ISLAMABAD (AlertNet) - Pakistan faces a range of threatening climate change impacts: changing monsoon patterns, melting glaciers, seasonal flooding, rising sea levels, desertification and increasing water scarcity.
How bad are things? For the past two years, Pakistan has topped the list of the Global Climate Risk Index produced by Germanwatch, a non-governmental organisation that works on global equity issues. In 2010, Pakistan was listed as the number one country in the world affected by climate related disasters; in 2011 it was ranked as number three.
But concrete action to address climate threats has been relatively slow, critics say, and a convoluted process of devolution of power to Pakistan’s provinces and then the reorganisation of federal ministries hasn’t helped speed up the process – though a new federal Ministry of Climate Change may help change that.
“The time for talking is long past,” said Shafqat Kakakhel, a former U.N. Environment Programme official and a member of Pakistan’s original task force on climate change set up by the government in 2008. “What we need to see are projects on the ground. Pakistan is lagging far behind other countries in the South Asian region that are already addressing climate change through concrete actions.”
POWER TO THE PROVINCES
Pakistan’s federal Ministry of Environment, already struggling to address growing climate-related disasters, ran into problems in June 2011, when an amendment to the country’s constitution suddenly devolved increased power to provincial governments, despite fears that provincial-level officials might lack the capacity and competency to deal with pressing environmental issues.
The change raised some big questions, including what would happen to the various international environmental agreements to which Pakistan is a signatory, including the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change and similar conventions on biological diversity, desertification and wetlands. Who would own the agreements once the Ministry of Environment was no more?
Eventually, the country’s newly developed National Climate Change Policy and its international agreements were handed over to the Ministry of Planning.
Critics like Malik Amin Aslam, the former Minister of State for the Environment, complained that months of uncertainty surrounding the changes meant that “Pakistan has gone into reverse mode on these (environmental) fronts, and at the worst possible time.”
Climate change effects, he warned, could cost Pakistan’s economy up to $14 billion a year, and needed to be urgently deal with.
“The country cannot run away from the effects of a changing climate,” he said, noting that “in the past 40 years, nine out of the top ten natural disasters in Pakistan have been climate-triggered which shows the magnitude of the challenge”.
NEW NATIONAL MINISTRIES
Perhaps in response to all the criticism, in October 2011, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani created four new federal ministries to absorb leftover departments at the federal level after devolution. One was the new Ministry of National Disaster Management.
Chosen to head the ministry was Javed Malik, the former environment secretary. With the support of the U.N. Development Programme, he had initiated Pakistan’s National Climate Change Policy, a new umbrella policy for managing a wide range of issues including disasters, human health, water, agriculture and biodiversity.
Two years before record floods hit Pakistan in 2010, the federal government had formed a Presidential Task Force on Climate Change. It warned, prior to the floods, that heavy rains, flash floods, disease outbreaks and rising temperatures were all an inevitable future reality forced upon Pakistan by climate change.
The task force’s recommendations led to the creation of the National Climate Change Policy, authored by Qamar-uz-Zaman Chaudhry, a climate adviser to the government and currently vice president of the World Meteorological Organisation.
But the process of putting the policy into place was hugely slowed as a result of the political devolution process, Chaudhry said. It was eventually ratified by the federal cabinet in September 2012.
Other changes were also in process. In April 2012, Pakistan’s government elevated the issue of climate change to a cabinet level portfolio by renaming the Ministry of National Disaster Management the Ministry of Climate Change, and tasking it with overseeing research and implement projects to mitigate the effects of climate change and reduce the risks to the country.
Qamar-uz-Zaman praised the move as “a good decision,” which gave the ministry a “more appealing” name.
TURNING POLICY INTO PRACTICE?
Now the new Ministry of Climate Change will have to try to turn policy into practice. An action plan is being constructed that will include short-term actions (for the next 2 years), medium-term actions (in 10 years) and long-term actions (in 20 years). Key priorities will include assessing and creating an inventory of water resources, and focusing on disaster risk reduction and adaptation to climate change in the water sector, in agriculture, and in mountain areas, Qamar-uz-Zaman said.
He said there will also be mitigation measures, including “how to reduce emissions from energy production and deforestation.”
The changes seem to have re-centralised Pakistan’s efforts to deal with climate change, despite the devolution of political power. That’s something Qamar-uz-Zaman says just makes sense.
“Climate change is a global issue – not even a regional issue – therefore it has to be tackled at a national level, as a federal subject,” he said. But “the (National Climate Change Policy) was formed after extensive consultations with the provinces. Ultimately, it has to be implemented by the provinces – the federal government will only be coordinating on climate change with provinces and the international donors”.
One of the goals of the National Climate Change Policy is to enhance awareness, skills and institutional capacity, particularly at the provincial level, on issues such as water and disaster management, and disaster risk reduction.
The provinces are being asked to come up with long-term policy measures to address increases in the intensity of extreme weather events, as well as more erratic monsoon rains. They also have to come up with plans for water conservation and to deal with water losses for irrigation.
The Ministry of Climate Change also plans to help the provincial entities in getting funding and assistance from international donors.
Kakakhel, a member of Pakistan’s original task force on climate change, said the need for action is urgent.
India and Bangladesh, for instance, have made more progress addressing climate problems, and Pakistan as of yet does not have a U.N.-approved NAMA (a plan of Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions) or NAPA (a National Adaptation Programme of Action), he said.
Pakistan’s National Climate Change Policy “is very comprehensive but it is like a long wish list and I still don’t see who will implement it,” Kakakhel said.
“What we really need is to transform the Ministry of Climate Change into a modern Climate Change Unit which should ideally be placed in the Planning Division with qualified experts and specialists who can deliver projects that can tackle the enormous problems Pakistan is facing with climate change,” he said.
Rina Saeed Khan writes on climate changes issues from Islamabad.