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A Nation of Talkers




By Imtiaz Gul

Express Tribune, December 18, 2015


Minutes after watching BBC and CNN updating the world about the progress of the climate summit in Paris where nearly 200 nations adopted a global pact to fight climate change, I set off for the office. The moment I stepped out, stinking water gushing out of a choked gutter greeted me. Only a few metres away, the driver of a neighbour was busy hose-washing the Mercedes Kompressor of a resident of the area. Apparently, he had already washed the Land Cruiser of another resident. These cars obviously don’t belong to ordinary folk. The proud owners clearly belong to the upper echelons of society, many of whom would be shining stars of the development sector or advocates of environmental protection. As I neared the office after a few minutes, similar scenes stared me in the face, with the car-wash water flooding out of driveways of upscale villas and meandering the street — a stark reminder that even the federal capital is devoid of any water management and conservation strategy.

Such scenes stand in sharp contrast to our ministers, officials and icons from the development sector; they travel around the globe and give lofty speeches, but the situation on the ground reflects little of these pontifications on climate change and the need to contain further damage through lasting strategies. Minister for Climate Change Zahid Hamid, for instance, told the UN secretary-general on the sidelines of the Paris conference that Pakistan, as part of the G-77 plus China was pushing rich countries to provide finance and technology, as well as other help to build the capacity of developing countries to cope with the dangerous impacts of climate change. At the same time, the group was also pressing rich nations to radically cut carbon emissions to slow down climate change and reduce the intensity of its impacts on social and economic sectors, particularly water, agriculture, energy and health. Hamid was quoted by the media as saying that “failure is no option as far as the Paris climate conference is concerned and every one of us wants to go back with a message that the all of us are committed to save the earth from further climate change-induced losses and damages, which have put the global economy and ability of the developing countries to deal with them at stake”. Earlier in March, Secretary of the Ministry of Climate Change, Arif Ahmed Khan, resonated similar ideals at a three-day Economic Cooperation Organisation conference on climate change in Turkey, and urged developed countries to take the lead in accordance with the principle and objectives of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

When Pakistan submitted the 350-word Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) document ahead of the Paris conference, it spoke of the country’s agriculture and water policies, which in reality do not exist. The INDC document claimed that it was rooted in the country’s Vision 2025 — Pakistan’s development “road map” — and climate change policy. The document also tried to find a justification for coal-fired power plants by inserting a caveat that the country’s “development needs are expected to grow, necessitating the requirement of affordable sources of power generation, development of infrastructure and enabling industry to take a lead role in meeting the transformation”. The original 20-page document that was eventually scrapped had drawn severe criticism at home and abroad for massive shortcomings, absence of clear goals and categorical commitments.

If we compare the speeches that officials deliver or documents they submit at international forums to the situation on ground, it would appear that at best we are just a nation of talkers; if even our federal capital cannot have a policy for rational use and management of water, what can we expect of our leaders? The performance of the environment-related departments is pretty dismal, speaking volumes of the inefficiencies and lack of vision in the higher tiers of governance. The disconnect between rhetoric and ground realities in other spheres of life is equally pronounced; politicians and legal experts spare no opportunity in talking of risque concepts, such as the rule of law, fairness, transparency and merit. But often, they themselves are the worst offenders. The chaos in our country is a symptom of a political economy that is run by an intellectually and morally corrupt elite that is more concerned with its own preservation than with the interests of the people they are supposed to serve.

Imtiaz Gul is the executive director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk