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DAWN: Climate action leadership

By Ali Tauqeer Sheikh | 21 September 2023

HOW is Pakistan gearing up for COP28 that begins on Nov 30 in Dubai?

The foremost challenge for the interim government is determining how best to harness the momentum that Pakistan built at the last climate summit as the chair of the G77+China, a group that represents the Global South in international negotiations. Domestic and international expectations are high.

The expectations are interwoven with the urgency of four fundamental challenges. First, political and macroeconomic stability. Second, roadmap for institutional and policy reforms. Third, proposed climate finance architecture. Fourth, climate-smart action on the ground, within the provinces. Clarity on these four tracks will set the direction of Pakistan’s climate-resilient and low-carbon development journey. Can Pakistan manage these expectations under the present set-up?

One of the most significant discussion points at the COP28 would be the review of the Global Stock-take just released by UNFCCC. The GST has assessed the global response on three questions: i) where are we, ii) where do we want to go, and iii) how do we get there. Pakistan’s narrative needs to respond to these questions, with an unblinking eye on the third one.

It was the first stocktaking exercise undertaken under Article 12 of the Paris Agreement. It will unleash a chain of complex global processes. The report has presented 13 findings that will inform the global revisions of the Nationally Determined Contributions, together with the architecture of the proposed Loss & Damage fund, and reform of multilateral development banks. All these will serve as the basis of global commitments, culminating in the submission of two five-yearly NDCs in 2025 and 2030. The first will feed into the second GST in 2028. This process is synchronised with 2030, by when the global average emissions need to be reduced by 45 per cent and reach net zero by 2050.

Pakistan’s climate narrative needs to respond to three basic questions.

The year 2030 is regarded as catalytic to stabilising global temperatures at 1.5 degrees Celsius, and for SDG implementation. In other words, climate and the development discourse are entwined and defy sectoral boundaries. Global success on climate action will help consolidate national gains on SDGs.

The decisions taken at COP28 will, therefore, bind Pakistan in a long process that will be reflected in the next generation of sectoral policies at national and provincial levels. A well-considered response to GST will give clear signals on the basic questions mentioned, ie, where we are presently, where we want to go, and how we would get there. Our responses to the first two questions will understandably determine the availability and level of international interest to bridge growing financial and investment gaps.

All 13 findings of the GST are relevant for Pakistan, some more directly and immediately than others. While Pakistan can proudly tick several boxes, an earnest internal assessment will help identify some immediate actions as we proceed towards aligning the National Adaptation Plan (NAP), NDC, and climate policies with actions in the provinces.

The GST has made three conclusions, each has a bearing on Pakistan’s climate actions: i) on mitigation, all national commitments made under the respective NDCs will collectively not reduce global carbon emissions to meet the 1.5°C target, ii) on adaptation, the progress in countries’ abilities to enhance their resilience and reduce vulnerability to climate impact has not decreased, and iii) on means of implementation (a code-word for finance, technology transfer and capacity-building), the developed economies are delinquent regarding their commitments.

The GST findings, however, have now been overtaken by an actual increase in global average temperatures. According to data released by Nasa, global temperatures in July this year exceeded 1.5°C. This spike is partially attributed to El Niño, a periodic climate pattern of oceans warming and affecting global weather patterns. This development has violated the sacrosanct threshold, making way for ‘overshoot’ to become a likely scenario of global warming. Anticipating this occurrence, an Overshoot Commission was set up in 2022 to examine the options of reducing risks when global warming surpasses 1.5°C.

In our policy landscape, no discourse has taken place on the implications of the overshoot for Pakistan, even if former foreign minister of state Hina Rabbani Khar continues to be one of the 12 commissioners. Instead of immediate actions, the big polluting countries, together with the major oil-producing countries, appear to be open to considering a ‘temporary’ overshoot, implying that Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) technologies will eventually help reduce temperatures to below the 1.5°C threshold.

The Overshoot Commission’s recently released report has called for accelerating emission reductions, more resources to adapt to climate impact, and scaling up CCS technologies. Arguing that the commission is being used to promote solar radiation modification, some commissioners have resigned or publicly shown indignation on how it is being used to pave way for SRM, which seeks to reduce the amount of sunlight reaching the planet’s surface by releasing aerosols into the high atmosphere or by whitening the clouds. SRM has persistent ethical, technical and policy questions and associated risks that can alter rain patterns, cause droughts over some areas and floods in others.

It is time for Pakistan to recognise that global attention in the UAE will be on the devastation caused by dam outbursts in Libya and the earthquake in Morocco. Pakistan’s 2022 floods will not evoke strong emotional support. Instead of echoing the narrative on our vulnerability, it is time for Pakistan to showcase the actions that have been undertaken to strengthen resilience — and there are many awaiting scaling up.

The outgoing government had convened the Climate Change Council meeting to help prepare for participation in COP27. It is time to convene the second council meeting, prior to COP28, to keep up the momentum and to sign off the national narrative.

The prime minister, himself from a highly climate-vulnerable province, can engage with the provinces to initiate the development of their roadmaps for NAP implementation, climate finance architecture and cataloguing climate actions on the ground. This will help set the direction of the journey of Pakistan’s climate-smart development.

The writer is an expert on climate change and development.

The article was published by DAWN.

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