Dubai, Baku and Belém

Published May 9, 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.

THE federal government has just initiated an important but overly cautious process of streamlining its institutional landscape dealing with climate change. The primary motivation is to stre­ngthen the ability to unlock climate finances. But would establishing the Climate Change Authority, reconstituting the Climate Change Council, or updating the Rules of Business to eliminate redundancies from the climate ministry’s mandate alone help turn around the nation’s climate vulnerabilities or access international finance?

It is indeed important to delineate the roles and responsibilities of multiple players and strengthen coordination between national and provincial stakeholders. These changes, however, need to be guided by a clear roadmap of Pakistan’s climate journey. Can the process be aligned with domestic economic reforms, inclusion, and climate rights? Concurrently, can it help enhance our eligibility to avail climate finance options, which include concessional lending, trade, and investments? How can the financial flows, even if small, be accessed and made predictable to support Pakistan’s drive for resilience, rehabilitation and reconstruction after climate disasters?

Global climate initiatives announced at each Conference of the Parties, particularly since the Paris Agreement in 2015, have provided ample opportunities to interested parties to engage with the presidency of each COP to take advantage of possible opportunities. Britain, Egypt and the UAE, the presidencies of the last three COPs in Glasgow, Sharm el-Sheikh and Dubai, each announced about a dozen initiatives, inviting interested parties to join in. Several of them were backed by ambitious financial mechanisms.

These initiatives, pledges, and side deals are typically voluntary initiatives. They are not always managed or controlled by the secretariat of the climate change convention, and hence not necessarily part of the mandate of climate ministries. Probably half of these initiatives suited Pakistan’s development needs in such sectors as energy, agriculture, health, water, industrial production, urban planning, trade, and foreign direct investment. The ministries and departments mandated to deal with these issues are rarely, if at all, present at COPs or aware of the opportunities.

Pakistan’s climate policies must be guided by scientific data and scientific research.

The climate summit in Dubai, for example, made 11 pledges backed by overall commitments amounting to $85 billion. These included doubling finances for adaptation, tripling renewables, doubling energy efficiency, halting deforestation, announcing frameworks for global climate resilience, developing programmes for a just transition, and an agreement to operationalise the Loss and Damage Fund (LDF). Except for the last one, Pakistan did not show much appetite for any of the initiatives, even if Sultan Jabbar al-Jaber, the UAE COP chair, visited Pakistan prior to the COP to check Pakistan’s pulse for various initiatives and to win support for them.

The initiatives announced in the UAE have set the menu for global climate action that will inform at least the next two climate summits: in Baku this November, and Belém, Brazil, in December 2025. The COP in Azerbaijan will prioritise mitigation, regional peace, and water issues. The likely focus in Brazil will be social development, climate justice, and protecting forests and local communities. The agendas of the two COPs are evidently very closely aligned with Pakistan’s development needs. These initiatives are typically linked with the country’s economic development, structural reforms under discussion with the IMF and multilateral development banks, and the transformation needed to meet SDG targets. A roadmap adopted now can help avoid the annual pangs of guilt.

The agenda for Baku will review the implementation of COP28 targets, particularly to advance the Paris Agreement goals. It will strive to finalise the first enhanced transparency framework, establish a new collective quantified goal on fina­n­­ce, scale up targets for climate finance, and fina­lise the LDF. Baku will also host a series of high-level political convenings to assess barriers to NDC development, regional ‘green corridors’ for grid-scale storage, and the role of trade in accelerating climate and sustainable development actions.

It would be unrealistic, indeed unfair, to expect the climate ministry to engage with and independently assess these processes, let alone lead the country to access finances from such initiatives. The global climate agenda clearly calls for reforms that go beyond amending the Climate Change Act of 2017 or integrating it with the Environmental Protection Act, 1997, in order to remove inconsistences. We also need to develop institutional mechanisms and ways to link global climate negotiations with the priorities set for domestic economic development, rather than tepid responses every year. This calls for integrating climate considerations in various ministries and departments.

The foregoing can serve as the basis for a four-track climate policy:

First, Pakistan’s climate policies must be guided by scientific data and scientific research. The Global Change Impact Study Centre, Zoological Survey, and Pakistan Environment Protection Agency are housed at the climate ministry. They can be mandated to specifically develop baselines and set standards for climate emissions, biodiversity, and environment. Together with the Bureau of Statistics, they can develop Pakistan’s natural resource income accounting, because the income generated from natural resources and ecosystems must be measured. We need to assess the economic value of natural resources and the impact of economic activities on the environment.

Second, Pakistan’s climate priorities must be co-created with the provinces. We must avoid the risk of a competitive relationship with sub-national entities. Any differences, as well as the agenda of the Climate Council, must be cleared by the Council of Common Interests. The Climate Council must be a professional organisation and should not take over the functions of the CCI. The climate ministry should build upon its rich experience of dealing with the provinces on environmental and climate issues.

Third, Pakistan’s finance minister must spearhead the drive for climate finance. Since he has greater clout than most other cabinet members, he must inform parliament on all climate finance successes and failures with the development partners and the hosts of the annual COP meetings.

Fourth, Pakistan’s policy must be embedded in sectoral, national and provincial policies, public-private partnerships, and private sector investments by the Planning Commission. The latter’s historically central position must be availed to embed climate change in a whole-of-government effort to link the global climate discourse with Pakistan’s development agenda.

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

Published in Dawn, May 9th, 2024

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