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COP26 and climate developments in Pakistan

The implementation of COP26 pledges is essential for the states such as Pakistan, as it is one of the most vulnerable states being affected by climate change. It must be observed that Pakistan contributes less than 1% to global carbon emissions. However, Global Climate Risk Index 2021 observes that Pakistan ranks eighth on the list of countries that are most affected by climate change.

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Written by: Mohid Iftikhar and Farzana Wahid Buksh

The climate change dilemma has taken a new toll where rising temperatures, food insecurity, mass migrations, and socio-economic instability have become the center of debates. There is a lot of literature and evidence in both environmental sciences and public policy that discusses the causes of climate change as well as its implications on social well-being. Rightly pointed out in a study on climate change that “under continued global warming, extreme events such as heatwaves will continue to rise in frequency, intensity, duration, and spatial extent over the next decades.”

In relation, this dramatic path has led global institutional instruments such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) through the Conference of the Parties (COP) to strengthen consensus and cooperation amongst states to limit global warming for avoiding the catastrophes of climate change.

Read more: Climate change in Pakistan: An undeniable reality

Understanding more about COP26

The earliest COP dates back to 1995 and its outcomes were mainly policy discussions concerning its institutional structure and mechanisms. Over the years COPs have generated much attention as they have been able to disseminate awareness on issues of climate crises. More recently, COP26 was held from 31st October to 12th November 2021, in Glasgow, where policy actions regarding climate change were at the center. It is vital to note that instruments such as COPs naturally involve various stakeholders such as sovereigns, corporations and citizens as they seek to understand how international institutional structures steer political and economic directions yoked to climate change.

Students of the political economy need to understand linkages between global instruments of climate change and states’ domestic structure. As COPs, while being structural often are constrained due to states’ political-economic system. It must be recalled that the discussions that took place at the Paris Agreement in 2015 aimed to promote measures and investments related to a sustainable low carbon future. According to the UNFCC “Paris Agreement’s central aim is to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius.” Despite the consensus at the Paris Agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouses gases have kept rising.

It is rightly pointed out that the pledges made by 196 countries under the Paris Agreement have not been implemented by most countries. Further, scientists observe that many countries would continue to increase their emissions, especially after global economic recovery due to the lifting of pandemic restrictions. At COP26 nearly 200 states parties participated and focused on keeping global warming at 1.5°C. An important development was the U.S.-China Joint Glasgow Declaration on Enhancing Climate Action in the 2020s.

This focused on US-China intended cooperation in areas of “regulatory frameworks and environmental standards related to reducing emissions of greenhouse gases in the 2020s; maximizing the societal benefits of the clean energy transition; policies to encourage decarbonization and electrification of end-use sectors; key areas related to the circular economy, such as green design and renewable resource utilization; and deployment and application of technology such as CCUS and direct air capture.”

In addition, COP26 was the first-ever conference where over 40 countries agreed to cut coal usage as it accounts for nearly 40% of annual CO2 emissions. However, due to China and India’s last-minute concern, it was agreed to “phase down”, rather than “phase out” coal usage. It must be pointed that the domestic political economy structures remain a central factor in shaping such state behavior. For instance, energy needs, market conditions and bureaucratic structures are some key factors determining the implementation of global climate policies.

Read more: Businesses Stepping Up to act on Climate Change

It must be recalled how the Trump Administration pulled out of the Paris Agreement. According to Zhang et al (2017) “the fossil fuel industries hold powerful political clout over the Trump Administration and the Republican Party: It has been reported that Trump himself, Vice President Pence and EPA Administrator Pruitt are all personally closely associated with the petrochemical mogul Koch Industries. Once the U.S. withdraws from the Paris Agreement, the Trump Administration will seek to repeal climate regulations to benefit energy companies including Koch Industries.”

Climate finance is also a central agenda of COPs

The main challenge that remains towards global climate finance is its fragmentation because of the numerous stakeholders involved and their interests. For instance, climate finance impediments arise due to diversification in funding sources, execution networks and prioritization by sectors. Further, alongside states’ domestic political-economic system, multilateral channels of climate finance mainly the Climate Investment Funds (CIF) under the UNFCCC and Green Climate Fund (GCF) are the primary instruments of global climate finance. However, these “funds’ histories and governance shape their strategic outlook and coordination with other climate finance actors.” Hence, the lack of coherence in the distribution of climate finance funds remains a core issue.

While at COP26, “parties welcomed new financial pledges made to the Adaptation Fund (totaling over USD 350 million) and to the Least Developed Countries Fund (LDCF) (totaling over USD 600 million) that will translate into helping vulnerable people bolster resilience.” However, patterns from previous COPs are vital to comprehend as they allow us to measure the magnitude of the outcomes. For instance, the previous pledge to deliver $100 billion climate finance by 2020 agreed at COP15 in 2009 has yet not produced deliverable outcomes. In essence, COPs, lack an enforcing mechanism that ensures states would implement policies of climate change.

