Climate governance revisited

Published April 13, 2024
The writer is an Islamabad-based climate change and sustainable development expert
The writer is an Islamabad-based climate change and sustainable development expert

CLIMATE governance in Pakistan is flawed. It is ineffective and unresponsive to climate threats. Its ability to deliver climate actions to communities across the provinces is limited. In its present shape, it cannot help turn around the economy in various sectors. The Supreme Court’s recent suo motu notice and the constitution of an inter-ministerial committee by the prime minister have rekindled hopes that some institutional ills — fragmented legislations, unclear institutional mandates, and archaic rules and regulations — may be rectified.

After the Paris Agreement was signed, the Nawaz Sharif government passed the Climate Change Act, 2017, primarily to enable the implementation of the global climate agreement through the creation of three interrelated institutions: the Climate Change Council (CCC), the Climate Change Authority (CCA), and the Climate Change Fund (CCF).

Zahid Hamid, the minister concerned at the time, championed the Act, but it was never implemented on account of two factors causing unease: a) it would undermine the 18th Amendment and provincial powers would be recentralised by the federal government; b) since almost all functions of the climate ministry were assigned to the CCA, there were fears that it faced the prospects of dissolution. The Act has since languished in a bureaucratic maze. Neither the Supreme Court nor the government can move forward meaningfully without addressing these lingering apprehensions.

Successive governments have sidestepped these misgivings. Parliamentary interest, let alone oversight, has remained weak, and momentum on the initial intent has been lost. Imran Khan’s government did not set up the CCA or CCF. Led by Malik Amin Aslam, his maverick climate adviser, the CCC was created but its meeting couldn’t be convened. The provinces were alienated as the documents approved during the period, including the national climate change policy and the Nationally Determined Contributions, were approved by the cabinet committee on climate change instead of the mandated CCC or the well-established policy forums where the provinces are represented — CDWP, ECNEC, and NEC.

The Climate Act and associated legislation will need consolidation.

The CCC has since met twice, first under the Shehbaz Sharif-led PDM government and then Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar’s interim government. For that, the credit must go to their dynamic climate ministers, Senator Sherry Rehman and Ahmad Irfan Aslam. However, neither could prioritise the creation of the CCA or that of the proposed CCF. Hence, the present government has inherited the doubts regarding the Act and the CCA’s future role vis-à-vis the provinces.

The CCA, if established without revisiting its role, will violate the principles of good governance as it combines regulatory and policy functions. The only organic link between the climate division and the ministry is the person of the secretary, who will also serve as secretary of the proposed authority. But he will not formally be part of any federal forum where the provinces are also represented.

The CCA will manage the proposed CCF by allocating funds and monitoring the implementation of adaptation and mitigation projects, otherwise provincial subjects. The Act has not specified its guiding principles for this function. Should we have one mega fund or create multiple special purpose vehicles to address specific needs at different tiers of governance? Why do we need it at the federal level if all climate action will be in the provinces?

The fund is based on the assumption that there will be sufficient donations, endowments, grants, and gifts. Except for charging a processing fee, there is no mention of any national or provincial equity, not even of 0.5 per cent of GDP that could have served as a credible source of replenishment. Will the existence of a legal entity enable the flow of international climate finance? Several funds and mechanisms already exist in the country to enable international financial flows. What is lacking is clarity of purpose, autonomy, and firewalling from governmental controls.

Further, international climate finance has also evolved into specialised functions often involving the State Bank, the Securities & Exchange Commission of Pakistan, commercial banks, insurance companies and the private sector for such instruments as green bonds, debt swaps, hybrid financing, and derisking financing. For all this, the country will need to develop its national climate finance strategy before the structure of the fund is determined.

The complexity, in fact, runs deeper. The Climate Act does not supersede the Pakistan Environment Protection Act. Pepa continues to govern the Environment Protection Agency at the climate ministry, while all the four provinces have essentially copy-pasted Pepa in their provincial contexts. All provinces, except Sindh, have also adopted 14 multilateral environmental agreements mentioned in Pepa. Compared to 1997, when Pepa was adopted, Pakistan has signed several more multilateral environmental agreements, including those specifically dealing with external trade and emerging trade-related environmental barriers under the WTO. But the Act has neither updated the list, nor removed the confusion about who would be responsible for the MEAs.

The creation of the Ministry of Climate Change is in its fifth reincarnation, but the Establishment Division has perhaps not reviewed the Rules of Business for the ministry in the last 50 years when it was first set up as the Urban Affairs Division. The Rules of Business oddly still carry its previous mandates. Climate change is mentioned only cursorily. The Rules of Business need to be climate-proofed for the climate ministry and other sectoral ministries.

The Act and associated legislation will therefore need consolidation in order to give a clear vision and direction for climate action at the local government, provincial and national levels. Mansoor Awan, the attorney general, is fortunately known for his commitment to climate justice and he can serve as a bridge between the judiciary and executive.

Going forward, it is clear that the CCA should undertake only regulatory functions, and the climate ministry should take up the policy development work. The projects must be developed and implemented by the provinces. The CCF has still to develop principles for its financing and replenishment, and accords for apportionments to the provinces.

In this ecosystem, the Planning Commission needs to be reinvented to take the lead on embedding climate change in policy planning, together with its provincial counterpart planning departments, and in mainstreaming climate change in sectoral policies.

The writer is an Islamabad-based climate change and sustainable development expert.

Published in Dawn, April 13th, 2024

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