According to the Global Climate Risk Index 2017, Pakistan stands among the top 10 most vulnerable countries in the world due to climate change. Recently, the Senate passed the Climate Change Act, 2017. Since the Environment Protection Act 1997 came into force, Pakistan has taken several initiatives to protect the environment.
However, these initiatives have been largely insufficient since they lacked the support of a robust and empowered authority as well as a sense of internalised responsibility. This is primarily because the governments view environment protection activities as a means for revenue and profit maximisation rather than an end in itself.
The bill for the Pakistan Climate Change Act, 2017 was presented by Minister for Climate Change Zahid Hamid. The proposed legislation seeks to do three things: formulate a climate change council (CCC), establish a Climate Change Authority (CCA) and, finally, set up a Climate Change Fund (CCF). Although the sections of the act give it superiority over any other laws that may come in contradiction with it, the problem is that the bill does not give any comprehensive or ground-breaking powers to the CCA or the CCC for direct intervention or regulations against the harmful activities initiated by public or private entities.
The council’s functions range from coordinating among different sectors, providing consultation and monitoring the policies and their implementation, without any powers for direct intervention. Similarly, the authority’s functions are to advise the government when asked, conduct research and prepare guidelines, policy papers and project reports. However, it lacks the powers to implement them. Such guidelines, policy papers and research will not be binding on any entity at any level. In this context, it comes as no surprise that the Senate has approved the bill without any in-depth discussions about its clauses. Despite having legal superiority, the authority will, therefore, have no practical mandate to enforce changes to protect the environment.
The fundamental problem is that Pakistan lacks a direct focus and has failed to realise the effects of climate change. Rather than internalising the importance of proper action to prevent climate change, Pakistan is viewing it as a responsibility or a burden imposed by external forces. The Environment Protection Act, 1997 was introduced in response to the Kyoto Protocol 1997 under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Only after the Paris Agreement 2015, the bills for the Pakistan Climate Change Act 2016 and 2017 were introduced. Between 1997 and 2012, Pakistan’s policies consistently lacked direct attention to climate change despite the devastation that the floods of 2010, 2011 and 2012 wreaked in the country. The decision to establish the Ministry of Climate Change in 2012 was the first macro-level response to the three consecutive years of floods. Even today, policy papers and strategies do recognise the risks of climate change. But an enabling environment for meaningful interventions remains absent. Pakistan’s only projects that pay direct attention to protecting the environment come through the Clean Development Mechanisms (CDMs) that the Kyoto Protocol 1997 and the international agencies have introduced.
The question that arises is: if Pakistan lacks serious attention towards the environment, what purposes do these legislations and the activities initiated through them serve? The answer unfortunately, is profit maximisation. By being a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement, Pakistan does not only have responsibilities imposed by the international agencies but also has an opportunity to generate huge revenue by initiating CDMs that bring international funds, grants and aids worth millions of dollars and more revenue by selling the carbon emission reductions (CERs). That is why Pakistan currently has 71 CDM projects – out of which 38 are currently registered with the CDM executive board in Germany.
The selling of the CERs from these projects is generating revenue worth $61.3m every year for Pakistan. Another 92 CDM projects are at various stages of obtaining approval. Arguably, if the international funding and the CERs selling option were to end, a majority of these projects would shut down due to the lack of profits. As a result, Pakistan’s efforts to protecting the environment would go down the drain.
Other than the CDMs, neither the federal nor the provincial policies pay direct attention to the environment and treat its protection as a worthy goal in its own right. However, the Pakistan Vision 2025 recognises that the risks of climate change are a direct result of “deforestation, unsustainable tapping of groundwater, massive waste of sweet water and pollution from urban and industrial waste”.
However, it fails to provide a target or goal that can directly address these issues. Instead, many of the goals are arguably in direct contradiction with this recognition. The pillar of private sector-led growth, for example, is a poisonous strategy for Pakistan’s environment because the country has yet to formulate comprehensive regulations and strategies of intervention to deincentivise the private sector from polluting the environment.
While the Punjab Growth Strategy 2018 recognises climate change, it only protects the environment when it helps increase productivity and the profits of various sectors. In other words, environmental protection is a means for Pakistan to achieve profit maximisation rather than an end in itself to protect human existence.
We seem to be doing just enough to satisfy the international agencies and obtain funding and grants to increase revenues. We are ignoring the need for serious, direct action to protect the environment. In this context, bills like the Pakistan Climate Change Act 2017 do not give us much hope.