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COP26 and Pakistan’s resolve for the climate change

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After about two weeks of gathering in Glasgow, Scotland by the excellencies, world leaders, politicians, actors, and activists, COP26 finally came to its end (after many hours of overtime) with the Waterdown resolutions and great disappointments. The world saw oratory, presentations, concerns, hopes, and pledges by most of the delegates representing nearly 200 countries. The COP26 stands for “26th Conference of the Parties” of the 197 nations who had established the United Nations (UNCED) “Climate Change” framework, also known as the “Earth Summit” signed in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Surprisingly, the COP26 summit ended with significant shortcomings against the expectations of Saviors of the Planet Earth and the Climate Change activists. The big nations (USA, China, and India) played their power to tone down the language of the final draft to align the future of coal (with the most polluting fossil fuel) with their economic necessities by stating “phasing down” instead of the original “phasing out” description. Besides all the shortcomings of the summit, including whopping 102,500 MT equivalents of CO2 emission during its period, the summit successfully brought together all the stakeholders of the “Climate Change” mission, including the major contributors of the global warming, the multilateral lenders, investment bankers, corporate leaders, carbon emission industry representatives, cutting-edge technology innovators, policy makers, think thanks and vibrant protesters & their supporters.
Just prior to the COP26, Saudi Arabia, the leader of the OPEC, held it’s very first conference (called Saudi Green Initiative; SGI) on climate change where the Crown Prince, MBS, announced KSA’s landmark initiatives for reaching its NetZero targets. In their addresses, the Crown Prince and HRH Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, Minister of Energy, said that the KSA will be transitioning through an energy-mix pathway (replacing oil fuel with LNG + renewable) by adapting state-of-the-art technologies (CCT) for reducing its carbon emission (CE) and greenhouse gases (GHG) in order to reaching its own NetZero Commitment targets. The commitments were well defined with specific projects, targets, accountability, and transparency with timelines. As the leader of the OPEC and of the region, the kingdom also organized a region-focused summit, called the Middle East Green Initiative (MGI). The main emphasis of the MGI was on cooperation among the ME-countries and providing financial & technology assistance by the privileged countries to supporting others for accomplishing their own targets of the NetZero emissions. Both events were initiated by the Crown Prince, MBS and were highly successful and well attended by the excellencies, dignitaries, and global leaders, representing all the stake holders of the planet.
Pakistan being the developing economy often is grouped with the ME-region by the international agencies (IMF, WHO, etc.). Belonging to the ME region, gives Pakistan a positive image as it does not associate it with the stereotype image of the South Asian nations (except India) that generally relates with extreme poverty, high illiteracy, malnutrition, lack of public health, and far behind in access to the modern technologies.
Like most of the developing countries, Pakistan is also facing the same environmental challenges as its counterparts and neighbors are experiencing of pollution, deforestation, unhealthy air quality, polluted water resources due to discharging of untreated households and industrial sewage (wastewater) into the water streams.
Most of the atmospheric pollution is associated with the automobiles, factories, LNG leaks, coal-based power plants and livestock. All these sources produce thousands of tons of carbon emissions (CO2 & Methane) that continues to accumulate in the atmosphere on an ever-increasing alarming rate. These pollutants, most of the time, engulf the major Pakistani cities with thick layer of smoke, smog, haze, and soot that is inhaled by the public without any notice and is causing upper respiratory diseases, emphysema, COPD, and other acute breathing conditions at increasingly alarming rates! Most of the time, majority of the citizens cannot afford timely diagnosis and treatments of these symptoms, thus become victims of the premature deaths.
PM Imran Khan in his speech (just before the COP26) to the MGI delegates in Riyadh, in the presence of the Crown Prince, described his plans to help reducing the global warming by reassuring the world that Pakistan is committed to the Paris Agreement for reaching the NetZero emissions through plantations, reforestation and mangroves cultivation programs. It was very much applauded by the delegates. According to the PM, his government has already embarked in planting 10 billion trees across the country and reforestation of more than one million hectares of land is underway. He underlined the fact that the climate change was “quite visible 20 years ago but we were all in self-denial”.
