Barometer of change

The writer is an expert on climate change and development.

THE Pakistan Economic Survey is a flagship report on the state of the economy. The latest for 2022-2023 was issued last week by the Ministry of Finance. It provides the most authoritative information and commentary on the overall performance of the country’s economy, macroeconomic trends, and such indicators as GDP growth rate and the rate of inflation. The Economic Survey has recognised climate change as a cross-cutting subject. How well is it integrated into the country’s development goals? This is an important question, particularly since the national economy is still bleeding from the big hit of $30.13 billion it took in July last year, owing to the flooding triggered by the erratic monsoons.

The Economic Survey measures the degree of integration of climate change into the country’s development planning. Climate change has emerged as the foremost development challenge. It goes beyond humanitarian and relief services, spearheaded by the National Disaster Management Authority and its provincial counterparts. It is no longer just about the speedy disbursement of cash that the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) has been charged to undertake. It is now certainly more than a task of rehabilitation and reconstruction under the failed rubric of ‘build back better’, for which the nation still has no risk transfer or insurance mechanisms in place. Clearly, climate change now takes centre stage when it comes to proactively planning for resilience development — to build climate-smart communities, infrastructure, ecosystems and economy.

This year’s Survey has 17 chapters, including one on climate change. Except for the chapter on ‘Energy’, none of the remaining chapters has mentioned climate change, let alone engaged in such issues as adaptation and mitigation, technology transfer, or climate financing. None of the chapters has highlighted how climate risks are adding to the cost of development, reducing productivity, stunting the GDP growth rate and raising commodity prices and inflationary trends, while pushing people below the poverty line. In fact, except for Chapter 10 on ‘Education’, there were hardly any efforts to link other sectors with the Sustainable Development Goals.

The very first chapter on ‘Growth and Investment’ records climate change as a “threat to future global economic growth”, but this pedagogical statement is not translated into action points for the national economy in this or any subsequent chapter. Climate change indeed poses several threats, but it also offers many opportunities for growth and investments. The chapter has, however, not acknowledged how it has stunted economic growth or what opportunities it offers for investment if the country decides to follow a low-emissions and resilient development pathway. The chapter has not only set the direction for the Economic Survey, but has also failed to capture the heartbeat of the global development discourse and national vulnerabilities and investment priorities.

Climate change has not been given the attention it deserves in the ‘Economic Survey’.

The second chapter on ‘Agriculture’ also shies away from any reference to climate adaptation, even if the sector suffered a loss of $12.9bn in last year’s massive floods. Food security hinges on following what is called climate-smart agriculture. The changing weather is impacting cropping patterns, yields and even the suitability of certain crops, but the chapter has not referred to it. No lessons from the recent flood losses have been drawn, no recommendations made, no future direction set and no priority areas of investment identified. Ironically, in analysing the challenges to agriculture and livestock, the chapter did not even mention the role that women play and how acutely their vulnerabilities have increased because of climate-triggered disasters.

The chapters on ‘Manufacturing and Mining’, ‘Fiscal Development’ and ‘Capital Markets and Corporate Sector’ are central to planning growth, mobilising the private sector, and accessing the international climate finance. Yet, they missed an opportunity of mentioning the costs of mitigation, alternative technologies and energy transitions. Collectively, they failed to build Pakistan’s business case for climate-compatible development. The chapter on ‘Trade and Payments’ narrowed its interest to “investment climate” but without factoring in the emerging threats from some of Pakistan’s trading partners in the shape of carbon tariffs or carbon intensity per unit of production.

Frequent disasters have begun to affect the affordability as well as the availability of domestic and international finance. In discussing the Pakistan Investment Bonds, the chapter on ‘Public Debt’ did not provide any guidance on how to mobilise private capital or forge public private partnerships to build upon Wapda’s experience with green bonds for wastewater management or urban rejuvenation.

The chapters on social sectors, ‘Education’, ‘Health & Nutrition’ and ‘Population, Labour Force and Employment’ have maintained their siloed approach and not explained how their delivery is impacted by climate-induced migration, urbanisation, and demographic trends. The chapter on ‘Transport and Communication’, oddly, makes no references to the need for investments in public or mass transit systems, cleaner fuels to reduce emissions, or how to improve air quality for human health.

The chapter on ‘Information Technology and Telecommunication’ draws attention to cybersecurity but not on how to enable a better, safer, more sustainable future through the use of innovative technologies. The chapter on ‘Social Protection’ has shown how the delivery institutions needed for climate disasters are still absent at the local level and how the role is given to the BISP that was not designed to support natural disaster relief.

The chapter on ‘Energy’ is the only chapter that has specifically referred to the commitments made by Pakistan in its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC). It claims to adhere to the environmental guidelines of multilateral development banks that have invested heavily in the sector and have spurred action through lists of prior actions and Disbursement Linked Indicators.

Finally, the chapter on ‘Climate Change’, presents a long list of 20-plus initiatives, but only three mentioning actual allocations. All other projects, even if important, are only ideas in the pipeline. Instead of reporting progress on the National Climate Change Policy or NDC, both approved by the cabinet, more than two-thirds of the chapter has listed a long list of planned initiatives without always linking them with NCCP or the NDC. This includes the implementation of the National Clean Air Policy, National Inventory for Short-lived Climate Pollutants, or initiatives emanating from successful participation in COP-27, setting up the voluntary carbon market, developing net-zero goals, and the Living Indus Initiative. They all beg for space in other chapters of the Economic Survey. Is this beyond the climate ministry’s mandate or beyond its ability to leverage?

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