Why has Pakistan gone quiet on climate action?

by Rina Saeed Khan | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Monday, 7 December 2015 09:51 GMT

A boy carries a pot on his head as he moves through floodwaters at Camp Koruna Akbar in the Pura area of Nowshera District, northwestern Pakistan, August 4, 2015. REUTERS/Fayaz Aziz

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Big plans for coal could be part of the answer, experts at the UN climate talks say

Pakistan’s public stand at the U.N. climate talks in Paris is just big enough for two chairs, while countries such as Benin and Peru have set up large, bustling pavilions.

The country’s national plan to contribute to a new global climate deal was submitted late and was, astonishingly, just 350 words long. It didn’t offer any emissions reduction targets, or even mention the country’s huge vulnerability to floods, droughts and other climate change-related weather problems.

“Pakistan does not seem to have a clear objective in this conference. They don’t even have floor expectations, let alone ceiling ones. I’m afraid that Pakistan’s role at these global negotiations is inconsequential unlike in previous years,” said Ali Sheikh, the head of LEAD-Pakistan, an environmental NGO based in Islamabad.

So why has Pakistan, once an active and passionate participant in efforts to negotiate a new global climate change deal, suddenly gone quiet?

Pakistani analysts at the negotiations think it has a lot to do with a new interest in coal energy in the South Asian country.

The country’s leaders are working on a huge planned China-Pakistan economic corridor, which would include, among infrastructure projects such as roads, ports and wind and hydropower plants, the building of about three dozen Chinese-funded coal-fired power plants in Pakistan.

Huge quantities of low-quality coal reserves are available in the south of Pakistan, another reason the country’s ruling party, led by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, has decided to turn to coal energy plants to tackle the country’s disastrous power shortages.

Power blackouts – or “load shedding” – are a constant part of life in Pakistan these days and have hobbled the country’s industries. There is no question the country needs more power.

But Hammad Naqi, the director general of WWF-Pakistan, believes turning to coal – rather than cleaner energy, such as solar – would be “disastrous” for the planet, and for Pakistan, which could see worsening air quality and worsening weather disasters.

A Global Climate Risk Index, updated this week in Paris, lists Pakistan among the world’s 10 countries most vulnerable to climate change – a position it’s held for five years running, in part due to record floods and worsening drought.

But in short remarks at the opening of the U.N. climate negotiations in Paris, the country’s prime minister barely mentioned the country’s vulnerability to climate change and promised nothing in the way of action before hurrying off to the airport.

The recently appointed Pakistani federal Minister for Climate Change, Zahid Hamid, is now leading Pakistan’s 25-member delegation at the talks. He at least has noted that Pakistan “is facing extreme weather events on a recurring basis”.

“Adaptation and climate-resilient development is our highest priority,” he said.

However, action to shore up the country’s vulnerability to climate change has been slow back home. Pakistan’s National Climate Change Policy, approved in 2013, has been largely unimplemented. Recently, a farmer in South Punjab filed a lawsuit to try to force the government to implement its own policies.

During the 1992 Earth Summit it was a Pakistani negotiator, Ambassador Jamshed Marker, who was responsible for putting the F for Framework into the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, and since then Pakistan has been known for its principled stance on action to deal with the problem.

But in Paris the Pakistani delegation is clearly sidelined and out of touch. As Adil Najam, a longtime Pakistani climate expert who is the Dean of the Pardee School of Global Studies in Boston University tweeted: “The defense of coal made Pakistan look stupid on climate change at COP21. It will make us act even more stupid on energy”.

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