Pak­istan’s Cli­mate Re­spon­si­bil­ity

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With the tin­sel dust set­tling around the re­cently inked Paris Agree­ment, the highly an­tic­i­pated ac­cord that emerged from four years of stiff- up­per- lip diplo­macy on cli­mate change, it is time for pol­icy im­ple­menters to take a hard look at what they ne­go­ti­ated into place at COP21. De­vel­oped na­tions came for­ward to take re­spon­si­bil­ity for the car­bon cri­sis and pledged funds for cli­mate mit­i­ga­tion, some of which have been mo­bilised al­ready. All par­ties agreed to keep global warm­ing well below the 2°C level, and achieve ‘ car­bon neu­tral­ity’ by the se­cond half of the 21st cen­tury; this has been de­cried as clever word­play to mean some­thing close to zero emis­sions. As for de­vel­op­ing coun­tries, the agenda varies de­pend­ing on in­di­vid­ual emis­sion vol­umes and com­mit­ment to the ac­cord.

Where does Pak­istan stand in all this? Nowhere, as far as big- ticket de­bates on 2°C caps or cli­mate fi­nance go. The Prime Min­is­ter made a per­func­tory speech at COP21, re­flect­ing Pak­istan’s wall­flower sta­tus and handed the cli­mate ba­ton back to those with “deep car­bon foot­prints.” Un­for­tu­nately, Pak­istan’s cur­rent cli­mate brief makes lit­tle con­tri­bu­tion to global knowl­edge other than con­firm­ing that the apoc­a­lypse has come sooner for some. Does that mean we wait for the grass to grow un­der our feet un­til funds ar­rive for cli­mate adap­ta­tion? No, there’s plenty to do in the mean­time to make our­selves rel­e­vant to the in­ter­na­tional cli­mate de­bate.

Take cities, for in­stance. The twin cities of Rawalpindi and Is­lam­abad alone pro­duce a bil­lion tonnes worth

of green­house gas emis­sions per an­num. Be­tween 1991 and 2010, Is­lam­abad’s tem­per­a­ture grew at twice the rate of global tem­per­a­tures and the change in tem­per­a­ture is pro­jected to be 2.2° C by 2069. Me­trop­o­lises all over the world are step­ping for­ward to join the Compact of May­ors, in which cities vol­un­tar­ily com­mit to cre­at­ing cli­mate data and en­able lo­cal cli­mate ac­tion through pub­lic and pri­vate in­vest­ments. The cli­mate change vul­ner­a­bil­ity study pi­loted for Is­lam­abad, jointly un­der­taken by govern­ment bod­ies and UN-HABI­TAT, makes a sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tion to data in this re­spect and aids the work be­ing done by civil so­ci­ety or­gan­i­sa­tions. By join­ing the Compact, the city ad­min­is­tra­tion of Is­lam­abad can demon­strate its ca­pac­ity and sign up to in­ter­na­tional best prac­tices on adap­ta­tion, re­silience and re­duc­ing vul­ner­a­bil­ity. It’s about time our mu­nic­i­pal gov­ern­ments ap­peared on the global grid to speak about their sig­nif­i­cant lessons them­selves.

Se­cond, we need to start plant­ing trees by the mil­lions to se­quester car­bon. That’s part of ev­ery pol­icy frame­work that the fed­eral govern­ment has pro­duced since 1955, but trees haven’t been planted in the nec­es­sary droves. Other than an am­bi­tious Bil­lion Tree Tsunami cam­paign in Khy­ber-Pakhtunkhwa, whose first phase saw 11 mil­lion saplings planted over 6,000 hectares at a cost of Rs886 mil­lion, there has been no other mass af­foresta­tion drive. Pak­istan’s for­est cover is a mere four to five per cent of to­tal land­mass, lag­ging far be­hind all other South Asian coun­tries other than Afghanistan, and de­creas­ing each year. Ex­perts have called for a com­plete ban on tree- felling to pre­serve forests and sub­sti­tut­ing wood in in­dus­try, con­struc­tion and do­mes­tic use. Many large cities have turned to grow­ing ur­ban forests to im­prove air qual­ity and bring tem­per­a­tures down. Is­lam­abad’s own green spa­ces have been cut back at an un­prece­dented scale over the last decade — al­most 200 square kilo­me­tres of un­planned ur­ban sprawl have been added to the ICT’s orig­i­nal mas­ter plan be­tween 2000 and 2013, re­sult­ing in the de­vel­op­ment of nu­mer­ous ‘ur­ban heat is­lands.’ Around 45,000 cars are added each year to Is­lam­abad’s traf­fic, whose fuel emis­sions com­bine with the trans­port sec­tor, re­sult­ing in three mil­lion tonnes of car­bon each year. Ur­ban forests of in­dige­nous trees are badly needed to off­set this car­bon cloud.

Third, cit­i­zens and civil so­ci­ety need to take the lead in cli­mate au­dits. The Paris Agree­ment re­quires all coun­tries to re­port back ev­ery five years on mit­i­ga­tion ef­forts, and civil so­ci­ety groups can un­der­take a ca­pa­ble au­dit of im­ple­men­ta­tion in this sphere. Such groups have tra­di­tion­ally led the charge — from disas­ter man­age­ment to pol­icy ad­vo­cacy to re­search — be­ing clos­est to the com­mu­ni­ties that daily ex­pe­ri­ence cli­mate change as well as en­abling the nexus be­tween pub­lic re­sources, in­sti­tu­tions and vul­ner­a­ble com­mu­ni­ties. The Paris Agree­ment creates new im­pe­tus for pub­licpri­vate com­ple­men­tar­ity, in which both sec­tors must meet the other half way. There has to be a move away from poster com­pe­ti­tions as a means of en­gag­ing ci­ti­zen in­ter­est on the one hand, and greater pri­vate ini­tia­tive in mit­i­ga­tion strate­gies on the other. Tree plan­ta­tion schemes are a great place to be­gin for both, and can usher in the gamut of mit­i­ga­tion and adap­ta­tion-re­lated pro­cesses. This must fur­ther be ex­tended to cor­po­rate en­ti­ties whose cor­po­rate so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity projects are al­ready re­sourc­ing cli­mate ac­tion in parts of Pak­istan, but need to be scaled up with the right mes­sag­ing cam­paigns that gen­er­ate pub­lic in­ter­est.

The Paris Agree­ment is built on am­bi­tion, tem­pered by a healthy dose of re­al­ity. By sign­ing up to the ac­cord, Pak­istan has com­mit­ted it­self to a new fron­tier of in­ter­ests and im­per­a­tives that must be re­alised sooner rather than later. There’s ev­ery chance it can, and should, take own­er­ship and lead the cli­mate de­bate be­fore the close of five years.

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