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Archive for April 2013

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April, 2013

Climate change: change we can?

Content-wise, the National Climate Change Policy is welcome even though a mixed bag. But what about implementing mechanisms?

Afia Salam

A large body of people, including scientists in the West, especially the U.S., is still debating the veracity of warnings pertaining to the rise in earth’s temperature and the resultant disasters clubbed under the term of Climate Change.

 On the other hand, countries that have been listed in the category of ‘threatened’ or ‘vulnerable’ have already started taking measures to deal with the threat, which has, in the recent past, proven to be a clear and present danger for them.

Small island nations like the Maldives, Bangladesh, India and even the UAE are far ahead of Pakistan in taking measures to combat the effects of Climate Change. They have put themselves out there for the world to notice and assist them in combating climate change through mitigation and adaptation measures.

They are rapidly turning to alternate energy, green buildings and zero carbon areas, even cities, something Pakistan probably needs to do on a day-before-yesterday basis!

Until now, Pakistan’s response, despite being ranked the highest on the global vulnerability index, had been sporadic and disjointed, and was more ‘project-oriented’ than planned.

The Ministry of Environment, which stood devolved in the aftermath of the 18th Amendment, was going through a crisis of identity. Not only was it divested of its powers, it also lost its name, and after a while morphed into the Ministry of Disaster Management, and has now finally evolved into the Ministry of Climate Change.

While Climate Change may not cover everything that falls under environment, at least it spurred efforts to finally come up with a plan to deal with it. This led to the unveiling of the National Climate Change Policy which was the culmination of the effort of the Task Force constituted in 2008 for its formulation by seeking inputs from stakeholders drawn from the scientific community, academia, NGOs and the civil society.

The areas of focus, especially in an under-developed country like Pakistan, of course, were water, food and energy security. It also talks about the conservation of the Third Pole, the glaciers in the Hindukush-Karakoram areas.

Disaster resilience and disaster risk reduction also had to be factored in due to the incontrovertible evidence of increase in extreme events impacting millions of lives as in the floods of 2010. The lean economy, too, has no cushion against the losses amounting to billions of dollars in the wake of such disasters.

Such events not only create environmental, human, economic, and social stresses, they set the country back on the achievement of development goals as it does not have the coping mechanism to absorb such repeated shocks.

This is exactly what has happened in Pakistan and our poor development indices are proof.

A World Bank report rings another warning bell for all countries falling within the South Asian region, of which Pakistan is a part.

It states that: ‘In the South Asia Region (SAR), the number of disasters per year has quadrupled over the past four decades. Resulting damages have accumulated to over US$25 billion in the past five years alone. Despite increasing disaster risk in SAR, awareness and understanding of this risk among individuals and governments remains low. As an emerging topic, exposure and vulnerability to natural hazards and their consequential impacts are not yet at the forefront of development agendas.’

So what does the National Climate Change Policy entail and how will it change the situation. It touches on all of the aforementioned issues, along with the conservation of biodiversity and issues related to the forest cover.

It adds to Pakistan’s collection of very well made policies, something the country is famous for. Its policies have even been adopted by other countries, like South Korea, which peaked as an economic power through its implementation.

Implementation at home, however, has always been the weakest link in the chain. The fears cited by those who have gone over the NCCP are no different. An important subject like the environment has been devolved, much against the reservations, and recommendations of the experts in the field.

It is now a provincial subject and in the hands of ministries and departments, who fall way short of the capacity to implement or govern this agenda or the vision contained within this agenda.

While critics of the devolution process have been saying it in other instances, too, here it has been pretty much a case of putting the cart before the horse. If even while the debate on the 18th Amendment was ongoing, and an effort had been made to upgrade and upscale the capacity of the provincial ministries, the situation may not have been so depressing.

However, in the current scenario, there is no answer to the question as to how the National Climate Change Policy will be implemented by the provinces when all related sectoral functions are also devolved, and disconnected; like agriculture, food, water, forestry, transport, which impacts the air quality, disaster management, etc. They do not fall under one umbrella.

On the governance front, too, while Punjab has functioning green courts, they do not exist elsewhere, and the writ of the EPAs has been flouted and violated in instances that are too many to recount!

Then, again on a broader level, the vision for the conservation of the glaciers is commendable but that transcends the borders of the country. That is a regional issue. How can a policy that has to be implemented by the provinces extend its writ to regional issues?

Then again, the issue of generating adequate financing for achieving all that is contained within the policy has not been clearly spelled out. Pakistan needs huge financial assistance to develop climate resilience.

At a recent forum, The Director General of Environment, MoCC informed the audience that at the U.N. Conference on Climate Change that was held in Doha in November-December 2012, Pakistan succeeded in the establishment of funding mechanism for preparation of National Adaptation Plans through special Climate Change funds operated by the Global Environment Facility (GEF).

Pakistan also successfully pursued the formation of an international mechanism for addressing the issue of “Loss and Damage” caused due to floods, sea level rise, Cyclones and other Climate related disasters.”

This is an encouraging move. But not enough is said in the policy about generating financing through Clean Development Mechanisms, or about emissions curbing through reforestation despite being a signatory of REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestations and forest Degradation).

The effects of Climate Change on heritage sites and the changing pattern of monsoon and its severity on aviation has also not been looked into adequately, despite the unfortunate crash of Bhoja Airlines which, in the opinion of aviation experts, as well as environmental experts, had all the elements of an unexpected weather phenomenon hitting the aircraft, causing it to crash.

Climate change’s impact on gender, health, and rapid urbanization, an increase in the number of cli-migrants or climate refugees has not been extensively dealt with either. And to reiterate, even if all these issues had been highlighted, one wonders what the implementing mechanisms were.

The fear is that like many other policies that spell out a vision without a clear roadmap with goals for implementation, this will remain a document that will become obsolete because of the lack of an action plan that needed to be rolled out in tandem.

What we have to wait and see at this juncture in our history is that with political parties readying themselves for elections and unveiling their manifestoes, how many have an understanding of critical national issues like these.

Commendably, Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf got a head start by adding environment to its list of other policies for the electorate to ponder. What makes one sit up and take notice is the fact that it was prepared by Malik Amin Aslam, former minister of state for environment and current Global Vice Chairman of International Union for Conservation of Nature, and Climate Policy Advisor to the UNDP.

He is one of the few persons in Pakistan who command knowledge about how the carbon market works and how Pakistan can generate finance through the CDMs.

As far as our National Climate Change Policy is concerned, we really need to figure out how a global, transboundary issue can be tackled by implementers who are going to be largely provincial in focus!