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Will party manifestos be climate-friendly only on paper?

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Ahead of tomorrow’s (Wednesday, February 8th, 2024) critical vote, political parties in Pakistan seem to have been pitted against each other in a battle of manifestos, which reflect their vision for the nation’s future.

These highly-touted manifestos touch on the pressing issues in the light of the dreads and desires of the electorate. From the teetering economy to the shambolic law and order situation, each party has taken its best shot at coming up with solutions to deal with the plethora of challenges emanating from domestic and foreign policy loopholes.

This time around, however, climate change and the environment have also garnered attention with its emphasised mention being considered a welcome change even among the otherwise oblivious political parties in Pakistan who now appear concerned about the gravity and urgency of climate-related challenges the nation faces today.

There is an increasing acknowledgement among political leaders about the importance of climate change as a cross-cutting issue which traverses with social well-being, public health, and economic stability. 

In light of the 2022 floods that led Pakistan to suffer from immense loss of lives and property in all four provinces, particularly Sindh and Balochistan, made a valid case for climate emergency being considered a priority, at least in the manifestos shared by the country’s major political parties. The discourse around sustainable practices, environmental threats and resilience, and the adoption of renewable energy became integral for politicians to consider climate change as one of their nemeses in the political journey.

Men walk along a flooded road with their belongings, following rains and floods during the monsoon season in Sohbatpur, Pakistan August 28, 2022. — Reuters
Men walk along a flooded road with their belongings, following rains and floods during the monsoon season in Sohbatpur, Pakistan August 28, 2022. — Reuters 

Each party, in their respective manifestos, have positioned themselves as proponents of environmental responsibility, vying to woo their voters for support based on their commitment to mitigate climate change impacts. As voters gear up to exercise their right a day later, it is pertinent they scrutinise their candidates based on their offerings on dealing with one of the most urgent challenges of our lifetime which ranges from policies to initiatives to long-term goals in their manifestos considering the wide-ranging impact of climate change.

As the threat of environmental degradation looms large, political parties must articulate their comprehensive strategies for mitigation of climate-related challenges which also resonate with their voters and align with global efforts for a sustainable future.

Geo.tv breaks down the promises of political parties such as Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N), Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and others in their manifestos with light on climate change and environmental concerns with a cutthroat analysis of their viability and implications for Pakistan’s future as a climate resilient nation.

PML-N

The PML-N, one of Pakistan’s biggest mainstream political parties, has positioned itself as a leading contender to form a government in the centre following its recent short stint as part of a political coalition in April 2022, in the wake of PTI founder Imran Khan’s ouster from the government following a no-confidence motion. 

The party, with brothers and former prime ministers Nawaz Sharif and Shehbaz Sharif at the helm, revealed its manifesto comprising 33 sections outlining its past achievements, notably during the 2013-2018 and 2022-2023 periods. The party, in their latest manifesto, underscores its commitments for the next five years from 2024-2029 in power. In their lengthy manifesto, PML-N has dedicated a section titled ‘Sustainable Development and Climate Change’, focusing primarily on “building a climate-resilient Pakistan”.

The manifesto emphasises combating smog, acknowledging it as an “air quality emergency” which is vital to the urban economy. The party’s detailed goals include the implementation of standards for higher vehicular emissions, modernising brick kilns, focusing on urban planning and transboundary collaboration with India through the ASEAN Haze Convention as a guide.

Thick smog drastically reduces visibility on a road in Lahore on January 26, 2024. — Online
Thick smog drastically reduces visibility on a road in Lahore on January 26, 2024. — Online

The party addresses the 2022 floods through its ‘Climate-Resilient, Recovery, Rehabilitation, and Reconstruction Framework terming it the ‘4RF’, with a promise to restore livelihood and increase economic opportunities. Their other commitments include addressing the menace of illegal wildlife trade, activation of the COP27 Loss and Damage Fund, and advocating for provincial consensus towards declaring the Indus River as a “living being”. The party is set to ban the use of plastic bags and place restrictions on the burning of crop stubble to control air pollution.

Despite their wide-ranging pledges related to the climate and environment, PML-N lost its focus on poverty reduction, unemployment and agriculture. The section on economy highlights launching low carbon emissions standards, climate change adaptation about food security and water management, and green financing for mining. The party, focusing on the energy sector, pledges to expand the country’s solar capacity to 10% in the energy mix, promote the use of electric vehicles and creation of a fund to put clean energy initiatives in place. However, the promotion of the Thar coal project in their manifesto remains a concerning factor which is contradictory to the objectives of cleaner options of energy.

