Thomson Reuters Foundation/Islamabad
Pakistan’s parliament has passed a climate change bill that officials promise “will fast-track measures needed to implement actions on the ground” in a country that has so far lagged on climate action.
The new law establishes a policy-making Climate Change Council, along with a Climate Change Authority to prepare and supervise the implementation of projects to help Pakistan adapt to climate impacts and hold the line on climate-changing emissions.
The legislation has received cautious backing from climate change experts, who say they welcome its potential but question whether the government should instead be offering more direct support to provinces to implement environmental projects.
Pakistan has earlier passed measures to address climate change, but most have been little implemented, critics charge.
Pakistan’s Senate passed the Climate Change Act 2016 this month, following the bill’s passage in the National Assembly in December. The legislation is expected to be approved by the President in the coming weeks, a requirement under Pakistan’s constitution.
Pakistan’s federal minister for climate change, Zahid Hamid, called the legislation “historic” and said it would “fast-track measures needed to implement actions on the ground.”
Pakistan’s former government, led by President Asif Ali Zardari, introduced a comprehensive National Climate Change Policy (NCCP) in 2013.
The government Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif also downgraded the Ministry of Climate Change to a division and slashed its budget by more than 60%. He later elevated its status back to a federal ministry ahead of the historic climate change conference in Paris in 2015.
Climate expert Qamar-uz-Zaman Chaudhry said the new bill will help the provinces with adaptation and mitigation strategies and projects.
“The Climate Change Act will also ensure awareness of climate policy at the highest level,” he said. “The (climate change) council will hopefully expedite action, and the implementation of climate projects will pick up.”
Hamid said that Pakistan today faces major climate-related risks, including glacial melt, variable monsoons, recurrent floods, sea intrusion, higher average temperatures and greater frequency of droughts.
Millions of people across the country have been affected, and major damage has been caused by recurring natural disasters.
The new law establishes a Pakistan Climate Change Council, Pakistan Climate Change Authority and Pakistan Climate Change Fund.
The council will be a decision-making body chaired by either the prime minister or a person nominated by him. The government will appoint federal and provincial ministers, chief ministers and chief secretaries as members of the council.
Other members of the body, which will total around 30 people, will be scientists and researchers, representatives of business and industry, and experts from non-governmental organisations concerned with climate change.
The Climate Change Authority will be an autonomous government department, housed in Islamabad and led by scientists, academics, industrialists, agriculturalists and serving and retired government servants, with a chairperson appointed by the prime minister.
It will formulate adaptation and mitigation policies and projects designed to meet Pakistan’s obligations under international climate accords like the recent Paris Agreement.
Projects are to be implemented by the provinces. The Climate Change Fund will support adaptation and mitigation schemes, and other measures including research.
Hammad Naqi Khan, director-general of WWF-Pakistan, one of the country’s oldest environmental NGOs, questioned whether the new bodies would have regulatory teeth.
“While I appreciate the fact that we now have new legislation in place to address issues related to climate change, the fact remains that we have policies for everything but where is the enforcement?” he asked.
He pointed out the earlier example of the Pakistan Environmental Protection Council, set up under the 1997 Environmental Protection Act.
The council was headed by the prime minister and required under the law to meet at least twice a year, but it rarely did so, while environmental protection agencies were widely regarded as toothless and unable to enforce the law.
“This new council and authority are all good things on paper, but we will only see their benefits when they materialise,” Khan said.
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