Opinion
Monday Oct 11 2021
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What are Pakistan’s parliamentarians doing about climate change?

In this photograph taken on September 28, 2015, a general view of Passu glacier is seen in Pakistans Gojal Valley. — AFP/File
In this photograph taken on September 28, 2015, a general view of Passu glacier is seen in Pakistan's Gojal Valley. — AFP/File

From the Himalayas in the north to the deserts of Balochistan in the west and the mangroves of Sindh in the south, Pakistan’s environmental habitat is spellbinding. But it is also under threat. Climate change poses a fundamental threat to agriculture, food production, fresh water resources, wildlife species and people’s livelihood.

Sea levels are rising and oceans are becoming warmer. In Pakistan, long and more intense droughts threaten food production. From frequent and lengthy droughts in Sindh to the dying marine ecosystem off the coast of the Arabian Sea, our planet’s diversity of life is at risk from effects of changing climate.

Pakistan’s climate change concerns include the increased variability of monsoons; the impact of receding Himalayan glaciers on the Indus River; decreased capacity of water reservoirs; reduced hydropower during the drought period; and extreme events including flash floods. 

Subsequently, this results in severe water stress, food insecurity (due to decreasing agricultural and livestock production), more prevalent pests and weeds, the degradation of ecosystems, and biodiversity loss. 

The Arabian Sea has also been heating up, with the average surface temperature increasing from 29 to 31 degrees Celsius in just two years. This has fuelled the formation of storms that push the sea into the coastal communities of Karachi, Gwadar and Gadani.

On the other side, our glaciers have shrunk, ice on rivers and lakes is breaking up earlier, plant and animal ranges have shifted, and trees are flowering sooner. Taken as a whole, this range of evidence indicates that the net damage costs of climate change are likely to be significant and will increase over time.

Since 2018, our government continues to firmly advocate for regional and global cooperation on climate action. Through multilateralism, we continue to voice our growing concerns. Climate change is one of the defining challenges of our times that can only be countered through inclusive, cooperative and forward-looking policies at the regional and global levels.

Within the parliamentary system lays a means of outreach and effective monitoring that is imperative for the efficient functioning of any government. With a range of priorities being spearheaded, it is vital that they be provided with correct legislative guidance and support. 

The National Assembly Standing Committee on Climate Change provides exactly this evidence-based mechanism of innovation that allows elected representatives to support the executive. It is such determination and commitment to the cause of climate action that has enabled this standing committee to stand apart from its contemporaries.

Three years ago, as chairperson of the standing committee, I envisioned to revamp the committee. The committee members and I were determined to introduce innovation and reforms to develop this committee as a model for all committees in our parliamentary system. Our focus has been to responsibly hold government departments and regulatory bodies accountable on climate action and to ensure that vulnerable communities are protected, academic inputs are sought and think tanks contribute to the development of an evidence-based policy framework.

To achieve this vision, we have developed a state-of-the-art web portal that has become a central repository of all climate- and environment-related laws, policies, international treaties and conventions. Since the committee’s primary objective was legislative reforms, we carried out extensive legislative mapping and reviewed key laws on climate action. So far, we have consolidated laws related to biodiversity, environment and conservation, curbing deforestation, water resources management, and air quality control.

With a strong belief in the principle of participatory public policies, the committee institutionalised a countrywide mechanism to engage with academia, think tanks, civil society and intelligentsia. Hence, we have held multiple consultations, legislative reviews, public hearings and seminars to build and connect a database of human resource on climate action. As a result of our efforts, we have Pakistan’s largest pool of over 40 subject specialists and experts devising strategies to reverse environmental degradation and climate change.

A first for Pakistan’s parliamentary history, the creation of our climate change knowledge hub has institutionalised evidence-based policymaking, expert reviews and civil society engagement. Through this knowledge hub, we have strengthened a culture of transparency, openness, inclusion and partnership among legislatures, governments and civil society institutions for effective overseeing and evidence-based legislation on climate change.

Our model has been showcased as a regional best practice on a number of multilateral climate forums. During the eighth dialogue on ‘Action for Climate Empowerment’ by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), our version was presented as a model for other parliaments and governments to learn and adopt.

To ensure adequate budgetary allocations and utilisation, the standing committee, with the technical assistance of its knowledge hub, has effectively examined sectoral budgetary trends, assessed funding and made key recommendations for the re-prioritisation of government expenditure in the upcoming financial year.

Being a signatory to the Vienna Convention and Montreal Protocol, UN Convention on Bio-Diversity, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Kyoto Protocol, Paris Agreement, Bonn Convention and importantly Sustainable Development Goals framework, we are reorienting legislative and policy framework in light of our international commitments. 

In line with Paris Agreement requirements, the Standing Committee on Climate Change has extensively reviewed the first National Determined Contributions (NDC) and has sought inputs from subject-specialists and the civil society for recommendations in the second NDC that is due in November 2021. Pakistan’s NDC aims to reduce up to 20% of its 2030 projected carbon emissions. 

This is subject to the availability of international grants to meet the total cost of about $40 billion and almost $7-14 billion for adaptation per year. Using multilateral parliamentary diplomacy, we have stepped up efforts to claim our due share of support from global resources.

We cannot turn back time. But we can grow more trees, green our cities, and clean up rivers and coastlines. We as legislators can make peace with nature.

The writer is a member of the National Assembly of Pakistan, and secretary of the Women’s Parliamentary Caucus. Twitter: @MunazaHassan

Originally published in The News