Key takeaways

  • A smog-free Pakistan
  • Ban on plastic bags
  • Ban on the use of animals in political events
  • Implementation of carbon credit policy
  • Control of crop stubble burning
  • Conversion of conventional brick kilns into zig-zag brick kilns

PPP

The manifesto unveiled by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), which was part of the Pakistan Democratic Movement’s (PDM) coalition government from 2022 to 2023 following Imran Khan’s ouster, is titled ‘Chuno Nai Soch Ko’ (choose new thinking), under the leadership of its 35-year-old Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari. With the promises made in their manifesto, the PPP is set to devise a Green New Deal that prioritises climate change investments within the country’s public sector, public-private partnerships as well as foreign direct investments.

Pakistan Peoples Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari (top C) leads an election campaign rally in Karachi on February 5, 2024, ahead of the general elections. — AFP
Pakistan People’s Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari (top C) leads an election campaign rally in Karachi on February 5, 2024, ahead of the general elections. — AFP

The party, whose provincial government in Sindh has dealt with massive floods in 2022, maintains its commitment towards a climate-resilient infrastructure in different sectors and highlights the impacts of challenges about climate on poverty and women’s rights. The PPP’s manifesto also pays attention to water security. It also sheds light on urgent climate action, focusing on detailed policy measures to adapt, mitigate, and ensure international climate finance and justice, including the party’s efforts towards securing a ‘Loss and Damage Fund’ and ambitions to tackle climate risks.

Key takeaways

  • End of plastic bags.
  • Implementation of clean air policy.
  • Protection of wild and marine life.
  • Formation of Climate Development Fund.
  • Initiation of New Green Deal for climate investment.

PTI

In its manifesto unwrapped pretty late in the run-up to the elections, the PTI appears to be grappling with challenges in devising a precise set of goals if it manages to assume power in Islamabad. But despite the party facing some decisive political and ideological hurdles, it highlighted its government’s landmark achievement of the ‘Billion Tree Tsunami’ and the launch of climate bonds as crucial initiatives taken by its leadership during its tenure cut short by a vote of no confidence in 2022. The party, however, emphasises its commitment towards prioritising green sources of a growing economy and climate-proofing it as well, particularly in the agriculture sector.

Former prime minister Imran Khans supporters wear scarves with prints of his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party as they listen to a virtual election campaign on phones at a party office in Islamabad on February 3, 2024. — AFP
Former prime minister Imran Khan’s supporters wear scarves with prints of his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party as they listen to a virtual election campaign on phones at a party office in Islamabad on February 3, 2024. — AFP

The Imran Khan-founded party’s manifesto concludes with a section devoted to climate titled “Climate Change – A Silent Killer”, which outlines its plans for adopting low-emission technologies, renewable energy transition, incentives by the government for renewable sources of energy and carbon pricing. The party’s manifesto lacked intricate details but its proposed intervention, including the focus on reducing emissions and generating 1GW of power using renewables by the year 2028, highlights their ambitious agenda for tackling climate change challenges.

Key takeaways

  • Nationwide expansion of the billion-tree tsunami programme.
  • Review of climate policy.
  • Comprehensive planning to end climate pollution.

MQM-P

Preparing to reclaim its popularity within urban Sindh, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) launched an ambitious manifesto, way before the mainstream national parties announced their plans.

In its bid to influence Karachi’s significant population boasting around 20 million residents, the party — led by Convener Dr Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui — announced their agenda to sway their target voters, as their manifesto mentions enterprising goals including their plans to achieve 100% electrification of the mega city using solar and wind power to increase its share of green and clean renewable energy to at least 35% by the year 2035. The party has also committed to double Karachi’s forest cover from 4% to 8% in the next five years.

Supporters of Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan attend an election campaign rally in Karachi on January 21, 2024. — AFP
Supporters of Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan attend an election campaign rally in Karachi on January 21, 2024. — AFP

A substantial part of MQM-P’s manifesto focuses on the Indus River, in which it advocates for the river’s recognition as a “living” entity extending it the right to unhindered flow along its expanse with an emphasis linked to the impact on the metropolitan’s coastline, as the party plans to restore and preserve the city’s coast.

