Pakistan’s new climate change
ministry merely “cosmetic”
By: Zofeen T. Ebrahim
has elevated the climate change division to a ministry but
opinion is divided on whether it will translate into
effective policy making or remain a merely cosmetic
The Pakistan government’s
decision to upgrade its climate change division to the
status of a ministry has experts divided down the middle
with some welcoming it.
And others sceptical on
whether it will prove to be effective in formulating policy.
The federal government
upped the status of the division to a ministry through a
notification on January 8 and appointed Mushahid Ullah Khan
The federal government upped
the status of the division to a ministry through a
notification on January 8 and appointed Mushahid Ullah Khan
This is a “promising sign” ahead of the UN climate talks in
Paris later this year, said Hina Lotia, programme manager at
NGO LEAD Pakistan. “It will show our seriousness as a
country that has been impacted by major climate related
disasters in the last five years,” she explained.
The present Nawaz Sharif-led government has been a strong
advocate for renewable on the one hand and, on the other,
taken on various development projects like the mass transit
project, several hydropower dams and setting up of solar
parks, Lotia added.
“With the climate change
division having been elevated to a ministry, it is hoped it
will facilitate development policies to ensure these
projects are climate resilient and leave a small carbon
Dr Ejaz Ahmad, senior director at WWF Pakistan, too,
believes it is “better and efficient” to have a full-fledged
ministry with some international conventions and commitments
needing “timely” decision making.
Pakistan, he said, had been playing a critical role in
climate negotiations and had been recognised at various
forums. “Unfortunately, the same kind of recognition was
lacking at the national level,” he rued.
“Environment and related issues are not a priority of the
government and environmental laws are not implemented.”
Issues like deforestation, wildlife trade, deterioration of
water quality and national environmental standards, he
added, were not being managed through long term strategies.
Naseer Memon, head of Strengthening Participatory
Organisation (SPO) agrees: “Creating ministries and
departments can only make a difference when something is on
the priority agenda; environment and climate change are not
even at the bottom of priorities,” he said.
“Understandably the government has several other challenges
to face, yet climate change is one of the most serious…but
sadly our governments keep focusing on symptoms rather than
addressing the core issues,” explained Memon who has
authored several books on climate change.
But there are others sceptical of this ‘on-and-off’ ministry
of climate change. Three years ago in April 2012, the
ministry of national disaster management was renamed the
ministry of climate change.
In July 2013, two months
after coming to power, the Pakistan Muslim League-N
government demoted it to a division.
Now, not too long after, the same government has upgraded it
“In Pakistan, ministries often come about not so much
because they are needed but to accommodate large cabinets
and a burgeoning bureaucracy,” said Abid Qayyum Suleri, head
of Islamabad-based think tank SDPI.
After the passage of the 18th amendment to Pakistan’s
constitution in 2010 by the previous parliament, issues such
as environment, religious affairs, food and agriculture were
delegated to the provinces, he explained.
However, the total number of ministries at the centre
remained almost the same as many of these issues were
renamed to retain the cabinet members.
Hence, the ministry of environment became the ministry of
climate change, whereas the ministry of food, agriculture
and livestock was renamed ministry of national food security
and research – thereby creating confusion between the centre
and the provinces on their respective mandates.
When the climate change ministry became a division, its
development budget was also slashed by more than 60% as part
of a wider cost-cutting strategy. And that is why
environment lawyer and activist Rafay Alam finds the
government’s latest move merely “cosmetic”.
“I say this because the announcement to revert back to a
ministry is not accompanied with any new projects or budget
allocation. The climate change division has had its budget
cut over the last two years as part of the government’s
‘austerity’ drive. Currently, the budget for the climate
ministry is less than the cost of a Toyota Hilux!” Alam told
He would have been more confident, he said, had the central
government approved funding projects, at the division or the
ministry, matching the scale of challenges Pakistan faces
due to climate change.
The government allocated a total of Rs.58.8 million
(US$586,000) to combat climate change compared to Rs.135
million (US$1.3 million) in 2012-13. This was strongly
criticised by climate scientists and those working on
climate related issues.
Nevertheless, the recent decision to reinstate the ministry
and have a minister, said SDPI’s Suleri, will lend some
“political patronage” to the employees of this ministry. The
appointment of a minister may also help it get the issues of
climate change voiced in the cabinet, he added.
However, he remained wary of the possibility that climate
change may be tackled in the usual “fire-fighting mode” that
successive governments have been known to adopt on most
Now that the ministry has been set, Alam said he would like
to see it undertaking adaptation projects, coordinate with
the provinces and support them in the formulation of
provincial climate policies. “Initiatives like these require
leadership and money. The ministry now has a minister; what
is really needed is political commitment to allocate funds
for such climate adaptation and policy projects that matches
the scale of Pakistan’s climate challenges.”
The minister should without wasting any time get on with
business of preparing for the COP, added Suleri. “He will
have to work closely with the foreign office and the
Planning Commission on the one hand and the provinces on the
Suleri, who is a member of the Planning Commission’s
Economic Advisory Council, said the ministry should work in
tandem with the council, which is working on a long-term
vision 2025 document.
Most multilateral environmental agreements in the past were
led by the foreign office, which had a good grip of the
various climate-related issues vis-a-vis Pakistan. “They
present them effectively at these global forums,” he
At the same time, the ministry will have to coordinate with
the provinces to implement sustainable development goals,
getting feedback about what their expectations are from the
COP and what local solutions they can offer that can be
presented in Paris.
By highlighting the vulnerabilities and needs to strengthen
adaptation at the local level, the SDPI head said, Pakistan
can pursue opportunities offered, especially climate
financing opportunities, which will emerge after the Paris