The Cancun Climate gala has started, but surprisingly the fanfare has been quite humble as compared to what we saw last year at Copenhagen. But some things never change like the stance of Pakistan in climate change talks.
This time we are boasting about our new climate change policy which is supposed to come in few weeks. I am waiting for the genie to come out, but not having high hopes given my past experience of our environment ministry reinventing the wheel. But why am I so hastily assuming a recycled climate policy? The Government of Pakistan produced climate change report early this year. It was an extension of the report which was submitted to the UNFCCC in 2003. This was the second official document from Government's Task Force on Climate Change. Of course its am updated report, with more facts, figures, statements and statistics from various Economic Surveys of Pakistan. However, an extensive read of the report and review of government environmental documents not only reveals a significant lack of actual field-based climate data, but also a lack of capacity in studying and responding to the country's environmental challenges - in particular climate change. There have been no substantial baseline studies conducted in all this time period even though we have been facing natural calamites in Lake Atta and the recent floods. Let is be noted that the jury is still out on "speculations' whether both events were "natural' or man-made'.
I am sadly not amazed to see more interviews, more opinions, all without substantial proof. Without climate modeling of the recent flooding yet we are convinced and confident that the recent floods are the result of climate change (or at least some ministers are, while others like our PM are happy to make climate change the sole culprit). Pakistan is not the recipient of floods for the first time and earlier only a handful of environmentalists/ economists diagnosed climate change as its cause.
Climate change is not a recent global phenomenon, but despite years of climate negotiations (broken promises and commitments), the world is still on an emissions trajectory that fits pretty easily into the "business as usual" scenarios drawn up by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) with all these international fanfares.
It's indeed shocking and disheartening and one can conclude they are useless and even today every country is working on the principle of "privatizing profit and socializing losses." Environmental degradation is a byproduct of our private and personal love affair with profit and greed, so lets socialize its fallout globally with our developing mates.
The developed nations also take technology as the messiah and hope to one day capture all the carbon emissions, but this still remains a dream at this point of time, especially for those of us who are bearing the real brunt of the warming weather. Do we have consensus anywhere as to how one magic bullet will solve the climate crisis globally? Nations and activists should stop having faith in these international environmental shindigs no miracle is going to happen in events which have ended up creating greater ecological footprints than ever before.
So, where does the answer lie? Strengthening traditional, local institutions at micro/household level and adaptation seems to be the only solution to fight climate change. No longer should we be looking for grandiose, global answers. Developing countries like ours need to wake up and start encouraging research and development about our environment, the weather and how it is impacting our citizens on the ground. When will it be time for us to STOP looking to someone else for solutions?
Climate change is an abstract reality for Pakistan in comparison to the tangible problems like price hikes, sugar crisis, energy crisis, domestic terrorism and above all political sustainability. With all these issues in hand all we can think is joining the fanfare without brains. Forming a group of diplomats, civil society leaders and pseudo intellectuals getting a visa and "here we come Cancun".
Let's rethink our development goals. There is still time to take corrective policy measures. The Government needs to engage the business community and civil society in strengthening traditional institutions to foster local adaptation. Encourage in base line research and utilize our academia to generate hubs of datasets on which policies should be formulated. Internalize environment as a part of process rather than an externality.
Aneel Salman, PhD, is an academic based in Pakistan with a background in climate change economics.