by Aisha Khan

Q: You served as Deputy Executive Director of UNEP for ten years and are now serving as Chair of SDPI. How do you see the evolution of Pakistan’s participation at the Conference of Parties?
A: Pakistan has all along participated in the annual conferences of parties (COPs) of the UN Climate Change Convention since 1985. Until 2009, Pakistan’s delegations usually comprised two officials of the then Ministry of Environment, but since the 13th COP in Bali, the size of our delegations has been larger ; over the last decade or so our contingents have included nearly a dozen officials and non-official delegates.

Q: What is the rationale behind holding COP meetings? Has Pakistan been able to present its case effectively at the COPs?
A: The COP is  the legislative  body of the UNFCCC and is meant to ensure its full and effective implementation by forging consensus on the elaboration of the provisions of the Convention on the basis of the detailed work done by the two main subsidiary bodies on Implementation and Scientific and Technical Issues called SBI and SBSTA respectively.

Pakistan has, by and a large, sought to harmonise its positions with those of the developing countries through platforms such as the G77, since most of  the concerns of developing countries are similar. The quality of our contribution to the development of joint stands of the G77 has varied depending on the technical knowledge and diplomatic acumen of our delegates who are not always the same individuals. During the post Copenhagen COP period, since 2009, Pakistan played a key role in articulating the views of the developing countries on financing issues mainly because one of our delegates (an official from the Foreign Office) had acquired enviable command over the  financing of mitigation and adaptation actions by the developing countries. Since he joined the UN Secretariat as  an advisor to the Secretary General on Climate Finance issues a few years ago, Pakistan’s role in the COP on finance has been negligible.

Q: The Paris Agreement was hailed for its success? How do you rate its achievement?
A: The Paris Agreement achieved a new global consensus on a range of climate change issues breaking the deadlock in negotiations since the ill-fated Copenhagen COP in 2009. The Agreement set the goal of limiting  temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius and striving for 1.5 degrees C compared to pre-industrial level. It consolidated  key elements of the Copenhagen Accord and the outcomes of all COPS since COP 15 on the building blocs of global climate agenda such as mitigation, adaptation, finance, technology and capacity building. It established a system of globally declared national commitments by all member states, rich and poor, big and small to reduce their GHG emissions (contained in the INDCs) and to regularly enhance the level of their ambition in terms of quantitative reductions of carbon dioxide releases into the atmosphere. The Agreement provides for transparency in all climate related actions of states under the MRV regime. The Agreement re-confirmed the responsibility of developed countries to mobilise USD 100 billion annually from 2020, for mitigation and adaptation activities of developing countries.

The Paris Agreement has been criticised for the unrealistic goal of limiting warming below 1.5C in order to please and placate the small island states which are likely to disappear if the temperature goes up beyond 1.5C. This target is politically and technically un-achievable given the reluctance of business and politicians in the OECD countries to accept truly sharp GHG emission reductions that would be necessary to get closer to the 2C goal, let alone 1.5C! The agreement treats developed and developing countries alike regardless of the historic build up of GHG emissions which have already led to a 1 degree C increase in global warming, thereby nullifying the principle of common but differentiated responsibility (CBDR), the corner stone of the 1992 Climate Convention.

Q:  What specific issues should Pakistan place most focus on at COP22?
A: The forthcoming COP22 in Marrakech and subsequent COPs are crucial for adding flesh to the skeleton of the Paris (Climate) Agreement agreed at COP 21 in Paris late last year and signed by the majority of countries in April this year, including Pakistan.

The issues of special concern for Pakistan and, therefore deserving highest priority are: (1) the full operationalisation of the Green Climate Fund (GCF), the financial mechanism of the Paris Accord as soon as it comes into effect in accordance with the conditions laid down in the agreement and the finalisation of the modalities of disbursement of funds to the developing countries for their mitigation and adaptation projects; (2) securing financial resources for the Adaptation Fund in addition to the GCF; (3) Ensuring the robustness  of the mechanisms established under the Paris Agreement for climate related  technology development and transfer to the developing countries, as well as the institutional arrangements for capacity building and protection of forests and biodiversity as part of the global climate agenda; (4) ensuring that a separate, additional window of financing is set up for compensating developing countries for loss and damage from the  adverse effects of climate change, which had been agreed at the Warsaw COP in  2013. The Loss and Damage mechanism  is especially  important for Pakistan given its acute vulnerability to climate induced extreme events, such as floods and droughts. Pakistan and other climate change prone developing countries also need support in developing and deploying renewable energy sources, energy and water use efficiency which necessitate access to modern technology.

