What will Pakistan bring to COP21?

Whatever the results of COP 21, Pakistan needs to find an effective and sustainable path, leading towards increasing the resilience and adaptive capacity of communities and natural systems

France hosts the 21st session of the Conference of Parties (COP21) of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), in Paris. The UNFCCC was formed as a response to the increasingly negative impacts of climate change, and the Coference of the Parties (COP) are held every year to discuss and agree upon approaches to deal with it.

Last year, the parties discussed the possibility of reaching a global agreement and  this year's session is extremely important because it aims to achieve this universal and legally binding agreement on combating climate change (the Global Climate Agreement), primarily by trying to achieve the extremely difficult task of keeping global warming below 20C. This is what they will strive to do in the next two weeks.This means that all signatory countries are required to communicate the contributions they will make to this end, i.e what actions will they be putting in place to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions in order to combat climate change.This Global Climate Agreement will serve as the mechanism for all future action.

Pakistan is considered one of the top ten countries that are vulnerable to climate change. This has been apparent from the increase in climate induced natural disasters it has faced this decade. Greater intensity of precipitation and glacial melt due to increasing temperatures has already resulted in extensive floods, almost annually, from 2010 onwards. The floods that occurred in 2010 and 2011 resulted in economic loss of more than US$15 billion. This is because not only is climate change adversely impacting economic, social and environmental aspects, an absolute lack of governance and mismanaged development is exacerbating the negative impacts.

To add to this, Pakistan's 5,000 glaciers are in retreat and are likely to cause water stress, which has already started manifesting. Increase in droughts and desertification of land have raised questions about future food security of the country, where a majority of the people rely on natural resources for livelihoods through agriculture and fisheries. The Senate's Standing Committe on Science and Technology warned the PM this year that the intrusion of sea into the Indus Delta in Sindh and coastal areas in Balochistan, will result in sinking of coastal cities including Karachi by 2060. Many areas in Thatta and Badin have already been submerged.

The country is likely to face extremely high financial, social and environmental costs in terms of water shortages, food insecurity and energy deficits, which will substantially limit its ability for future sustainable development. All of these issues are due to the combined effects of a lack of governance – which leads to mismanaged development and unpreparedness for disasters – and climate change. And the recurrance of climate induced disasters negatively impact efforts towards poverty reduction, enhancing food security, improving access to energy and achievement of other development goals.

Although Pakistan's emissions are extremely low (0.8% of global emissions), it will still have to show its commitment to decreasing them at COP 21 – as well as highlighting the measures it has taken towards adaptation – if it is to benefit from any financial, technical and capacity assistance. The problem is that Pakistan's INDCs have not been approved by the PM and therefore have not been submitted to the UNFCCC. Upon checking the UNFCCC site, I discovered that on November 12, 2015, Pakistan submitted a non-committal one pager; the same one it had submitted last year at the Lima COP 20 as its preliminary offering. Without even changing the date, place and which COP its delegation was attending. In comparison here is Afghanistan's contribution, where it clearly defines its needs.

I don't know, perhaps the PM has taken a copy along with him. When it does submit them eventually,  Pakistan is likely to (and should) commit to a 10% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from the business as usual scenario. However, this task seems extremely difficult, considering the fact that severe electricity shortages are resulting in an increase in coal powered plants. Even so, Pakistan will likely showcase its commitment towards adopting clean energy options, by highlighting  the 100 MW solar park and its popular tree plantation campaigns. The fact of the matter is that even though there is a Ministry of Climate Change, it is headed by a federal secretary and there is no minister. Officials lack capacity to make informed and scientific decisions to finalise the promised commitments.

Whatever the results of COP21, Pakistan needs to find an effective and sustainable path, leading towards increasing the resilience and adaptive capacity of communities and natural systems, as well as contributing to global mitigation targets by decreasing greenhouse gas emissions. Renewable energy, sustainable agro-forestry, water and coastal management and clean and sustainable urban development need to be at the forefront of its climate policy. It is extremely important for an agrarian economy and natural resource dependent country like Pakistan, to invest in adaptation options, as well as to increase its disaster preparedness. Because it is a natural resource based economy, Ecosystems based Adaptation should be an important consideration for its future climate planning. Most importantly, all of this needs to be undertaken, in the backdrop of improving its governance structures. Without that, no efforts towards implementing adaptation and mitigation options will provide optimum results.

Policy makers therefore need to understand and acknowledge the importance of COP 21, as well as the fact that sustainable, holistic, inclusive and climate resilient development is the only way forward to achieving long-term economic growth and social development objectives. This means, well thought out and well prepared participation in the conference. However, it seems that this is not likely to happen and Pakistan will probably contribute very little to COP21, other than providing the usual lip service. As a result, if the Global Agreement is reached, Pakistan is likely to have little say in it and will be unable to take advantage of the financial, technical and capacity potential that such an agreement entails.

Saima Baig

Saima Baig is a Karachi-based environmental economist, climate change consultant and a freelance writer. Follow her on Twitter

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