KARACHI: When the master of ceremonies opened the floor for comments at a recent roundtable on climate change organised by the chamber of big foreign investors, some participants expressed views that weren’t exactly music to the ears of the suits sitting at the head of the table.

“I hope you don’t turn climate change into some sort of product to sell and make profit from,” said one participant while looking straight into the eyes of Unilever Pakistan Ltd CEO Amir Paracha, who also serves as vice chairman of the Overseas Investors Chamber of Commerce and Industry (OICCI).

Another participant who introduced herself as an architect said she fears corporate giants jumping on the bandwagon of climate change may lead to greenwashing — a global practice where big businesses co-opt the environment cause and resort to exaggerated or outright false claims about the environment-friendly nature of their processes.

“[Climate change] is like a ticking time bomb. If we don’t act today, it’ll be too late. It’s already very late for a country like Pakistan,” said Mr Paracha in a passionate prologue to the presentation of the OICCI-backed white paper on the private sector’s engagement in the fight against climate change.

And what does that engagement entail? The private sector demands that the government’s climate policies “must incentivise” businesses to invest more in climate-friendly practices and adopt a sustainable consumption and production pattern.

According to the updated Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) targets that Pakistan presented at the 26th Conference of Parties (COP26), the country is going to halve its carbon emissions by 2030.

Of the 50 per cent reduction target, a 15-percentage-point reduction is unconditional, meaning without the expectation of any foreign aid. The larger part consisting of the 35-percentage-point reduction in emissions is “subject to conditional support from bilateral and multilateral sources”.

Hence, the vociferous demand from big business for incentives to make the transition make sense.

Seeing big business take centre stage in the debate on climate change is both reassuring and confounding. It’s reassuring because big business is a key stakeholder. The needle on climate change mitigation won’t move unless big industry is on board.

But it’s confounding at the same time because big industry is the main reason the planet is becoming inhabitable.

It’s already broken enough china and shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near the china shop.

CEOs of blue-chip companies trafficking in climate-change rhetoric will have a hard time convincing people of their sincerity of purpose unless they stop making plastic bottles, burning coal and selling dirty fuels — in the here and now, not in 2030.

After all, it’s “already very late” for Pakistan, no?

Published in Dawn, December 25th, 2022

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