Pakistan’s Climate Responsibility
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.