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Leading by doing – Pakistani PM Imran Khan on the urgent need for climate action

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan calls for swift climate action. - Image: REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

Prime Minister of Pakistan, Prime Minister’s Secretariat
  • Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan calls climate change a “defining global challenge” of our time.
  • Pakistan is the fifth most climate-impacted country in the world.
  • Khan is committed to a “clean and green” Pakistan.
  • The country is targeting nature-based solutions like planting billions of trees.

This article is part of the World Economic Forum’s Country Strategic Dialogue on Pakistan 2020.

Climate change is one of the defining global challenges faced by our generation. It has far-reaching adverse economic, social and political impacts. The world is already witnessing unprecedented floods, severe droughts, increasing heat waves, spreading wildfires and fierce cyclonic activity. All of these pose a clear and present danger for humanity. While no country is immune from these impacts of climate change, most developing countries remain disproportionately affected by its negative impacts.

Pakistan is a case in point, as it lies at the geographic crossroads of melting glaciers, unpredictably shifting monsoons and enhanced disaster activity triggered by climate change. Despite Pakistan’s diminutive contribution to global green house gas emissions, we are the fifth most climate-impacted country in the world, as indicated by the Germanwatch Global Climate Risk Index, 2020.

There is an urgent need for simultaneously raising ambition for climate action, while also building resilience and adapting to the inescapable impacts of climate change. Climate action by the developing countries, however, has to be based on the established principles of Equity and Common but Differentiated Responsibilities and Respective Capabilities (CBDR–RC) – as agreed under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and its Paris Agreement. It is also vital that developing countries are supported with enhanced climate finance, appropriate technology transfer and supportive capacity-building. In this regard, the existing pledge by the developed countries to mobilize $100 billion annually in climate finance for the developing countries remains critically essential, but as yet unfulfilled.

On its part, my government remains fully committed to play a leadership role in addressing the issue of climate change and making a shift towards a “clean and green” Pakistan through a well-articulated climate change agenda consisting of a number of on-the-ground flagship initiatives. Subsequent to the successful achievement of planting a billion trees in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan (2014-18), which enhanced the provincial forest cover by 6%, we are now implementing the “10 Billion Trees Tsunami” initiative which will restore and enhance over 1 million hectares of forest across the country. This project is expected to deliver multiple dividends by creating green jobs, sequestering carbon as well as promoting ecosystem-based adaptation. A truly win-win nature based solution.

In addition, the “Protected Areas Initiative”, launched during the COVID-19 era, is enhancing our national coverage of protected areas from 12% to 15% of land area while preserving Pakistan’s unique and valuable biodiversity and has already increased our number of National Parks from 30 to 45 in just one year. All of these are also creating nature jobs while creating opportunities for eco-tourism and climate change adaptation at the same time.

On the energy side, Pakistan remains committed to realizing the untapped renewable energy potential – in hydro, solar and wind – and to shift our energy mix to 60% clean energy by 2030. This clean energy transition is complemented by the enactment of our first Electric Vehicle policy (2020), which targets 30% of our vehicles to go electric by 2030. Furthermore, the world’s first “zero emissions” metro line project designed to turn cattle dung into methane to power buses, has already been approved for the city of Karachi. Recently, we also shifted our transport fuel quality from Euro-2 to the much cleaner Euro-V standard in one big leap. All these initiatives speak to our unrelenting commitment to eco-friendly, sustainable and climate-compatible development.

On climate adaptation, Pakistan remains a vulnerable country without a choice. Our climate adaptation needs range from $7 billion to $14 billion per annum, as we are compelled to undertake adaptation measures in response to climate triggered disasters. Amid this adversity, we have realized the value of investing in nature-based solutions. One such solution is the eco-system-based “Recharge Pakistan” initiative, which aims to effectively manage and prudently utilize our water resources – turning catastrophic floods into an opportunity for recharging aquifers and naturally restoring ecosystems. This project, when fully implemented, will positively impact around 10 million vulnerable people, through reduced risk from floods and enhanced livelihoods by the year 2030.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is inflicting unparalleled human suffering and has triggered the worst recession since the 1930s Great Depression. The developing countries have been hit the hardest and their contracting economies have posed a serious threat to their quest for raising ambition for climate action. Even in these challenging times, Pakistan carved out a silver lining through “Green Stimulus”, aimed at nature protection and creation of green jobs. During the pandemic lockdowns we have created around 85,000 COVID safe green jobs – planting trees, protecting nature and improving sanitation – which are planned to be scaled-up to 200,000 by December 2020. This Green Stimulus is helping Pakistan to build back green and focus on a nature positive recovery.

Pakistan is also actively pursuing innovative global financing for its ambitious climate agenda, through structuring “Debt for Nature” swaps or “Nature Bonds” based on the credible ongoing activities outlined above and the renegotiation of Pakistan’s burgeoning debt with countries supportive of a green revival of the global economy.

Climate change is undoubtedly the most threatening issue of our time and an issue without a vaccine. There is no short-cut solution to enhanced, cooperative and coordinated global climate action. Pakistan stands ready and committed to not only play its role in furthering global efforts to combat this menace but also lead the way with real on-the-ground solutions.

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