Climatic variation over the past few days reinforced the unpredictability and uncertainty of climate in the age of climate change.
Climate change has two basic elements – one is related to control or mitigation and the other pertains to adapting to changes. Mitigation has limited relevance for Pakistan, but adaptation is a key area of alarm.
It does not mean Pakistan should not concentrate on mitigation, but the challenge on hand is adaptation. The changes, which have occurred in the climatic system, need to be tackled by proper planning, policy and execution of plans and policies.
Pakistan started to develop its first policy quite late, but now we have a climate change policy. Besides, it also developed an implementation framework. However, the story beyond this is not satisfactory.
The policy and framework are quite comprehensive and encompass almost all areas of concern which require urgent attention. Unfortunately, the policy and implementation plan could not get the attention of policy circles.
The budget for 2018-19 clearly spells out the priority of the government to deal with climate change. It has allocated just Rs803 million for the Ministry of Climate Change, which seems to be nothing in the context of mounting challenge.
Pakistan is among top 10 countries that are most vulnerable to climate change. Spending the allocated fund is another area of concern. A review of budget 2017-18 exhibits the government earmarked around Rs341 billion for climate-related initiatives and projects. Of that, only Rs182 billion was spent.
It is interesting to note that most of the allocation was spent by three ministries including the Ministry of Finance (49%), Ministry of Defence (20%) and Cabinet Secretariat (14%). They were followed by the Ministry of Water Resources (4%) and Ministry of Railways (3%). The Ministry of Climate Change could not find a place in this ranking.
Though the government is focusing on taking climate change-related initiatives in other ministries as well, it is weakening the status of climate change ministry as major burden to tackle climate change rests on its shoulders.
Climate change-related matters face many problems, but the most important are poor decision-making, poor governance and victimisation.
First of all, decision-making mechanisms do not reflect the importance and urgency to cope with climate change. It is considered business as usual and a matter of least concern.
Second, governance mechanisms for implementation and accountability are very weak. This is because of deficient human resources and low technological levels.
The climate change ministry is one of the least populated ministries. It has multiple tasks ranging from local to global and should be present at all important forums to present the case of Pakistan. In doing so, they are exhausted and have very limited time to focus at the national level.
Therefore, the governance structure of the ministry does not allow it to function at maximum efficiency levels. In addition to this, the staff at the ministry is very bureaucratic and leaves less room for technical and expert staff.
Recently, the government has introduced the Climate Act 2017. It has expressed the will to revitalise the spirit and structure of the ministry but it will take time. Third, the political economy does not give much importance to climate change. Business and industrial development is the top priority, but environment and climate change stands at a very low level.
Business and industrial communities are very strong and have negotiation skills for the protection of their interests. Environment and climate change community is highly educated and has the expertise but their influence is limited on policy circles.
In reality, the economic and industrial development and environment and climate change have to go hand in hand. First and foremost thing to note is that no development intervention is free of impact on environment and climate.
However, the impact can be minimised without compromising the development work. Here comes the concept of “Climate Compatible Development” to tackle climate change and its impact.
The government clears itself by criticising the West for its role in changing climate. No doubt the West is responsible for climate change, but it is also essential to realise we cannot divert the impact of climate change by just criticising the West.
We need to devise and develop plans to combat through proper mitigation and adaptation.
Lastly, the climate change ministry has been a victim of experiments. Before devolution, it was the ministry of environment. It was devolved to provinces, then brought back to the federal level, but with the name of Ministry of NDMA.
After continuous efforts by the civil society and experts, it was renamed as the Ministry of Climate Change.
Now, the introduction of Climate Act 2017 has led to confusion. There is no clarity of roles for federal and provincial ministries. The federal government has its own national Climate Change Policy whereas the provinces are developing their own such policies.
It needs to be understood climate change is not a provincial problem, it is a national issue and we need a national policy and action plan. Provinces must be independent to implement their policies but within the limits defined by the federal government.
The writer is the Head of Centre for Future Policy and Head of Research Coordination Unit, Sustainable Development Policy Institute