Q: What in your view are the strengths and weaknesses in Pakistan’s Climate Change Policy?
A: Pakistan’s climate change policy (finalised in 2012) is a comprehensive blueprint, which addresses all key issues such as mitigation, adaptation, technology and technical know-how requirements, capacity development priorities and promoting resilience of economic sectors and regions and communities likely to be adversely affected by climate change impacts. The Climate Policy was drafted by experts in consultation with scientists and civil society. Similarly the Framework for the Implementation of the Climate Change Policy (2013) is sound and identifies the areas of highest priority (such as the protection of water resources, food and energy security). The challenge, however, is the implementation of the Climate change policy which would require unprecedented political commitment and mobilisation of human, financial and technology resources that Pakistan either lacks or possesses in inadequate measure!

Q: How do you see the role of civil society in the national climate change discourse and what role should civil society play at the COP meetings?
A: The UNFCCC COPs mainly comprise inter-governmental negotiations on the elaboration, implementation and regular updating of international agreements. The responsibility for effective participation in this vital legislative task lies with Government representatives who are paid to follow up on international agreements and arrangements and are expected to acquire full command over the complex issues being negotiated which is not possible for civil society organizations and activists. But the COPs also provide invaluable opportunities for interaction with official delegations, representatives of UN agencies and other  global institutions and organisations, including those able to provide technical, financial and capacity development assistance to developing countries in specific areas. The Climate Change COPs are attended by almost every  significant  industry and business sector entity relevant to climate change, all financial mechanisms, representatives of leading  NGOs whose raison d'etre is to assist governments and other stakeholders of  developing countries in their efforts to contribute to the stabilisation of the climate and protecting the ecosystems of the planets which sustain human life. Civil society representatives can serve as interlocutors with all the state and non-state participants at COPS.

At COP22, our civil society representatives, especially those who have devoted years of hard work to climate issues, can assist the official delegation in promoting the objectives of the national climate policy elaborated in the INDC document; solicit assistance for building Pakistan’s resilience to cope with the damage caused by climate related events; establish partnerships with climate change research and development organisations for beefing up national capacity; represent Pakistan in the numerous discussions convened by participating institutions and organisations. Some of the civil society representatives may be able to assist the official delegates in updating their briefs and providing inputs on issues not anticipated when the official brief was finalised.

Q: Has the 18 Amendment and devolution of power impacted environmental conservation policy and actions?
A: The 18th Amendment responded to the imperative of ensuring decentralisation in decision making and  devolution of authority and responsibility, as well as financial resources to the federation  units of Pakistan - a highly laudable objective. Such devolution has taken place in the two dozen or so countries with federal constitutions and state structures. It is, therefore, necessary to make determined efforts to achieve the noble political and urgent administrative objectives of the 18th Amendment.

In assessing the impact of the 18th Amendment on environmental conservation, we should recall that under our previous constitutions, and indeed the constitutions of all federal countries in the world (such as the US, Canada, India, Brazil, Nigeria, Malaysia, Belgium, etc), the conservation of the environment and protection and development of natural resources is a joint responsibility of the federal and provincial/state governments. In Pakistan, this was achieved by placing environment and ecology in the concurrent list. It was envisaged that the Federal Government would lay down overall national policies and laws, participate in international debates on environmental issues and enter into agreements with foreign governments and multilateral bodies on environment related issues. The implementation of the national policies and benchmarks as well as programs and projects funded from internal and external sources was to be undertaken by the Provincial governments through their environment related departments. In practice, however, neither the federal, nor the provincial, governments made  any notable efforts for environmental conservation. The implementation of the few significant environment- related programs funded externally, such as the National Environmental Protection Action Plan (NEAP) based on the 1991 National Conservation Strategy, dubbed as Pakistan’s  Agenda 21, was undertaken largely by the Federal Government. This was also the case with UN – funded projects. The Sustainable  Development Boards  in the provinces enshrined in the 1997 Pakistan Environment Protection Act (PEPA) never saw the light of the day. The sole provincial environment department that did contribute significantly to environmental protection is the one in Lahore!