It must be pointed out that there is no procedure of rewarding or punishing states regarding greenhouse gas emissions. At COP26 more than 100 countries pledged to prevent and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030. However, we must recall “the New York Declaration on Forests” of 2014 as it failed to achieve its goals because it was a non-legally binding political agreement. In this context, accountability and legal framework could play a viable role in the implementation of various agreements and pledges of COP26.

It is vital to point out is that COP26 displayed an umbrella of policy solutions. However, it lacks firm commitments to decrease emissions. Therefore, new scholarship must be advanced in political economy that explores complex policy mechanisms of state’s domestic systems and how they translate global climate change outcomes. For example, in India’s case, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA) “energy use has doubled since 2000, with 80% of demand still being met by coal, oil and solid biomass.” Moreover, while countries were urged to speed up the phase-out of “inefficient” fossil fuel subsidies at COP26, no clear deadlines were specified.

Read more: How children are the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change?

COP26 and its implementation on Pakistan

The implementation of COP26 pledges is essential for the states such as Pakistan, as it is one of the most vulnerable states being affected by climate change. One, it must be observed that Pakistan contributes less than 1% to global carbon emissions. However, Global Climate Risk Index 2021 observes that Pakistan ranks eighth on the list of countries that are most affected by climate change. The Germanwatch report 2021 notes that Pakistan has witnessed 173 extreme weather events from 2000 to 2019 and has lost 0.52% per unit of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) due to climate change.

For instance, the seriousness of climate implications can be seen in the case of Lahore city which contributes 11-12% to the national GDP. According to a Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (SUPARCO) Pakistan study (2000) the widespread fog found in northeastern Pakistan is primarily due to carbon emissions emanating from fossil fuels such as coal-burning used in the industrial sector and thermal power plants located in northern India. Further, in a related report, BBC (2019) highlighted that NASA satellite has captured high levels of fire on the Indian side.

This is reinforced by a Rand report (2019) underlining that “the October–November postmonsoon burning mostly occurs in India’s Punjab State.” In turn, this contributes to winter smog in Lahore and has severe health and socio- economic implications such as the disruption of air traffic and road transportation and “exacerbation of asthma, allergies, eye infections, respiratory tract infections, and cardiac pathologies leading to premature death.”

The government of Pakistan has adopted a gradual approach towards climate change by taking several policy initiatives. One, by 2030 Pakistan aims to shift to 60% of renewable energy resources, banning coal imports and transferring 30% of vehicles to electric mode. Due to a combination of initiatives by the government of Pakistan such as nature-based solutions, energy efficiency, economic growth alongside implications of Covid-19, there is a reduction in emissions “of 8.7% emissions between 2016 and 2021.” For instance, 1.5 billion trees have been planted in Pakistan and it is expected that 3.2 billion trees would be planted by 2023, and lastly, 10 billion trees are to be planted by 2028.

Importantly, as part of Pakistan’s efforts to achieve climate-sensitive economic growth and development, two proposed 2400 MW coal power facilities under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) have been shelved. As a result, Pakistan has switched to a hydropower project of 3,700 MW under the China- Pakistan-Green-Economic Corridor. Other initiatives taken by the government of Pakistan include the Eco-System Restoration Initiative, Protected Areas Initiative and Clean Green Pakistan Index.

Read more: All countries should take action on climate change: Turkey

In addition, climate finance is a central strategy for Pakistan as it “intends to set a cumulative ambitious conditional target of overall 50% reduction of its projected emissions by 2030, with 15% from the country’s own resources and 35% subject to provision of international grant finance that would require USD 101 billion just for energy transition.” However, due to structural constraints mainly disbursement of international climate financing, Pakistan does face challenges for sustainable and clean development.

It remains vital for Pakistani Policymakers to navigate through global climate-related developments, as according to the World Bank execution of such policies is not a simplistic task. This is because the domestic political economy has pre-existing structures that link to “energy and transport systems, construction, and industrial and food production.” Despite the structural constraints, Pakistan at COP25 secured six positions under the UNFCCC for various committees hence, showing promise for climate change mitigation.

Furthermore, while the fiscal space is restraint in Pakistan alongside hurdles of global climate finance disbursement, domestic strategies such as public-private partnership (PPP) and zero-emission clean energy projects such as nuclear, wind and solar must be central for sustainable development.

Although there is a need for implementing pledges of COP26, overambitious strategies at the domestic level may result in policy hurdles. A logical path would be to examine energy transition in phases through consultations with the environmental and climate technocrats.

Mohid Iftikhar (Ph.D.) is Director of Research at the Center for International
Strategic Studies Sindh (CISSS).

Ms. Farzana Wahid Buksh is a Research Officer at the Center for
International Strategic Studies Sindh (CISSS). Her interests include climate
change, energy security and great power contes

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.