MQM-P’s senior leader and former Karachi mayor, Syed Mustafa Kamal, said his party’s manifesto was a call for action to address the growing climate change phenomenon, emphasising the need for sustained and consistent efforts to deal with the challenges by applying a comprehensive approach.

Key takeaways

  • Focus on environmental conservation.
  • Coastal restoration.
  • Climate change advocacy.

Independent candidate Ahmad Shabbar

In an otherwise heavily political landscape, the “first” green, independent candidate, Ahmad Shabbar, is contesting the polls from PS-110 Karachi South V with his plans entirely dedicated to combatting climate change in the mega city. Shabbar, who has been known for his climate activism for the last few years and is contesting with his electoral symbol “roots”, has decided to tackle the urgent issue by making an entry into the provincial legislature in Sindh. To become a lawmaker with his green and climate-friendly plans, the young policy-driven has shared an ambitious manifesto focused mainly on a greener, cleaner future.

This photo taken on February 3, 2024, shows Ahmad Shabbar, independent election candidate and founder of the Pakistan Maholiati Tahaffuz Movement, showing his pamphlet from his car at a campaign event to raise awareness on climate threats in Karachi. — AFP
This photo taken on February 3, 2024, shows Ahmad Shabbar, independent election candidate and founder of the Pakistan Maholiati Tahaffuz Movement, showing his pamphlet from his car at a campaign event to raise awareness on climate threats in Karachi. — AFP

His ideas included revamping the Sindh Environmental Protection Agency with an impartial leadership and representation of the indigenous communities. Shabbar’s manifesto aims to ensure a clean water supply in Karachi, phase out the water tanker woes from the city and place mechanisms to prevent water theft. His manifesto boasts prioritising sustainable development along with fair housing, eco-friendly infrastructure and public spaces.

It assures to implementation of policies for overseeing factory emissions, clean air, promoting public transport and adopting clean sources of energy. The manifesto shares his plans to foster green jobs and provide support for sustainable practices and skill development for a climate-positive economy. If chosen as a lawmaker, Shabbar aims to uphold the principles of climate justice and human rights as well as protect environmental defenders, while pursuing justice in all aspects. He also aims to combat climate change through scientific research, education and an inclusive representation in the process of decision-making.

Key takeaways

  • Overhaul SEPA.
  • Provide clean water supply and security.
  • Focus on sustainable development.
  • Work towards clean air and reduced emissions.
  • Efforts to ensure green jobs and climate finance.
  • Ensure climate justice and human rights.
  • Combat climate change based on scientific principles.

What experts have to say?

After the launch of manifestos by mainstream political parties and independent candidates, Geo.tv asked climate experts and commentators to understand the goals and strategies outlined in their grand proposals to evaluate their feasibility and efficacy in addressing Pakistan’s pressing climate change issues.

‘Gender lens not employed when drafting manifestos’, Afia Salam

Afia Salam, a veteran journalist whose body of work is now focused on climate change, conducted a rapid analysis of the manifestos of three major parties who’ve previously led governments in the centre.

However, she is not happy with the lack of employing a gender lens when drafting these manifestos. “There’s is no realisation that there needs to be affirmative action in all segments to remove gender disparities.”

She added that recent reports also rank Pakistan in a miserable position about the gender gap. “I don’t think those things have been addressed by any party as such there is a lot of aspirational stuff.”

Flood victims gather to receive food handouts in a camp, following rains and floods during the monsoon season in Sehwan, Pakistan September 15, 2022. — Reuters
Flood victims gather to receive food handouts in a camp, following rains and floods during the monsoon season in Sehwan, Pakistan September 15, 2022. — Reuters

Commenting on PML-N’s manifesto, Salam said the party had a section dedicated to climate change and specific policies named to ensure their commitment towards the issue.

“They mentioned specific programmes irrespective of who launched them and also intend to take it forward because they are actually in the national interest, so this is heartening to note.”

Talking about PPP, the journalist maintained that the party has given the catchphrase of the “new green deal”, “where you can see the newness is that,” she said.

The party, she added, has focused more on the expansion and growth of the renewable energy sector and local resources in it.

The PTI, on the other hand, said it would rely on local resources and had also included newer explorations in oil and gas, Salam said. She added that the Khan-founded party had committed to these explorations despite Pakistan’s Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) — aimed at reducing emissions and adapting to climate impacts, commitments and pronouncements of moving away from fossil fuels.

Speaking about Shabbar, Salam said he had a one-point agenda focused on climate change and the environment.

