Meeting the grim challenge of climate change-Ahmad Rafay Alam

rafay-alam1Hamidullah Jan Afridi, Pakistan’s Environment Minister, has spearheaded the campaign to make 2009 the National Year of the Environment. This initiative is the need of the day. Last week, addressing the IUCN’s Regional Conference on Climate Change, even the Prime Minister stated that climate change was one of his government’s top priorities.

The IUCN Conference was the big beginning of an entire year’s itinerary the ministry of environment has put together. It was attended by Nobel Laureate Dr R K Pachauri – the author of the IPCC’s now-landmark Climate Change report and a host of other experts and eminent specialists on climate change, energy, water, agriculture and the environment.

Dr Pachauri’s forecast for Pakistan is quite grim. Despite Pakistan’s overall contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions being negligible (half of our energy comes from environmentally friendly gas while the US is heavily dependant on environmentally unfriendly coal), the effect of climate change are going to hit Pakistan very hard.

Just before the IUCN regional conference, Dr Ali Tauqeer Sheikh, the CEO of LEAD and member of the Planning Commission’s Task Force on Climate Change, wrote a two-piece op-ed that was published in this newspaper. (“Pakistan and the Climate Change Challenge,” Dec 30 and Jan 3). I recommend Dr Sheikh’s concise and razor-sharp analysis to everyone.

Dr Sheikh has put into a few paragraphs the challenges Climate Change poses to the people of Pakistan. Already a water-stressed country, if we do not act now, there will be “permanent reductions” in water flow. Reduction in irrigation water will have an effect on crop productivity, something over and above the loss to yield caused by the heat stresses of global warming. Pakistan’s economy is dependent on agriculture, as are this country’s nearly 170 million stomachs. But by 2030, our numbers are expected to double–and that’s a conservative estimate. Food security is a critically important issue raised by Climate Change.

Dr Sheikh referred to the The Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, the seminal 700 page report written by economist Lord Nicholas Stern of Brentford for the British government. The report points out that the cost of inaction in the face of these challenges will be great.

All around the world, climate change and environmental regulation are becoming core issues of government policy. The new Obama Administration has floated the idea of a “green tax” that it will levy on the carbon footprint of its imports. Similar considerations are already in place in some European countries.

So far, the government of Pakistan has no policy on Climate Change. The Planning Commission constituted the Task Force on Climate Change with the stated objective to mainstream climate change into national and sectoral policies, but this and the other Planning Commission Task Forces have not been active recently. In his op-ed, Dr Sheikh has urged the government to come up with a National Action Plan on Climate Change. This is also necessary, but it remains to be seen whether Minister Afridi’s efforts can engender enough political will within government circles to see such a recommendation through to fruition.

The ministry should also try and harness the potential role the private sector can play in implementing adaptation and mitigation measures. One area of untapped potential is the United Nations’ Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). This mechanism allows businesses to collect “carbon credits” by reducing their emissions and then benefit from the costs of doing so by selling the “carbon credits” on an international carbon market.

Because of the inefficiency in some industrial processes, the potential CDM benefits of a given sum of money are greater in Pakistan than elsewhere. Consider: A million dollars spent on making a European factory energy-efficient wouldn’t go very far compared to the types of improvements the same amount of money can make in the energy efficiency of a comparable factory located in Pakistan. The private sector must be informed of these benefits and of how it can harness the potential of CDM projects and carbon emissions trading.

At the moment, there are a total of 4,252 CDM projects in the process of obtaining the UN’s clearance. Of these, 1,568 projects are in China and another 1,138 in India. In Pakistan, there are about 12.

Entrepreneurial private-sector players in the CDM business are looking to harness the potential of CDM projects in the cement, sugar and renewable energy sectors. At the UN, the 4,252 applications in the CDM pipeline are in 26 different categories.

The potential of exploring the CDM potential in other sectors in Pakistan is immense. For instance, environmentally friendly housing and public transport are two crucially underdeveloped sectors. As it stands, the government is in the process of building an alleged million housing units a year to cater to an exploding population. Public transport is also crucially needed in all our urban areas. Why shouldn’t the government adopt environmentally cleaner mechanisms to provide these utilities and benefit from the carbon credits that it would acquire?

The ministry of environment needs to hold capacity-building workshops on the potential CDM projects in Pakistan. For example, it should include monthly capacity-building workshops in the various chambers of commerce. It should inform traders’ associations of the benefits of the system. And, most importantly, it should create a working environment conducive to a robust CDM registration process.

The UN’s CDM registration process is a bureaucratic nightmare. The mechanics of this monster require projects to be verified by an official entity of the government before it can be approved by the UN. It is incumbent on national governments promoting the CDM trade to ensure they do not hinder this process. I am told that it can take as many as 30 days to have a CDM project verified by the Indian government. In Pakistan, this clearance takes as long as six months. The ministry of environment needs to rethink its role in facilitating the CDM registration process. Perhaps it isn’t necessary for the minister to sit on CDM project review meetings. If this were the case, the Host Country verification process could be handled by a joint, or even deputy, secretary. Perhaps, as part of its commitment to the National Year of the Environment, the ministry can set a target of approving 200 CDM projects by the end of this year.

The challenges of climate change call for swift and determined action, not words. Despite the horror stories told of the effects climate change will bring to our people, it is important to know it is not too late. Each and every one of the challenges can be met. But only by determination and resolve.

The writer is an advocate of the high court and a member of the adjunct faculty at LUMS. He has an interest in urban planning. Email: ralam@nexlinx. net.pk

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