Punjab, the most populous province in Pakistan, is once again shrouded in smog, forcing citizens to endure burning eyes, a sore throat, and difficulty breathing. The government response was to impose closures of schools, markets, and restaurants from November 9 to November 12, exacerbating the societal and economic toll already imposed by environmental issues. Pakistan, ranked as the 5th most climate-vulnerable country according to the global climate risk index, has suffered an estimated annual loss of $3.8 billion from 1998 to 2018 due to climate change, as reported by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the World Bank (WB).
Despite the substantial economic and social costs, efforts to combat this menace appear insufficient and largely ineffective. The pervasive discourse on Pakistan’s environmental challenges has yielded little tangible progress. It is imperative to shift the focus toward the way forward, as Pakistan finds itself running out of time to confront climate crises that have repeatedly ravaged the nation.
In COP-27, co-hosted by Pakistan in November of the previous year, members of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) decided to establish a “Lost and Damage Fund” to enhance the resilience of climate-vulnerable countries. The final arrangements for the fund are set to be made this week in Abu Dhabi, marking a potential turning point for poorer nations affected by climate change. However, eligibility for the fund requires countries to demonstrate their need on paper, prompting the question: Is Pakistan prepared to receive substantial inflows from the Loss and Damage Fund?
Climate and development expert Ali Tauqeer Shaikh remains skeptical, pointing to the lack of coordination among federal ministries and between them and provincial departments as a major obstacle to Pakistan’s preparedness. He emphasizes the pivotal role of including provinces in strategic-level climate decision-making to accelerate the national drive towards climate resilience. Shaikh urges the establishment of relevant guidelines and budgetary allocations in the public sector investment to climate-proof Pakistan’s development agenda in a timely manner.
To attract international climate finances, private sector investments, and foster an ecosystem for public-private partnerships in Pakistan, the government must reform the public sector development program. This involves redesigning the PC-1 Performa to generate essential data on climate adaptation and mitigation, tagging climate-related expenditures, and developing bankable climate projects.
In a recent development, on November 8, 2023, the parliamentary panel was informed that the Ministry of Climate Change has rolled out the long-awaited first-ever policy draft on the country’s carbon credits trading in the international market at the Climate Change Council. The Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) Cell, operating under the Ministry of Environment, estimates that Pakistan could earn $345 million annually with just 14 approved CDM projects. However, this pales in comparison to India and China, with respective shares of 30% and 60% in global CDM projects, while Pakistan commands less than 1%.
Projects such as reforestation, reducing greenhouse gas emissions (particularly methane) from animal dung and landfills, and transitioning towards green industrialization have the potential to attract billions of dollars from the international carbon market. These funds could not only address the country’s economic challenges but also enhance its capacity to make communities nationwide resilient against the impacts of climate change. As the world grapples with a climate crisis, Pakistan stands at a critical juncture, needing decisive action to secure its future in the face of environmental challenges.
In sum, as Pakistan stands at the intersection of environmental crisis and economic vulnerability, decisive actions must be taken to forge a sustainable and resilient future. The smog-laden skies over Punjab serve as a stark reminder of the urgent need for coordinated efforts, both domestically and internationally, to combat the far-reaching consequences of climate change. The establishment of the “Lost and Damage Fund” presents a ray of hope, but it requires Pakistan to demonstrate readiness and commitment. The skepticism voiced by experts underscores the need for comprehensive reforms in governance, strategic decision-making, and financial planning to climate-proof the nation’s development agenda. With the potential windfall from carbon credits trading, Pakistan has a unique opportunity to not only address economic woes but also fortify its ability to withstand the challenges posed by a changing climate. The road ahead is challenging, but with concerted efforts, Pakistan can pave the way for a greener, more resilient future.