About a year ago, Pakistan submitted a mere 350-word document at COP22 in Paris, briefly explaining its intended course of action on climate change mitigation.
This half-hearted approach received severe criticism from all informed quarters.
After this disappointing performance at the international level last year, INGOs and NGOs have started facilitating the government in filling the gap left vacant over the year. They are creating awareness, conducting research and advising the government.
Dr Abid Qaiyum Suleri, Executive Director, Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) says, “Most of the organisations are working to support federal and provincial governments in getting climate change policy implemented.”
Hina Lotia, Director Programmes, LEAD Pakistan affirms the role of non-government organisations. “It has been a vanguard of environment and development agenda in the country, particularly over the last two decades.”
She recalls the first generation of NGOs, typically focused on voluntary support to schools and hospitals. “There have since emerged a number of professionally-managed and internationally-respected nonprofit organisations, specialising on issues as environment, water and climate change. This second generation NGOs have successfully played a pivotal role in spearheading the policy discourse.”
Suleri says, “SDPI, for instance, is working on bridging research-policy gaps towards a climate resilient economy. Through primary research on rural to urban mobility, water governance, food security and impact of climate change on cotton value chain, it is contributing towards policy solutions to climate change”.
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The fact that SDPI is also helping the federal ministry of climate change in international negotiations, such as COP23, shows how much the government is relying on the independent sector and that it lacks expertise to do it on it’s own.
LEAD started the cohort programme in 1994 in Pakistan, which today is probably the largest, and the oldest capacity development programme on sustainable development in the country. LEAD has continued to invest on mid-level professionals for almost 25 years on climate change-related issues. “This cohort programme has given Pakistan the biggest and the most active network of 250 professionals in all provinces, committed to protect the environment and promote sustainable development,” says Lotia.
However, mitigation, that is recovery from loss and damage due to climate change is mainly done by humanitarian organisations after a natural or man-made calamity has struck.
The concept of environmental consultants is new in Pakistan. Organised under the banner of Environmental Consultants of Pakistan (ECAP), they have started raising these issues at different fora through campaigns, press conferences, public interest litigation, etc. Some of the members own private labs that have shown results totally different from the government-run labs that are reluctant to release real findings.
Asif Sial, Secretary General, ECAP, says the concerned departments are not renewing registrations of private labs, may be because they want to punish them for releasing real data about pollution and creating something what they call “panic”.
“ECAP will challenge every wrong step taken by the state through media and, if needed, through courts,” he says, continuing that ECAP is different from NGOs because it comprises experts who know the subject well. “NGOs are ineffective because they can only plead and not force the government to take a corrective action.”
LEAD’s Hina Lotia claims otherwise. She talks about collaborative partnership with the government. LEAD, she says, “is presently assisting provincial governments in KP, Punjab, and Sindh to develop their climate change policies and action plans. It is working closely with sectoral departments in several provinces to align their Annual Development Plans with SDGs on the one hand and climate-smart development on the other.”
SDPI, for instance, is also part of judicial commissions on climate change formed by Lahore High Court, Islamabad Environment Commission formed by the Supreme Court of Pakistan, and Canal Bank Widening Commission formed by the Lahore High Court.
Dr Jawad Chishtie from Subh-e-Nau (SN), a non-profit organisation working on climate change in Islamabad, says there are many local NGOs working on environment without really understanding the issue. “Climate change mitigation and adaptation urgently require policy level interventions, which means that first the government should create an atmosphere where policy advice is admissible.”
He is convinced that the governments, for over two decades, have only broken their own laws, and weakened institutions, which does not help in any way. “The ministry of environment or climate change and the EPA have been on shoestring budgets so their role as a check on industry and cross-sectoral policy is non-existent. Also, one has to see that the funding for environmental NGOs is very small.”
Chishtie thinks there is no indigenous movement on climate change. “Fortunately though, there are educational institutions where work on climate change continues. But they have very little voice in the policy process.”
In the area of climate change, SN mostly works on research and policy advice to governments, political parties, and other interested national and international groups.
He says NGOs have been effective in challenging government projects. For example, he says, “Lahore Bachao and SN have collectively, and independently rallied against many government and private interests that impact the environment and climate change. They have raised awareness, and even taken the government to court.