Acknowledging the multiple challenges that Pakistan is facing in this regard, the Ministry of Environment, in cooperation with partners, organised an “International Conference on Climate Change and Development” on 21st - 22nd October 2010 at the Serena Hotel in Islamabad. This interdisciplinary conference brought together a wide range of international organisations, academics, civil society and private sector to deliberate on climate change and development issues.
Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung (HBS) in cooperation with it’s partner, the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), Islamabad, had arranged for the visit of three eminent Indian delegates as speakers on the conference as well as on a joint seminar at the Planning Commission of Pakistan: Environmental activist Ms. Sunita Narain, Director of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), New Delhi, Mr. Chandra Bhushan, also from CSE and Mr. Surya Sethi, Principal Advisor Planning Commission of India, Energy.
The focus at the bilateral talks was on “Climate Change and Energy Security: Cooperation between Pakistan and India”. The idea to this seminar went back to a joint declaration that was adopted at a Peace Conference between India and Pakistan organised by HBS earlier this year in New Delhi. The then participants agreed on working on select issues that open up opportunities for dialogue between the two countries. Climate change was one of them.
Together with well-known Pakistani experts, the Indian delegates stressed the need for close cooperation between India and Pakistan to thwart the looming threat of climate change. By emphasizing the common ground between the two countries regarding environmental problems and developmental challenges, the speakers identified areas where further dialogue, cooperation and exchange of experiences could be realised. Surya Sethi highlighted some commonalities between Pakistan and India: they share the same environmental zones, the same water, the same climate and, therefore, need to handle the challenges by climate change together. Mr. Tariq Banuri, founder of SDPI and now working with the UN, focused on the inter-linkage of climate change and energy.
He stressed that energy must be ultimately part of any solution to climatic problems, since handling environmental degradation, recycling, waste disposal and provision of clean water needs energy. He suggested to focus on renewable sources of clean energy and emphasized that both India and Pakistan have tremendous scope for example in solar energy. After absorbing the required technology, quality would improve and prices decrease – thereby, climate change mitigation wouldn’t be too costly.
Mr. Chandra Bhushan had a slightly different view on the real capacities of renewable energy. Renewable sources of energy are good, and low-carbon options have to be developed and utilized further, especially wind and solar energy, said he. But on the other hand, he warned not to treat “renewables” as a “religion” that could solve all climate and energy problems, since low-carbon options also have limits. And nuclear energy that is treated as a “sacred cow” in India and Pakistan couldn’t bring a sustainable solution.
Bushan also claimed the need for Islamabad and New Delhi to closely cooperate and jointly monitor the real impact of climate change, especially on their glaciers and monsoons. He sees India and Pakistan as the real bottlenecks in solving these issues in the South Asian region.
Ms. Sunita Narain appreciated the new trend of cooperation between regional actors and emphasised for greater understanding between the civil societies in the two countries. While that environmental degradation became a business in the West, this must not be the case in South Asia. She said:“We are innovative and will find solutions that suit us.” She also called for redefining health and prosperity and learning from each other. Mr. Parveez Amir, Senior Economist at “Asianics Agro Development International”, Islamabad, also gave a detailed presentation on possible ways and means for expansion of regional cooperation between the two regional states.
Finally, Mr. Shafqat Kakakhel, Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and Senior Advisor to SDPI, in his concluding address noted that climate change knows no borders and urges an exchange of information between Pakistan, India, China and Nepal especially to study adverse effect of glacier melting and monsoon. Other speakers on the seminar were Abid Qaiyum Suleri (Executive Director SDPI), Michael Köberlein (Country Director HBS, India) and Britta Petersen (Country Director HBS, Pakistan). They spoke about their understanding of the common challenges, their vision of future cooperation between the neighbouring countries and thanked Planning Commission of Pakistan for facilitating the seminar as part of the “International Conference in Climate Change”.
In the afternoon of Friday 22nd October all delegates of the conference moved over to the President’s House for the concluding session. A summary of the conference’s proceedings and further address by Minister of Environment were followed by concluding remarks of President Asif Ali Zadari. Amongst others, he pointed out that for comprehensive and meaningful response to the challenges of climate change and environmental devastation a “change from within” (the people of Pakistan) is needed. “We need to answer the most basic questions of what climate change will mean for the most vulnerable countries and communities like ours. We need to identify, beyond the environmental impact of climate change, the specific social and economic impacts that will follow.” Furthermore, he mentioned a shared responsibility to counter climate change “that is needed to be tackled with concerted joint efforts by all” and called for cooperation in the region on environmental issues.