Tackling Climate Change in Pakistan

Pakistani leadership is making an effort to bring a more eco-friendly energy mix for the country

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Pakistan has been listed as the seventh most vulnerable country affected by climate change, is now seriously tackling the vagaries of weather, both at the official as well as non-official level. An initiative of Pakistan Senate is pertinent to mention in this regard, where a sub-Committee of the Standing Committee on Climate Change was formed to focus on “Green and Clean Pakistan”. Including civil society, media, and students who have taken up the cudgels on combating climate change. More than 500 students and faculty members of an Islamabad based university launched an awareness campaign called “Say No to Plastics”.

Another similar initiative by Senate sub-Committee declared the “Right to a clean, green and healthy environment” as a Fundamental Human Right. That sub-Committee also published Pakistan’s first Media Manual on Environmental Degradation and Climate Change. This was the outcome of the first-ever Public Hearings on the environment and climate change in Pakistan’s parliament which incidentally is the first Green Parliament in the world since it is powered by solar panels, a gift from China.

Climate experts claim that Pakistan has faced around 150 hazards as a result of climate change in the past 20 years: flash floods, smog in winter, forest fires in summer, melting glaciers, freaky heatwaves, landslides, displaced population, etc. In the 2010-11 floods, almost 10% of Pakistan’s population was displaced. Last year, the costs of extreme weather as a consequence of climate change were listed at $384 million, and in the past 20 years, there has been a cost of almost $2 billion to the national economy because of the ravages of climate change.

Efforts are being undertaken to mitigate the problem. For instance, some $ 120 million funds have been expended in the country in the past 5 years to halt forest degradation and to promote tree plantations.

On equal footing, Pakistani leadership is making an effort to bring a more eco-friendly energy mix for Pakistan. The country has an installed capacity of over 30,000 MG of electricity, where the majority of it is being generated through imported fuel including furnace oil, coal, etc. while 30% via hydropower, 6% nuclear, and only 4% is generated on renewable energy. The share of renewable energy would be enhanced to 25% of the total by 2025 and 30% by 2030.

In this context, an interesting conference was convened by the Climate Parliament, a UK-based body promoting cooperation on climate change among parliamentarians. Several parliamentarians from Asian countries including Pakistan participated in this event. Green Grids Initiative, an idea to discuss and educate the participants on steps that need to be taken for a “renewable-powered planet” remained the focus of the convention. The idea was to enhance regional grid interconnectivity so that regions can promote cooperation in renewable energy. The idea to revive the SAARC Framework Agreement for Energy was also underscored.

While there are bureaucratic bottlenecks plus issues of capacity and legality, but there is also a need for the right vision and political will to take the battle of a green economy forward. Political conflicts serve as an impediment for regional energy cooperation while influential lobbyists like the Oil Lobby serve as a roadblock against renewable energy utilization. For decades, Pakistan was hostage to imported oil with a whopping bill of $ 20 billion per annum, while little or no effort was undertaken to look at cleaner or cheaper sources of energy. The key role in this context is, therefore, both parliamentarians in providing the vision and the will, as well as media and civil society to promote greater awareness and expose machinations of powerful vested interests.

It is heartening that in the context of Pakistan, there has been accelerated citizen activism on climate now. In the past five years, citizens and parliamentarians have gone to the Supreme Court against attempts by builders and the construction lobby against their cutting of trees and building of high rises on green areas, and Supreme Court upheld the citizens’ plea to preserve, protect and promote a clean and green environment in Pakistan’s Federal Capital, Islamabad.

The good thing is that the battle to combat Climate Change has now been taken up by not just the government but the people, civil society, parliamentarians, media, and concerned citizens, who have organized themselves for this cause including such proactive group of professional women volunteers who call themselves “Green Force” to lobby on environmental issues, which gives hope that this battle can and will be won in a country that is faced with some of the gravest challenges to its future due to climate change.

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