Pakistan: National climate change policy to the rescue?
Two years before the massive floods triggered by unprecedented monsoon rains hit Pakistan in 2010, the federal government had already started taking the threat of climate change seriously by forming a Task Force on Climate Change in October 2008. In February 2010, before the disastrous flooding hit Pakistan in the summer, the Task Force issued a report on climate change impacts in Pakistan. The Task Force, comprised of academics and civil society members, was set up by the Planning Commission. After consulting with federal and provincial agencies and other experts, they published their findings, warning that heavy rains, flash floods, diseases and rising temperatures were all an inevitable future reality forced upon Pakistan by climate change.
The Task Force’s recommendations gave birth to the National Climate Change Policy (NCCP) that was finally launched three years later in Islamabad by the UNDP and the federal Ministry of Climate Change in an official ceremony held today. Since July 2011, the UN’s One Joint Programme on Environment has funded the long and expensive process leading to the launch of the NCCP, including consultations with all the provincial governments. This was necessary, given the post 18th amendment scenario in which powers have been devolved to the provincial governments.
The NCCP itself was delayed by devolution and although the Ministry of Environment had prepared the policy back in 2011, it took almost a year to be presented to the federal cabinet (the ministry itself was devolved in June 2011 and reconstituted as the Ministry of Climate Change in 2012). The NCCP was approved in principle by Pakistan’s cabinet in March 2012, but it was only ratified in September 2012 and officially launched in February 2013. In the mean time, Pakistan was hit by another round of disastrous flooding in the summer of 2011 and today the country ranks in the top 10 list of the most vulnerable countries in the world when it comes to suffering from the impacts of climate change.
Clearly, the time for talking is long past and while one is grateful that the NCCP has finally been approved by the government and launched as an official policy document, questions remain about its implementation. “It is good that consultations were held with all the provinces and while I agree with all the policy recommendations (except for nuclear power), what we have today is a framework document, not an action plan”, explains Shafqat Kakakhel, a former UN Environment Programme official and a member of the original Task Force on Climate Change. “What we need is implementation”.
The NCCP has around 120 recommendations focusing both on adaptation and mitigation, relating to key sectors like water, agriculture and livestock, forestry and biodiversity, disaster preparedness, mountain ecosystems, human health, energy, transport etc. However, it is still not a substitute for concrete actions and programmes. “I would have liked to see fewer actions, properly budgeted and time bound, spelling out how much money the government will spend and the resources needed. In fact, where will the resources for implementation come from?” asks Kakakhel.
The issue of climate finance is extremely relevant, given the global financial crisis and the fact that rich countries are reluctant to give money to poor countries for climate change. The global Green Climate Fund, a mechanism to transfer money from the developed to the developing world, in order to assist developing countries in adaptation and mitigation practices to counter climate change, currently faces a bleak future. Rich countries have shied away from giving even the 30 billion US dollars they promised by the end of 2012 (they had promised to provide $100 billion each year by 2020 to developing nations). Their poor track record in meeting their climate finance pledges is not giving us much hope.
The NCCP also envisages the setting up of a National Climate Change Fund under the Planning Commission or the Finance Division, but again there are no particulars about where the money will be coming from, except some vague references to Public Sector Development funding. Without proper funding, the NCCP might meet the same fate as dozens of other good-intentioned policy documents prepared by successive governments and are now gathering dust.
The goal of the policy is to “ensure that climate change is mainstreamed in the economically and socially vulnerable sectors of the country” according to Director General Environment, Javed Ali Khan. Pakistan is to be showcased as a “climate resilient country”. For that to be realised, much more has to happen on the ground and soon before another cycle of monsoon rains hit us this coming summer. For now, the NCCP, according to Kakakhel, “remains a wish list”.
The government in its defense says that an action plan is being made that will include short-term actions (for the next 2 years), medium-term actions (in 10 years) and long-term actions (in 20 years). According to Dr Qamar-uz-Zaman, currently vice-president of the World Meteorological Organisation (from Asia) who authored the NCCP and is now working on the action plan, “The focus will be on the adaptation to climate change in the water sector, agriculture, mountain areas and disaster reduction. There will be mitigation measures as well – how to reduce emissions from energy production and forests”. Ultimately, he says, the NCCP has to be implemented by the provinces – the federal government will only be coordinating on climate change with the provinces and the international donors. The provinces will have to develop their own plans and projects and the Ministry of Climate Change will assist them.
Under the action plan currently being finalised, the provincial capacity is to be increased to deal with issues such as water, disaster management and disaster risk reduction. It is to be a bottom-up, coordinated effort in keeping with the spirit of the 18th Amendment. However, in Kakakhel’s view, “I would have liked to see an apex body of highly qualified experts at the national level overseeing what needs to be done at both the federal and provincial levels. The body would be capable of handling all the multifaceted activities”. The NCCP does envision the setting up of a National Climate Change Policy Implementation Committee but it is to be staffed with bureaucrats while the need of the hour is for technocrats. Fortunately, Pakistan has a number of experienced climate change experts, some working internationally, and the government should take advantage of their expertise.