“If I go into the ranking of specifics, I would probably say PML-N has mentioned things most specifically, the PPP a little less so and the PTI much less. So, I wouldn’t rest my hopes in what is written in the manifesto,” she maintained.

‘Manifestos are wish lists’, says Dawar Butt

Dawar Butt, an environmental policy specialist, spoke about the recurring nature of Pakistan’s political manifestos which he characterised as wish lists, often lacking clarity on implementation. He suggested the need for political parties to go beyond ambitious declarations.

Butt also pointed out the gap visible in the specifics of the implementation of these manifestos, as they lack insight into the “who” and “how” of the process.

“The PTI had some environmental leadership earlier so they somewhat have more experience. Similarly, the PPP has Senator Sherry Rehman who has also been the [climate] minister. The PML-N, of course, does not even have a figurehead, who they can push forward and say that they have the necessary experience, even though major climate agreements and policies were passed under the PML-N government,” he added.

Butt, who hosts a climate-focused podcast, said everyone talks about creating a clean and green Pakistan. “The commonality is that now everyone wants to focus on sustainable urban transport.”

Earlier, Butt said, PML-N was the only one undertaking transport projects, and PTI caught on to it much later. PPP, he added, did not undertake anything at all.

“The Green Line in Karachi was a federally-funded project and now they are doing the Red Line project,” he said, highlighting how they had mentioned it in their manifestos.

The climate expert maintained that India had worked extensively on climate leadership and was now recognised worldwide.

“They have heavily invested in energy transition, engaged in active diplomacy globally, and created a cohort of scientists and well-informed academics working around the globe. Pakistan lacks such resources.”

He highlighted that it was crucial to create a similar intelligentsia to work for these causes both at home and abroad to invest in climate and environmental issues. Butt also pointed out the need for investment in Pakistan’s foreign service, “as it primarily leads climate negotiations at international events for which a climate-based cohort is needed”.

A view of solar panels laid out in a field. — APTMA
A view of solar panels laid out in a field. — APTMA

One notable aspect, he added, in all manifestos was the recognition of green energy.

“The reasons may vary, but it’s a positive development as green energy has become cheaper to implement and use in the past few years.

“Solar and wind energy are considered cleaner and cheaper per unit compared to oil-imported energy or imported coal, which is why a lot of these parties have included it and then it has the benefit of being environment friendly.”

Butt terms the manifestos “wish lists”, as their drafting requires the input of a shadow cabinet so that one is aware as to whatever the proposal is being built on is based on the ideas of a shadow minister to help gauge the capacity of that person based on their record.

Climate and environment, according to Butt, have not been prioritised by any party and were always a second thought.

“If you look at the evidence in budget reallocations during a crisis like the COVID-19. The allocation for the climate change budget was cut, and the actual spending was diverted elsewhere. It wasn’t like they would be cutting infrastructure projects or defence spending to redirect those expenses and money towards buying vaccines,” he opined.

Reflecting on their past performance, Butt underscored that this was not a single party’s lacking, but the cumulative performance of all political parties.

“It is more likely that whatever seriousness does exist is because of floods, the reality that regular seasonal changes and the increase in the quantum of disasters, so they have to do something which is pushing these parties to include it,” he said, highlighting that parties were also including climate in their manifestos because of the youth voter base who consider climate an important subject.

Commenting on Shabbar’s candidacy, Butt said his green perspective was focused more on local issues. “For example, water is both a local and green issue. Similarly, in the creation of green jobs such as technicians who handle green technology, and climate tech, he has included it from the perspective of employment and other sectors in this way.”

‘Manifestos miss discourse on heat’, says Muhammad Toheed

Urban planner Muhammad Toheed underlined the lack of focus on heat, one of the most urgent climate impacts on Pakistan. “Even though they are talking about climate change and different narratives and aspects of it, the element of heat is entirely missing in their discourse,” he lamented.

Drawing attention to the demanding global reality, the urban planner highlighted the United Nations’ June 2023 declaration, categorising the present climate in the world as a “boiling era”. Toheed complained about the lack of discussion on heat, increasing temperatures, specifically heatwaves, and chronic heat impact on human health.

Volunteers of Edhi Foundation cool down a man with water during a hot day in Karachi on April 11, 2021. — AFP
Volunteers of Edhi Foundation cool down a man with water during a hot day in Karachi on April 11, 2021. — AFP

“At the moment, heat and increasing temperatures are the core concerns around the world, as they connect with different directions for instance the melting of glaciers, GLOF, water scarcity, energy crisis and chronic heat have an impact on the health, especially of those suffering from chronic diseases,” he reiterated.

