By Aisha Khan
Pakistan is a country of 200 million people, spread across mountain, desert, coastal, arid, and semi-arid eco-systems. Climate change is a relatively new thematic area within the overall governance framework, and is gaining prominence in public discourse. About 28 percent of people in Pakistan live below the poverty line, and many more are on the brink of falling into the poverty trap. Climate change will exacerbate vulnerability of the poor and pose serious challenges to the food, water and energy security of all citizens. Pakistan’s response to climate change has evolved since 2012, with the coming into force of the first National Climate Change Policy. The architecture of the climate governance regime in Pakistan was designed collectively by civil society and decision makers. This co-creation legacy is a promising foundation on which the Open Government Partnership (OGP) can be built in Pakistan.
Pakistan is one of the five new countries that joined the OGP platform (bringing it to 75 participating countries) at the Global Summit in Paris in December 2016. The Paris Agreement on Climate Change and OGP’s mission have areas of convergence with potential for synergy and dovetailing to generate a complementary momentum that can increase the speed and need for action. Merger of both development streams can bring together the climate change and OGP communities to accelerate progress on climate actions and deliver benefits across sectors.
Pakistan’s climate community, government, civil society, and private sector have been successful in translating global commitments into local actions to meet the sustainable development agendas at the national level. The Government of Pakistan, in line with the Paris Agreement, has enacted the Climate Change Act of 2017 to improve coordination among line ministries, development agencies and provinces. Under the new law, the Pakistan Climate Change Council, Pakistan Climate Change Authority and Pakistan Climate Change Fund will be established. The Council will be the highest 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. Under the Act, civil society will have an institutional role with significant representation (30 members) in formulating the national response to climate change. The Climate Change Authority will have autonomous status within the government, and will be led by scientists, academicians, industrialists, agriculturalists, and retired and serving government officials, chaired by a person appointed by the Prime Minister.
In addition to the Paris Agreement, the GOP has also demonstrated its commitment to operationalize Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development. The National Assembly has passed a resolution to fully endorse the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and SDG centers are being set up at the federal and provincial levels. Such initiatives are useful vehicles for advancing OGP goals, and can be strengthened through synergistic actions.
In the run-up to the Paris Agreement, Pakistan’s civil society worked closely with the government to build consensus on an “Agenda of Solutions” and mechanisms for developing a constructive relationship with all stakeholders. This collaborative approach and need for collective action has now been formalized through the creation of the Civil Society Coalition for Climate Change (CSCCC). The CSCCC has been established on the premise that collaborative and collective actions are more powerful and impactful than isolated and solo efforts. CSCCC will work closely with policy makers and provide research-based support to guide design of future strategies, as well as develop tools for tracking progress on existing commitments.
Pakistan’s participation in OGP can be leveraged by the CSCCC to disseminate knowledge and raise awareness about OGP objectives among all stakeholders using existing platforms, and creating new windows to institutionalize the role of civil society in participatory and transparent decision-making for accountable and responsible climate policies.
In order to develop Pakistan’s first National Action Plan (NAP), the Government of Pakistan (GOP) tasked the Economic Affairs Division (EAD) within the Ministry of Finance to steer the process and coordinate with other government agencies and ministries, as well as civil society actors, to develop the first NAP by the middle of 2017. The OGP principles ask for an open and inclusive NAP development process, with broad-based engagement of civil society to co-create and implement the NAP. Since the inception of this process, the EAD interface with civil society has been limited and selective. Thematic areas selected for the NAP are not a product of broad-based consultation or transparent strategy that explains overarching goals, timelines, and decision-making points and processes, but an outcome of discussions between what is still a limited set of stakeholders.
The overarching vision of OGP in the draft work plan of the Open Climate Working Group is to support participating OGP countries and civil society in meeting national climate goals and obligations under the Paris Agreement, through open and inclusive processes. However, in Pakistan, the EAD has not been successful in reaching out to wider development actors to ensure meaningful engagement for mapping potential actions, prioritizing the most relevant initiatives, and packaging recommendations into a workable National Action Plan that includes climate as an area of focus. Although climate is an emerging issue in2017,the Ministry of Climate Change is yet to be part of discussions on OGP (and it isn’t clear if the EAD has plans to do so), and there is no agreement on appropriate tools and platforms to support the tracking and disclosure of climate finance and allocation. These are serious gaps which need to be addressed so that the first set of commitments developed by Pakistan are ambitious, realistic, inclusively developed, and responsive to national priorities and needs of citizens, given the significant risks posed by climate change, particularly to the most vulnerable sections of society. .
The successful implementation of OGP can play a very important role in shaping the future socio-economic and political landscape in Pakistan. Moving towards collective decision-making through participatory, broad based and inclusive processes is very important in a world with a burgeoning population and a shrinking resource base. Elite capture in governance and the economy results in unequal power distribution and growth contributing to extreme income disparities and social discontent. This can create a volatile situation, and increase the trust deficit between the citizen-state relationship pitting vested interest groups against each other for the grab of critical resources, resulting in demographic shifts and societal strife.
Ownership of policies by all stakeholders, and facing threats and challenges, from a common platform is the most desirable way forward to avoid violent clashes between competing groups. Pakistan needs to hasten the process of adopting open government practices and incorporating them as an essential means to achieving the SDGs. The CSCCC and similar networks in the climate and environment community can be leveraged to co-create open, transparent, and inclusive development actions to ensure the well-being of all.
Authors: Aisha Khan