LEAD Pakistan, an Islamabad-based think tank specialising in environment and development issues.

Published in Dawn, November 26th, 2017