As the world leaders and environmental experts gathered at Katowice, Poland, to discuss strategies to save the globe from catastrophic climate change, delegates and experts were shocked to know that Pakistan is not having a pavilion to properly represent its climate case to the global community.
The climate change summit, organised by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), was an important summit as the implementation mechanism of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement was to be finalised. As the climate commitments of all the countries show that the world is heading towards global warming of 3°C or more, the world had to revise their commitments, also known as the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). Also the developed world had to come up to their promise of raising US$ 100 billion per year by 2020.
Germanwatch, the German think-tank, had already published its latest global climate risk index and listed Pakistan on eighth position among the most vulnerable countries to climate change from 1998 to 2017. During this 20 year average, Pakistan had lost 10,248 lives and suffered US$ 3.8 billion loss.
The first thing I wanted to do after reaching the conference venue on December 9, 2018 was to visit the Pakistani pavilion and see how it is portraying its climate vulnerability and the steps it is taking to adapt and mitigate climate change. However, to my surprise, Pakistan didn’t have a pavilion this time. Almost every developed and developing country had their pavilions and by not having a pavilion, it seemed like a lost opportunity.
When asked, Malik Amin Aslam Khan, Advisor to the Prime Minister on Climate Change, agreed that having a pavilion could have been a ‘plus’ but “last year we had spent almost 25 million rupees on a pavilion which didn’t produce any outcome. This time as part of our austerity measure, we decided not to have it and therefore spent only two million rupees.”
“We have participated in 10 side events and highlighted Pakistan’s position at various multilateral forums which was never done before. Instead of having a pavilion where we have to attract people to get the message across, it is better for the message to go out,” Khan said.
Khan further said, “In terms of visibility and impact, Pakistan had interjections at all major plenaries which had enabled us to reach a much larger audience by being one of the ministerial panelists. The idea is to reach out to maximum people at the conference and I think Pakistan had that impact using a slightly different strategy.”
Not everyone agrees with Malik Amin Aslam Khan on the pavilion issue. Aisha Khan, Executive Director for Civil Society Coalition for Climate Change, said, “We have lost an opportunity to showcase the full impact of our tree plantation effort (Billion Tree Tsunami Afforestation Project and Plant for Pakistan Project). The visuals and info-graphics with data on carbon capture would have made a good story for Pakistan.”
“A country pavilion helps you showcase both your achievements and the vulnerability you face as a country due to climate change more effectively. The repeated images, graphs and data that you project on the screen get imprinted on people’s minds. Perceptions matter and a pavilion enables you to deliver that message with a powerful thrust. It also serves as a hub for the delegates, including civil society and media, to convene in-house meetings.”
However, Aisha did appreciate the government for effectively representing the country narrative. “Interventions by Malik Amin Aslam Khan were technically sound and politically aligned with the G77 agenda in highlighting the challenges faced by developing countries,” she added.
David Eckstein, the main author of Germanwatch’s 2019 climate report, said, “It seems hard to imagine that a country like Pakistan won’t be able to present itself through a pavilion but a country like Mali does. If countries aren’t able to set pavilions due to cost issues, the UNFCCC should be aware of that and must support the developing countries. If not the UNFCCC, then support must be sought from other donors.”
Eckstein further said, “If you look at the cost aspect, yes the amount is high but in the end the benefit is far greater. If you have a pavilion with a side event room, you can showcase explicitly examples, projects and national strategies that the country has developed. Overall, it is very important to have a pavilion, that is what my perception is if I look at the past climate negotiations.”
It was important to know the reasons behind why other countries have set up their pavilions and the outcomes they expect. The Indonesian panel was at the start of the pavilion zone and had a side-event room too. Dicky Edwin Hindarto, Advisor for Indonesia Joint Crediting Mechanism Implementation who represented the Indonesian pavilion, informed that their government has not spent a single penny on it rather it has been made possible through the private sector support. “Through this panel, we are telling the world that we have proposed 29 percent of emission cuts by 2030 with internal resources and that we can reduce 41 percent of our emissions with international support.”
He further said, “Most importantly these pavilions are part of our soft diplomacy, whereas hard diplomacy takes place in negotiation groups. The pavilion helps connect our private sector and NGOs with their partners. It is all about tapping opportunities.”
Hafif Assaf, a private sector entrepreneur from Indonesia, also complemented Dicky Edwin’s views and informed that the pavilion has helped him to network with like-minded people.
The pavilion of the United Kingdom was also a vibrant one. Jim Dippie, a representative of the UK government, said that for them climate change is a priority and that they want to be an active part of the conversation and play an important role in clean growth transition. “We have the pavilion to share experiences and to further grow the UK economy. We plan to spend six billion pounds by 2021.”
When told that Pakistan does not have a pavilion this time, Jim said, “It can be fantastic for Pakistan to become part of the conversation as well.”
Saleh, a representative of Qatar pavilion, also advised Pakistan to have a pavilion. “Climate summits are an opportunity to provide information about the country, its wildlife and environment and the climatic impacts it might be facing. Most importantly, it helps in networking.”
By not having a pavilion, Pakistan has missed a golden opportunity. Though Advisor Malik Amin Khan did portray Pakistan’s case well at the international conference, it could have been a lot better by having a pavilion. Perhaps, the austerity drive wasn’t needed here.
The writer is a Chevening Scholar pursuing MA International Journalism at Cardiff University. He can be contacted via twitter @SyedMAbubakar or email at [email protected]