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Pakistan: The Road to COP21

Posted on 26th November 2015 at 11:57am

Pakistan Correspondent and Blog Editor Luavut Zahid says that the country needs to find an effective and sustainable path, leading towards increasing the resilience and adaptive capacity of communities and natural systems, as well as contributing to global mitigation targets by decreasing greenhouse gas emissions. She commissioned this piece by Saima Baig because climate change is a huge problem for Pakistan and has resulted in both social and economic costs for the country. The COP21 this year aims to put countries on the same page in the fight for the planet, and Pakistan needs to be making its own contribution - but as the author notes, it most likely will not. Can a developing country that is routinely battered by climate change still pretend that it isn't a problem? That is the question.

In early December, France is host to the 21st session of the Conference of Parties (COP21) of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This session aims to achieve a universal and legally binding agreement on combating climate change (the Global Climate Agreement), primarily by trying to achieve the extremely difficult task of keeping global warming below 2 degrees Centigrade.

Most people in Pakistan rely on natural resources for livelihoods through agriculture and fisheries, making them highly vulnerable to climate change (photo: Ilyas Dean / 123rf)

All signatory countries are required to communicate the contributions they will make to this end, ie what actions will they be putting in place to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions in order to combat climate change: one of the biggest challanges for humanity.This Global Climate Agreement will serve as the mechanism for all future climate change action, a draft of which has already been submitted to governments.

All countries, especially major economies like China, US, European Union, Brazil and India, will have to show their Intended Nationally Determined Commitments (INDCs) to move away from their dependence on fossil fuels and towards adopting renewable energy sources. Vulnerable nations – those that are most likely to suffer from climate induced calamities and which were previously not bound to show such commitments – will also have to join in. It is worth noting that the previous two COPs took place in the shadow of typhoons in the Philippines and this time too there is the ongoing disaster of forest fires in Indonesia.

Pakistan is considered one of the top ten countries vulnerable to climate change. The Climate Change Vulnerability Index assessed it as most affected by climate change, a fact made very clear considering the increase in climate-induced natural disasters it has faced this decade. Greater intensity of precipitation and glacial melt, owing to increasing temperatures, has already resulted in extensive floods, virtually on an annual basis, from 2010 onwards.

The floods that occurred in 2010 and 2011 resulted in economic losses of more than US$15 billion. The country's 5,000 glaciers are in retreat and are likely to cause water stress. An increase in drought and desertification of land have raised questions about future food security of the country, where a majority of the people rely on natural resources for livelihoods through agriculture and fisheries.

The Senate's Standing Committe on Science and Technology warned the Prime Minister this year that the intrusion of sea into the Indus Delta in Sindh and coastal areas in Balochistan will result in the sinking of coastal cities, including Karachi, by 2060. Many areas in Thatta and Badin in Sindh have already been submerged.

Experts say that Karachi could well be inundated by 2060 (photo: 123rf)

The country is likey to face extremely high financial, social and enviromental costs in terms of water shortages, food insecurity and energy deficits, which will substantially limit its ability for future sustainable development. All of these issues are down to the combined effects of a lack of governance – which leads to mismanaged development and upreparedness for disasters – and climate change. And the recurrance of climate induced disasters have adverse impacts on poverty reduction, enhancing food security, improving access to energy and other development options.

Although Pakistan's emissions are extremely low (0.8 per cent of global emissions), Pakistan will still have to show its commitment to decreasing them at COP21, as well as highlighting the measures it has taken towards adaptation. The problem is that Pakistan's INDCs have not been approved by the Prime Minster and therefore have not been submitted to the UNFCCC, as of November, 2015.

Promises have been made that they will be. If it does submit them, Pakistan is likely to commit to a 10 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from the business-as-usual scenario. However, this task seems extremely difficult, considering the fact that severe electricity shortages are resulting in an increase in coal powered plants. Even so, Pakistan will likely showcase its commitment towards adopting clean energy options, by highlighting the 100MW solar park and its popular tree plantation campaigns. The fact of the matter is that even though there is a Ministry of Climate Change, it is headed by a federal secretary, without a dedicated Minister, and officials lack capacity to make informed and scientific decisions to finalise the promised commitments.

It has been recently estimated that the average annual costs of adaptation up to 2050, range between US$6 – 14 billion. Pakistan will require an additional US$10 billion annually to adapt to climate change impacts; and its mitigation requirements range from US$18 billion in 2014/15 to US$45 billion in 2050, according to the Ministry of Climate Change.

This means that Pakistan will be interested in getting a share of the Green Climate Fund, which is a commitment by developed countries to provide US$100 billion annually to developing nations for adaptation and mitigation activities, and which still has not reached its desired goal. In September 2015, the Federal Secretary for the Ministry, Mr Arif Ahmad Khan confirmed readiness to submit a readiness proposal to seek the Fund's support for a "broad range of low-emission and climate resilient initiatives, including those for renewable energy".

Whatever the results of COP21, Pakistan needs to find an effective and sustainable path, leading towards increasing the resilience and adaptive capacity of communities and natural systems, as well as contributing to global mitigation targets by decreasing greenhouse gas emissions. Renewable energy, sustainable agro-forestry, water and coastal management and clean and sustainable urban development need to be at the forefront of its climate policy. It is extremely important for an agrarian economy and natural resource dependent country like Pakistan to invest in adaptation options, as well as to increase its disaster preparedness. Because it is a natural resource based economy, Ecosystems-based adaptation should be an important consideration for its future climate planning.

Most importantly, all of this needs to be undertaken against a backdrop of improving Pakistan’s governance structures. Without that, no efforts towards implementing adaptation options will provide optimum results.

Policymakers therefore need to understand and acknowledge the importance of COP21, as well as the fact that sustainble, holistic, inclusive and climate resilient development is the only way forward to achieving long-term economic growth and social development objectives. This means, well thought out and well prepared participation in the conference. The capacity of representatives should have been built to make the case to the COP regarding Pakistan's vulnerability and need for climate finance, technology transfer and knowledge of mechanisms for loss and damage. And its focus at the COP should be on the implementation of adaptation options, together with highlighting its immense potential for reducing emissions cost-effectively.

However, considering the present circumstances and the lack of understanding of its delegation regarding the underlying issues, this is not likely to happen. Pakistan will probably contribute very little to COP21. It will be overshadowed by China and India, which have built their knowledge base on all aspects of climate change, something that Pakistan has not done. As a result it will remain a small player and be unable to bring its case to the forefront.

Saima Baig is a free lance consultant for environmental economics, environmental management and climate change, based in Karachi. She can be emailed at saimapbaig@gmail.com

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