Critical challenge

Published June 12, 2023
The writer is a political and integrity risk analyst.
The writer is a political and integrity risk analyst.

WHAT we needed was a pro-people party. What we got was a “political party beyond politics!!!” The launch of the Istehkam-i-Pakistan Party last week is a clear message for Pakistanis that our politics has been reduced to an anti-democratic facade to ensure authoritarian control. Solutions to the country’s myriad challenges and any form of service delivery increasingly seem like pipe dreams.

Pakistan’s ongoing political crisis has critically delayed action on numerous fronts, one of the most urgent being a national strategy to tackle climate change. While monitoring the comings and goings at Zaman Park, many may have missed the World Meteorological Organisation’s forecast that global temperatures will surge past the 1.5 degrees Celsius mark in at least one of the coming five years, triggering irreversible climate effects. As one of the world’s top 10 climate-vulnerable countries, Pakistan can expect to be hit by climate shocks regularly.

Political hijinks may also have distracted from the Climate Change Conference underway in Bonn. These talks are a precursor to the UN COP28 climate summit at the end of the year. The conference is where — in the absence of politicians — the hard work on hammering out details on global climate policy takes place. This year’s event in Bonn is particularly relevant for Pakistan because it will advance discussions on how to operationalise the loss and damage fund — which envisions rich, high-emitting countries providing climate finance for poor, climate change-affected countries — agreed at COP27 last year.

Given Pakistan’s climate change vulnerability, these topics should take centre stage. Unfortunately, the momentum to address climate issues generated after last year’s devastating floods seems to have fizzled out with this year’s political chaos. Now that the political puppet show is somewhat restored, our representatives must refocus on this critical challenge, particularly ahead of COP28.

Pakistan is well-situated to be a key voice at COP28.

The upcoming COP is already controversial because it will be hosted by the UAE under the presidency of the head of the Emirati oil company ADNOC, with grand plans to boost production. Climate activists are uncomfortable with a fossil fuels champion overseeing the ‘global stock-take’, when countries have to review their progress against emissions-cutting commitments made in Paris in 2015. It is widely recognised that the stock-take will formally document dire progress, but will COP28 push for the phase-out of fossil fuels, which is urgently needed? The fear is that discussions will be steered towards fanciful plans for carbon capture and storage instead.

There are also concerns that fundamental decisions about the loss and damage fund — who pays, how, when and to whom? — will not be made at COP28. This is partly because of rich countries’ disagreements about who should pay into the fund. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change was agreed in 1992, and many of the countries classified then as developing — and therefore exempt from paying into the fund — are now booming economies (think China, India, and the oil-rich Gulf countries). Climate activists are concerned that the UAE could remain ambivalent on this to avoid paying in, and few expect more than the fund’s structure to be agreed this year.

Pakistan is well-situated to be a key voice at COP28. As a long-term ally of the UAE, it could smooth over concerns by emphasising the need for clean energy investments, another topic the ADNOC chief favours. And as a major proponent of the loss and damage fund, Pakistan could push its allies — particularly the UAE and China — to widen the net of donors into the fund. More importantly, given that we spend almost half our budget on servicing debt, Pakistan can present powerful arguments equating climate justice with economic justice, and calling for debt relief as a form of climate reparations. But we can only do all this if our politicians can transcend existential crises, and get on with their jobs.

One silver lining in this regard is the expanded budget allocation of $1.3 billion for the climate change ministry, recognising the need to invest in climate resilience and disaster preparedness. This is a good jump up from last year’s $61 million and the 2021-22 allocation of $93m. But it is not nearly enough — the annual cost of environmental degradation alone in Pakistan is estimated at $2.3bn.

In the run-up to COP28, our leaders — whether puppets or technocrats — must clarify Pakistan’s climate narratives (reparations or relief? Justice or investment?), and articulate clear demands. It must also detail how it spends its climate budget, sensibly prioritising between adaptation and mitigation. No matter how intense the power tussles, Pakistan’s climate woes cannot be sidelined any longer.

The writer is a political and integrity risk analyst.

Twitter: @humayusuf

Published in Dawn, June 12th, 2023

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