THERE is no doubt that Prime Minister Imran Khan has elevated the debate on climate change and accorded it the status of a national issue by continuing to talk about it on regional and international forums. Several initiatives taken by the government such as the 10-Billion Tree Tsunami and the Ecosystem Restoration Fund have gained international recognition. Today, on June 5, Pakistan is the global host for World Environment Day and is launching the UN’s Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. Other initiatives of the government include the launch of the Green Eurobond worth $500m. In April, the government also pledged to transition to 60pc clean energy and convert 30pc of its vehicular fleet to electric by 2030. Soon after the announcement, it shelved imported coal projects intended to produce 2,600MW of energy in favour of hydroelectric projects that will generate 3,700MW. However, for these measures to have an impact, the government must have an integrated policy, infrastructure development, power production and agriculture framework that shuns a carbon-intensive approach.

At the moment, the bigger picture tells a story that is at variance with the government’s stated intentions. Between 1994 and 2015, Pakistan’s carbon emissions had increased by 123pc. Around 46pc of the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions come from fossil fuels, followed by 43pc from agriculture. Ironically, more than 95pc of our coal-based power projects were commissioned in the past four years and are at different stages of development. Meanwhile, last year a long-term plan opted for fossil fuels for energy production, ignoring the possibility of renewable energy. No surprise then that by 2030 our carbon emissions are projected to increase by 300pc. Similarly, large projects including the Peshawar BRT — for which hundreds of trees were felled — and the Rs5tr Ravi City construction only add to the carbon footprint.

These gaping contradictions in development policy offset any potential impact of the government’s eco-friendly plans by years and undermine our international credibility. Similarly, the failure to impose a ban on the use of single-use plastics last year, exposed the government’s weakness for favouring industrialist lobbies. Globally, the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events have increased, resulting in huge loss of life and property. Scientists have termed this decade the last chance to slow down a permanent rise in global temperatures. If Pakistan is to save itself from the apocalyptic effects of climate change, the government must show far greater seriousness in its purpose and execution of its plans. In the short term, up to 20pc of the projected 2030 GHG emissions can be reduced by decarbonising transport and agriculture. Provincial environmental protection departments also need to be overhauled and made fully functional and independent so that they can flag projects violating environment rules. If Pakistan does not act on a war-footing, it might squander its last chance to save itself from nature’s wrath.

Published in Dawn, June 5th, 2021

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