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Dialogue between Pakistan and India on Climate Change

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November 3, 2010

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" from 21st to 22nd of October 2010 at the Serena Hotel in Islamabad. This interdisciplinary conference brought together a wide range of international organisations, academics, civil society and the private sector to deliberate on climate change and development issues.


Topics addressed by various Pakistani and international experts reached from the "Real Impacts of Climate Change and Vulnerabilities to it" over "Food, Water and Energy Security on the Face of Climate Change" to "Coping Mechanisms, Strategies and Technology Transfer" and the issue of "International Climate Change Negotiations".


Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung (HBS) in cooperation with its partner, the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) in Islamabad, invited three eminent Indian delegates as speakers at the conference and as participants of 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 the CSE, and Mr. Surya Sethi, Principal Advisor of the Planning Commission of India.


The focus during these bilateral talks was on "Climate Change and Energy Security: Cooperation between Pakistan and India". The idea for this seminar goes back to a joint declaration that was adopted at a Peace Conference between India and Pakistan in New Delhi, organised by Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung earlier this year. The participants of this conference agreed on working on selected issues that might 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 react to 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 common features of Pakistan and India: they share the same environmental zones , the same water, the same climate and, therefore, need to address the challenges by climate change together. Mr. Tariq Banuri, founder of SDPI and now working with the UN, focused on the linkage between climate change and energy.


He stressed that energy must be included in any solution for climatic problems, since handling environmental degradation, recycling, waste disposal and the supply of clean water all require energy. He suggested to focus on renewable energy sources and emphasized that both India and Pakistan have the chance to set a good example regarding solar energy. After aquiring the required technology, quality would improve and prices would decrease – thereby, climate change mitigation would not be too costly.


Mr. Chandra Bhushan had a slightly different view on the actual capabilities of renewable energy sources. Renewable energy sources are good, and low-carbon options have to be developed and further utilized, especially wind and solar energy, he said. However, he warned not to treat "renewables" as a "religion" that can solve all climate and energy problems, since low-carbon solutions also have their limits. Furthermore, nuclear energy, which is considered  a "sacred cow" in India and Pakistan, is not going to provide a sustainable solution.


Bushan also highlighted that Islamabad and New Delhi need to closely cooperate and jointly monitor the real impact of climate change, especially on  glaciers and monsoons. In his view, India and Pakistan are the bottlenecks for tackling these issues in the South Asian region.


Ms. Sunita Narain appreciated the new trend of cooperation between regional actors and advocated for a greater understanding between the civil societies in the two countries. Whereas 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 to expand regional cooperation between the two states.


Finally, Mr. Shafqat Kakakhel, Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and Senior Advisor to the SDPI, noted in his concluding address that climate change knows no borders and urged an exchange of information between Pakistan, India, China and Nepal especially to study the adverse effects of glacier melting and monsoons.  Other speakers at 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 the Planning Commission of Pakistan for facilitating the seminar as a 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 a further address by the Minister of Environment were followed by concluding remarks of President Asif Ali Zadari. Among others, he pointed out that for a 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 on environmental issues in the region.   


A complete report about these events is going to be provided by our partner SDPI and will be available on www.boell-pakistan.org