No doubt, plants are the “purification factories” of the planet earth to purify its air by absorbing atmospheric CO2 emissions and discharging oxygen (O2), the integral lifeline ingredient for the humans and other living species. Even though, plantation is a very remarkable undertaking by the PM but according to the scientific and forestry studies, less than 40% of the saplings survive to their maturity and depending on the type of the tree, it takes a minimum of 10-20 years for a plant to mature in order to absorb the CO2 at its maximum capacity. Similarly, mangroves take 10-15 years to reach to their maturity, depending on the available nutrients, either by nature (in the soil) or through the fertilizers. According to multiple studies, average life span of a mangrove plant is about 25 years, and it absorbs 2-4 times more than the average tropical forest tree. Studies also found that one hectare of mangroves can remove about 840 MT from the atmosphere over their lifetime of 25 years. Thus, a single mangrove can remove 0.3 MT (308 Kg) of CO2 over its lifespan that translates to 12.3 Kg per year. Therefore, it is obvious, that among the plant types, mangrove plantation is not only a better choice for tackling the climate change but is also very suitable for Pakistani climate. The PM also announced that Pakistan will be moving away from coal for its future power generation needs. This statement also resonated well with the attendees. In summary, overall, this sounds a very robust roadmap for Pakistan to reaching its NetZero target of 2050 and the PM deserves all the applaud and support from everyone. However, since this robust plan will take 10-20 years from now to imparts its FULL benefits on the climate change, while in the meanwhile the polluting sources (autos, factories, coal-power plants, LPG consumers, livestock) will continue to increase Pakistan’s carbon footprint at their maximum rates. Therefore, in order to start reducing Pakistan’s carbon footprint right away and without too much capital investment, PTI government should use a 3-prong strategy.
1) Industrial pollution:
Go after the pollution creating sources by doubling down on enforcing the existing laws or creating new legislations to punish those, particularly the factories and the plants that are clearly violating the current environmental laws.
= The new legislations should mandate all the factories/industries to become transparent in their emissions reporting and create timelines to reach to their NetZero carbon emissions by 2025 from their entire operations, including the supply chains.
= They should be required to publicly report their progress on a monthly and quarterly basis without any exceptions.
2) Auto pollution:
Effective immediately, any new vehicle purchase by the government agencies should be mandated to be EV.
= Recharging infrastructure should be incentivized to encourage the private sector to work expeditiously.
= Auto makers should be encouraged to open their EV assembly plants in Pakistan with 30% value based local content/labor cost mandates.
= All public transportation in major cities should be replaced by the EV by phasing out the current vehicle fleets over a period of next five years
= All taxis should be converted to EVs within the next five years by offering purchase discounts and tax incentives
= Sales and new licenses/permits for the motorcycles & rickshaws should only be granted for the battery-operated vehicles.
3) Industry pollution:
Strict emission monitoring and public reporting by all industries should be enforced immediately. Violators must be heavily fined and asked to prepare their roadmaps in eliminating the emissions from their entire operations with timeline targets in order to reach their NetZero emissions by 2025.
= Factories that are progressing well and are ahead of their target timelines should be rewarded by issuing them generous tax credits.
= Power plants being public entities, their managements should be offered monetary incentives and awards for the best of their class performance who meet or exceed their publicly stated targets. Like the factories, all the power plants should be directed to comply with the zero emissions by 2025
= Cement manufacturing being one of the most pollution generating & energy intensive processes should be incentivized more than the others to creating their own timeline targets and rewarding them if meeting earlier or exceeding the stated targets. Like the other industries, they have to be completely transparent in their operations and publicly posting their progress
= Cement should be produced just for the domestic needs and its exports should be prohibited
By following this strategy along with the plantations, Pakistan will soon be in the leading position to show the world that just like the COVID-19 vaccine, when public and private sectors work together with clear goals, miracles do really happen. Thus, this is the time for the PM and Pakistan to lead the fight against the sacred mission of “saving the planet earth” for the grandchildren and the generations to come with full willpower and by doubling down on enforcing the environmental laws for improving the air quality and health of its citizens. The dividends of these actions will be enormous, not only just in creating healthy environment & making the citizens healthy but more so in its economic productivity, creativity streams and innovations. As the country will move in its compliance with its environmental goals, a clear pathway will emerge for national rejuvenation, prosperity, and national pride. The moment is in the sight for a great WIN for Pakistan and its citizens but also a WIN for the global community and the planet earth. At the end, we all will be winners!