May 29, 2023

Cop out – Pakistan’s climate conundrum

Representative Image. Courtesy: OWP

Towards the end of 2021, the Conference of the Parties gathered for the 26th time to discuss matters pertaining to climate change. The conference – also known as Cop26 – was held in the largest city of Scotland, Glasgow, between October 31 and November 12, 2021.

The Conference of the Parties was established in 1992, and refers to the 197 – initially 154 – nations who agreed upon the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in the June of that year. The goal of the convention was ultimately to reduce the impact of what the convention termed “dangerous human interference with the climate system”, by stabilizing the concentration of greenhouse gases in the earth’s atmosphere.

Pakistan has been a part of the Conference of the Parties since its inception, 29 years ago.

As one of the original signatories of the UNFCCC, Pakistan’s commitment to the cause of climate preservation has been notable. Historically, the South Asian country has been estimated to be one of the worst affected by climate change: the country was recently ranked 7th in the world to be affected by extreme weather events between the years 1997 and 2016, by Germanwatch, a German NGO founded in 1991 to “observe, analyze, act” – to quote the organization’s motto – upon all things related to the environment.

Another report by the same NGO in 2020 placed Pakistan 5th on its Global Climate Risk Index, which indicates the susceptibility of countries to climate change. One of the determinants affecting the ranking, according to the authors of the report, is that the country is “recurrently affected by catastrophes’” and “continuously rank[s] among the most affected countries both in the long-term index and in the index for the respective year.”

For a country that was estimated in 2016 to have a mere 0.50% share in global carbon dioxide emissions, the impact it suffers is disproportionately high.

According to this report by the country’s Ministry of Finance, the change in climate could have far-reaching adverse effects on the country’s development and economy across many fronts. In Pakistan, the report states, “climatic changes are expected to have wide-ranging impacts, such as: reduced agricultural productivity, increased variability of water availability, increased coastal erosion and sea water incursion, and increased frequency of extreme climatic events.”

The report further recounts the efforts made by the current Pakistani government to combat climate change, such as the Eco-System Restoration Initiative (ESRI) which seeks to strengthen Pakistan environmentally by taking measures such as biodiversity conservation and afforestation – it seeks to halt and reverse deforestation by 2030 – among others to ultimately attain Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) and to achieve the objectives determined by the country’s Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC).

The country’s Updated Nationally Determined Contributions for the year 2021 – the complete document for which can be viewed here – presents the ambitious conditional target of reducing a cumulative 50% of its projected emissions by 2030, with unconditional reductions set at 15% and unconditional at 35%, which is subject to the reception of a grant worth $100 billion. The country further aims to switch to 30% electric vehicles by 2030, and to 60% renewable energy by the same year. It aims to utilize the already in-place initiatives like the Ten Billion Trees Tsunami Programme, which it claims would “sequester 148.76 MtCO2e emissions over the next 10 years”, to achieve as much proximity to net-zero emissions as possible.

Furthermore, the South Asian country has reportedly committed to reducing dependency on coal-based power, which is said to be the cause of 40% yearly carbon dioxide emissions, and to reduce methane output by 30%. Methane is believed to be a much more potent pollutant than carbon dioxide, warming the environment by 80 times more than CO2.

Thanks to initiatives aimed at the preservation of the climate, such as the Ten Billion Trees Tsunami Programme (TBTTP), Pakistan’s performance and commitment towards the cause was claimed to be well-received by all participants of the summit. The Special Assistant to the Prime Minister for Climate Change, Malik Amin Aslam claimed that “Pakistan’s pavilion remained a happening place throughout the summit” further adding that the criticism launched at the 8-member delegation was possibly because it could not accommodate any parliamentarians.

“In Pakistan, we don’t believe in the net-zero concept at the moment. We believe in the concept of a decisive decade in the next 10 years. If the world does not change in the next 10 years, then we’ll be too late for any net zeros in 2050, 2060 or 2070,” he said.

The tendency towards hopelessness in the advisor’s words could be attributed to the lack of commitment shown by the leading global emitters of carbon dioxide towards the cause of climate preservation. Countries such as China, which is responsible for more than 30% of global carbon dioxide emissions, the United States, which is responsible for over 13% of CO2 emissions, and India, which is responsible for 7% of the emissions, were brought under fire by climate activists for producing yet another show without action in the shape of Cop26.

In the absence of requisite seriousness from countries mostly responsible for the current dismal state of the planet, countries like Pakistan – no matter how committed to the cause – can only sit and watch as events unfold themselves.

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