Seen against this backdrop, the 18th Amendment eliminating the role of the federal government in regard to environment created a serious situation of making environmental stewardship an orphan. Several years down the road, the provinces continue to claim that they simply do not have the policy, institutions, and technical and financial resources and capacity to look after the environment other than the agricultural and forest resources for which departments existed. The 18th Amendment also raised questions about the future of policies and programs supported by UN agencies, especially those related to the MDGs since all the federal ministries entrusted to promote the MDGs, in addition to the environment were abolished! Subsequently, the Federal Government established the Ministry of Climate Change and other federal ministries to deal with the “orphan” children of the 18th Amendment! At present, the Federal Ministry of Climate Change takes the position that its responsibility is limited to national level policy making and benchmarking, while the provincial governments are required to implement those policies and benchmarks. Representatives of the provinces continue to complain about their inadequate capacity to address complex issues such as climate change. In a nutshell, some of the issues caused by the 18th Amendment have not been resolved in a satisfactory manner.

Q: What measures should the government  take to strengthen its policy on climate change and put in place a delivery and enforcement mechanism that is efficient and effective?
A: The success of Pakistan’s climate change policy would decisively depend on setting ambitious but realistic action plans on the key components of the policy such as mitigation including development and deployment of renewable energy sources, measures to achieve optimum efficiency in energy so as to “achieve more with less” and effective arrangements for pricing of energy meant to prevent waste, adaptation in the key sectors likely to be adversely impacted by climate change such as water resources through feasible supply and demand side measures, promotion of technology for achieving mitigation and adaptation objectives, strengthening the capacities of communities in climate vulnerable areas such as coastal regions likely to suffer on account of surging sea water, protecting forests, range lands, wetlands, ponds, ground waters. The securing of financial resources from domestic and external sources including the funding mechanisms established under the global agreements and effective measures for monitoring of action plans is indispensable for the success and effectiveness of climate change related state interventions. The business sector and other non- state stakeholders must be encouraged and empowered to contribute to the implementation of the action plans. Enhanced regional and global cooperation would be needed to ensure availability of resources.The media and civil society would need to be mobilised on behalf of the national climate change policy.

Q: Is the MRV requirement too stringent for developing countries and will it become a deterrent to access funding from GCF?
A: Developing countries fear that the complex and obtrusive procedures and modalities of MRV might militate against their efforts to benefit from the GCF and other avenues available for their climate related activities. These fears must be addressed through efforts to simplify the MRV modalities, as well as building the capacity of developing countries to institute MRV processes.This places special responsibility on the G77 to come up with appropriate positions on the subject at the COPs.

Q: What did you think of the INDC submitted at COP21? How do you assess the approach for developing the INDC this year and the effort put into it so far?
A: Pakistan’s inability to produce an INDC document in time in accordance with the decision of the Lima COP in 2014 was unfortunate. It was shaped by its inability to compile inventories of the greenhouse gas emissions of various sectors, and projections about future trends affecting GHG emissions in different development scenarios, studies on the likely adverse impacts of mitigation of GHGs and lack of understanding of  the institutional and other requirements of fulfilling its mitigation and adaptation goals and  targets. It was perfectly understandable on the part of Pakistan to eschew fixing emissions reduction targets based on non-existent or insufficient ground work. I understand that recently, progress has been made in overcoming all these obstacles. The Government has established a team of experts to prepare an INDC report in time for submission to the UNFCCC Secretariat prior to COP22. I suggest that the final draft of the INDC paper should be widely disseminated through electronic and conventional means in order to elicit inputs from experts  within the country and outside Pakistan and the civil society. Wider participation of experts in the process can only help improve the comprehensiveness and  overall quality of the INDC document. I would like to see an INDC document that can serve as a brief, not only for the UN, but also other international agencies and partners. Pakistan Missions abroad must be mandated to disseminate the INDC in the countries of their accreditation with a view to securing support for achieving the goals and targets enshrined in the document.

Q: Which pathway should Pakistan adopt to become  energy efficient?
A: Pakistan has lately developed an Energy Policy as well as legislative measures to promote development of renewable energy through the Alternative Energy Development Board (AEDB) and the Energy Conservation Council. Policies are good only if they can and are implemented. It would be necessary to put in place institutional arrangements at the federal and provincial levels to follow up on the measures adopted recently.

