When will we take Climate Change seriously? -Express Tribune

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Pakistan does not contribute to global warming. It is the US, China, Japan, Russia and other most advanced countries that are mainly responsible for it. But we would be amongst those countries where its impact would be felt the most. Being on the receiving end of the backlash of global warming places a developing country in a precarious position. According to experts, its effect will be felt the greatest on the water sector. It is understandable, as the average temperatures rise the glaciers that are the primary source of water for us are melting fast. This is an alarming signal as Pakistan is an agricultural country and depends so heavily on the water of its rivers. Nearly 30% of the population in Pakistan sustains its livelihood from agricultural land. With temperatures rising, rainfall decreasing, and many of our rivers drying up it is adversely affecting crop output and threatening animal survival. The underground wells are also drying up making life very difficult for the farmer and those living in rural areas. And experts predict that as human sufferings increase it would result in mass migrations to cities and other countries. In parts of Sindh and South Punjab, this phenomenon is already visible where the soil is unable to sustain the cultivation of any crop or even grain for animal feed.

To the credit of Prime Minister Imran Khan, the PTI government has accorded high priority to creating a green economy. As a part of this mission, tree plantation was done on a wide scale in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and parts of Punjab. With the economy in distress and poverty on the rise preventing, the cutting of trees by the local population or mafia has been no easy task. Fortunately, the present cabinet has proficient and dedicated ministers and advisers in the ministry dealing with climate change who are internationally recognised such as Malik Amin Aslam. The Prime Minister has given a highly ambitious target that Pakistan will reduce its dependence on coal-fired energy plants by 2030. There were reports that the contract of the coal-fired Chinese generator plants that the previous PML-N government had negotiated may be cancelled. In the future, it is expected that most power plants will be run on furnace oil and gas and greater emphasis would be laid on renewable energy. For the PTI and successive governments to honour this commitment would be a huge undertaking. At present Pakistan has a low carbon footprint but as the country expands its industrial base it will increase. Moreover, Pakistan must seriously address the growing challenge of water shortage. It was expected that the government will set up recycling plants, but the previous and present provincial and federal governments have not taken the project seriously. The initial cost and maintenance of the plants are too high, which is keeping them away from investing in it.

The government has a major role to play in determining the policies governing climate change. Experiences of other countries facing major climate change challenges show that merely depending on the free-market system to be able to take care of the environmental concerns and sustainable development policies would be erroneous. Countries such as Pakistan that remain under extreme economic and political pressure and are looking for quick solutions to satisfy the masses are unable to enact integrated and long-term governance agendas for climate change and sustainable development.

Although Imran Khan is serious and dedicated to taking measures for a green Pakistan, unless the climate change agenda is accorded a high priority in the political and economic policies, its impact will remain peripheral. Moreover, there are vested interests involved, and lobbies of powerful groups such as for oil and gas that are well entrenched continue to resist change. All these factors indicate that the government’s adaptation to climate change has inbuilt uncertainties given the long-term gestation period of these policies. However, if the government were to take the opposition parties along and build a national consensus then there would be greater adherence and continuity to climate change policies. At present it seems the opposition parties seldom raise climate change issues and are not giving it the priority it deserves. A glaring example of the neglect by authorities is the desertification in parts of Sindh and Southern Punjab and the indifference shown by successive governments towards this looming danger. Leadership should realise that pollution is a major killer, which reduces productivity; and the cost to the nation of this menace runs in billions apart from the human suffering that it causes. And it is primarily their responsibility to take measures to avert this disaster.

The role of the private sector in investing in projects that reduce the ill effects of climate change is very important. There are several toxic plants in the private sector and the government-owned that need special attention. There are only one or two major companies in Pakistan that had the vision and have been consistently conscious of their responsibility of using clean energy. The most outstanding and successful example of investing in clean energy is Getz Pharma. Both companies are World Health Organisation compliant and have been certified platinum compliant, which is the highest category in compliance. The company’s 22% energy requirements are met by solar plants and 98% of pollution is being absorbed. These are of course islands of exceptional progress but also show the way that nothing prevents our entrepreneurs from taking the lead. It would be in the long-term interest if the government were to give incentives to companies that achieve high standards in ensuring clean energy, and penalise those that fail to address pollution. In this, the role of federal and provincial governments to promote and encourage the culture of adopting clean energy is very crucial.

Undoubtedly, to comply with the stringent requirements of clean energy requires significant investment but certainly it pays back and is cost-effective. But for this, the national leadership should have the vision and work on it with diligence.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 8th, 2021.