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July 21, 2018

Green manifestos


July 21, 2018

With the general election less than a week away and Pakistan being ranked as the seventh country that is most vulnerable to the adverse impacts of climate change, we must analyse how ‘green’ the political manifestos presented by the major political parties in Pakistan – the PML-N, PPP and PTI – really are.

Before we vote on July 25, we must be sure that those asking for our trust are adept at leading this country away from polluted cities; inefficient waste management systems; heatwaves, water scarcity; and food insecurity. The list of woes related to climate change is inexhaustible and we are unfortunately at the receiving end of these challenges despite the fact that we are contributing only 0.8 percent to GHG emissions.

Across the world, election manifestos are eagerly awaited since they inform the people about the stance of a particular party regarding the core issues that they are faced with. They suggest a way forward and act as campaign tools to sway undecided voters. A manifesto serves as a reliable source of information on a political party’s ideology and how it is different from that of its rival parties.

The PPP was the first political party to release its manifesto on June 28. In addition to the PPP’s decades-long slogan of ‘roti, kapra aur makan’ (food, clothing and shelter), climate change, environmental protection, access to safe drinking water and food security have also assumed centre-stage in the party’s election manifesto.

PPP Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari has pledged that environmental issues will be among the key priorities of his party’s manifesto for the upcoming polls as protecting the planet is the long-term responsibility of the entire world.

However, what is lacking in the party’s 2018 political manifesto is a coherent way forward to achieve these aims. In their 2013 election manifesto, the PPP was the first political party in Pakistan to pledge their commitment to mitigating the effects of climate change in Pakistan. Be that as it may, these commitments were little more than empty slogans and nothing much was done to fulfil them.

On July 5, PML-N President Shahbaz Sharif unveiled his party’s political manifesto. He claimed that water scarcity is the major challenge in the coming years. The PML-N president also said that he was willing to work with other political parties to solve the problem.

As compared with the party’s 2013 election manifesto, the PML-N has presented a more comprehensive plan of action to mitigate and adapt to the existing and emerging challenges of climate change facing the country. By highlighting the fact that the country needs a rapid and effective response to the dangers posed by climate change and environmental degradation, the PML-N has so far produced a ‘green’ manifesto that is far better than the ones its rivals have put forward.

However, the PML-N’s inability to establish a climate change authority and fund, as envisaged under the Pakistan Climate Change Act 2017, shows that although the party was committed to taking action during its tenure, issues related to climate change weren’t its priority.

The PTI unveiled their political manifesto for the 2018 general elections on July 9. In this manifesto, the PTI recognises that climate change poses a threat to the future of the country. It has pledged to take action to manage climate change and make Pakistan greener under the party’s green growth agenda by investing in a long-term adaptation to climate change. It has further reiterated that environmental protection will be at the core of the PTI’s governance.

Going by their 2013 manifesto document – which has a cursory reference to urban planning, land degradation, and air and water pollution – the 2018 manifesto is overarching in its vision to deal with issues pertaining to climate change. The Billion Tree Tsunami project, which is the flagship project of the former PTI-led government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, has achieved new benchmark in mitigating and adapting to climate change. The party has also expressed its willingness to address the water shortage.

Although the manifesto is detailed and highlights the issues faced by the country in terms of pollution, environmental degradation and other climate-related challenges, it fails to provide a concrete way forward to show how it plans to achieve its agenda.

What is equally perplexing is the party’s pledge to continue to support the use of indigenous coal. The dichotomy in this statement lies in the party’s commitment to protect the environment on the one hand and its plans to support the use of non-renewable energy sources like fossil fuels on the other. Fossil fuels are detrimental to the environment, and a major cause of ambient air pollution and GHG emissions.

Energy costs have emerged as another point of contention. All three political parties have discussed the importance of keeping electricity costs low, with a focus on tapping more cost-effective and renewable energy sources. However, these parties have no progress on this front on either the national or the provincial levels. They don’t seem to be considering a shift towards low-carbon technologies.

Taking a leaf from the political vision of leaders in Bangladesh and India, it would have been interesting to see our own politicians promising to implement a ban on plastic, which has become a major source of pollution all around the world.

The next government will have to make some important decisions on climate change mitigation and adaptation. The government has a statutory obligation, under the climate change act, to highlight its plans to meet its obligations under the Paris Agreement within a suitable timeframe.

The writer is a freelance consultantworking on health and the environment.

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