Q: What are the anticipated threats to environmental  degradation as a result of activities associated with CPEC?
A: The  infrastructure and energy projects envisaged in the CPEC framework will have environmental impacts, such as depletion of resources and generation  of pollution. It is, therefore, necessary to ensure that credible and  comprehensive environmental impacts  assessment studies are undertaken before starting work on the projects. I am especially concerned over reports of large coal-fired energy  projects for producing 1000 megawatts of electricity from imported coal. These projects would have catastrophic environmental impacts, as we have seen in China, India and other countries. It is, in any case, unnecessary to produce electricity from coal which has to be imported and transported in open wagons  from the port in Karachi to the sites of the power plants in the Punjab. This in a country with immense potential of generating power from clean, renewable sources such as hydro, solar and wind! China  is phasing out its coal-based electricity plants set up at a beakneck speed during its massive program of industrialization. If so, why is it willing or keen to set up coal- based plants in Pakistan. I am sure the Chinese Government is aware of the imperative of ensuring the least possible environmental foot prints of the CPEC projects.

Q: What is the most critical aspects of climate change faced by Pakistan, and how well prepared is the country to cope with the challenge of adaptation and mitigation?
A: The most serious impacts of climate change on Pakistan would be reflected by the water resources sector. Pakistan is already a water stressed country with per capita availability of renewable water at an abysmal 800 cubic meters.The quality of water has deteriorated so much that at present, no major lake in Pakistan has safe water, and  safe drinking water is not available anywhere. More than a third of the hospital beds in the country are occupied by people afflicted by water-borne diseases, and the  consequent ill health seriously undermines worker productivity. With dam-to-farm gate transmission losses reaching 40%, farmers are obliged to extract groundwater at an unsustainable rate, touching half of the renewable water in the ground. Our agriculture sector uses 93% of all available water because our farmers continue to use archaic methods of irrigation practiced during the Indus Valley civilisation!

The water- food- energy nexus is especially relevant for Pakistan where a significant part of our electricity comes from the two large and several smaller hydro-power plants. Any drop in river flows due to climate change- induced melting of glaciers feeding our sole River basin or prolonged droughts  would seriously threaten the  existing electricity supply. In the absence of specific mitigation and adaptation action plans at present, it is difficult to say that we are prepared to cope with the challenges of mitigation and adaptation.

Q: Pakistan has developed Vision 2025 to plan its development trajectory which aligns with the goals and targets of SDGs. Do you see this as an achievable target?
A: Pakistan’s National Assembly has adopted the  SDGs as Pakistan’s development goals. The Government is indeed committed to fulfill the promise it had made  in the Vision 25 to realign the development goals of the Vision in line with the SDGs. However, the realisation of this pledge will be a huge challenge given the scale and magnitude of the goals and targets stipulated in the SDGs in view of the resource constraints of the country and other impediments. However, the SDGs offer an aspirational framework for  efforts by states and the international community to promote sustainable development. Pakistan was unable to achieve the relatively modest MDG, so it is unrealistic to expect it to do better in reaching the SDG targets.

Q: How do you view the upcoming SAARC Summit? Will Pakistan be able to play a meaningful role in initiating a climate change dialogue with some agreement on matters of common concern and common interest?
A: I understand that the Government of Pakistan was very keen to promote a significant breakthrough on climate change related cooperation at the forthcoming 19th SAARC Summit. However, the marked deterioration in Pakistan-India relations in the wake of the new Kashmir Intifada, triggered by the brutal assassination of the young Kashmiri leader Burhan Wani in July, has cast a dark shadow over the horizon. Nevertheless, Islamabad should make full efforts to ensure that the Summit conveys a South Asian response to the unprecedented consensus on climate change, articulated at the landmark global conferences in 2015 on financing for sustainable development, and the 2030 Global  Development Agenda  based on the SDGs and the Paris Agreement. A declaration, reiterating  the commitment of SAARC members to the outcomes of the meetings I have referred to, as well as the decisions of previous Summits, especially the 16th Summit hosted by Bhutan on climate-related cooperation through the various regional centers, and other mechanisms along with a renewed resolve to strive for their implementations, is the minimum the forthcoming Summit should deliver. It would be tragic if  South Asia does not take formal cognizance of the landmark global meetings held since the 18th Summit in Nepal.