Toheed, whose body of work also focuses on heat other than urban planning, said: “There comes a gap in this discourse because political parties have not addressed the issue”.

“Even if they have, they have indirectly addressed it. They are not talking about heatwaves. They are not talking about framing a policy, and not even talking about declaring heat as a disaster when they are in the government.”

The urban planner said that in the future “we may not face as many floods in our region but the issue of recurring heatwaves, increasing temperatures, increasing nighttime temperatures and urban heat islands for cities will remain challenging.

‘Clear-cut vision for issues directly impacting public’, says Ubaid Ullah Chaudhry

Ubaid Ullah Chaudhry, manager for the Just Energy Transition at the Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI), believes that all three major political parties — including the PML-N, the PPP and the PTI — have focused more on climate change in their manifestos in 2024 in comparison to 2018.

“The biggest reason for that is, perhaps, because Pakistan has seen several climate change-related disasters in the last five years. Now that these parties are going into elections, they have shared a clear-cut vision for the issues that affect the public directly,” he said, highlighting growing awareness about the issue.

Ubaid also discussed the absurdity of Pakistan being among the top seven most climate-impacted countries around the world, regardless of the country only contributing 1% to carbon emissions.

All three political parties, he highlighted, had set their targets regarding renewable energy and energy alternatives.

“PTI has pledged to end Pakistan’s dependency on imported fossil fuel to 20% by 2030. PML-N has committed to increase the share of renewable from 1% to 10% by 2029. PPP manifesto also introduces the concept of green energy parks and provides 300 units of electricity through solar energy, which means that the new power plants installed will be environment friendly.”

Therefore, all three parties have shifted their focus and direction to reducing the use of fossil fuels.

The CPDI representative maintained that the three major political parties had set their targets regarding renewable energy and energy alternatives.

“The PTI  has pledged to end Pakistan’s dependency on imported fossil fuel to 20% by 2030. Similarly, the PML-N has committed to increasing the share of renewable from 1% to 10% by 2029, which they will achieve through producing electricity using solar energy, while the PPP manifesto also introduces the concept of green energy parks and provides 300 units of electricity through solar energy, which means that the new power plants installed will be environment friendly.”

“Therefore, all three parties have shifted their focus and direction on reducing the use of fossil fuel,” he opined.

Ubaid also highlighted the parties’ focus on plastic usage.

“In their manifesto, the PML-N has renewed its commitment to banning non-degradable plastic and devise a policy to effectively dispose of it via the ‘Plastic Action Plan’ if they would assume government this time around. In 2018, the PPP’s manifesto had nothing about plastic usage, but they also propose banning single-use plastic in their latest manifesto,” he stated, highlighting that the PTI, however, hasn’t made any commitment in this regard.

Commenting on climate justice post-2022 floods, Ubaid said that the PTI had not spoken about climate justice and climate fund in its manifesto, but the PPP had promised to set up a climate fund and the PML-N had committed to start an initiative of climate resilience through green climate fund.

A view shows the ruins of a structure submerged in flood water, during the monsoon season in Talti town, Sehwan, on September 15, 2022. — Reuters
A view shows the ruins of a structure submerged in flood water, during the monsoon season in Talti town, Sehwan, on September 15, 2022. — Reuters

On reducing industrial emissions, he said the PTI had focused on taxing the industry with factories to be given credit for changing their technology to reduce carbon emissions and fund them to help make green their use of energy.

“The PPP manifesto also talks about creating solar parks to reduce industrial carbon emissions, so that they receive carbon-free energy. The PML-N says that it will introduce Pakistan’s carbon credit policy.”

Ubaid highlighted that there was a discussion on the carbon market by PML-N and PPP, as it was a new phenomenon which allowed a country to sell it in the international market and generate money if it reduced its carbon emissions in line with their targets.

“The Sindh government is set to receive Rs200 million through its mangrove’s carbon credit. Therefore, both parties have spoken about local carbon markets. But the PTI has only talked about facilitating private investors and factories to provide access to the international carbon market.”

Gas reserves are rapidly decreasing in Pakistan and at least 47% of households don’t use gas, as they live under the poverty line and use wood to light fires, Ubaid lamented.

“Ironically, no party has given clarity on this issue.”


Rabia Mushtaq is a staffer at Geo.tv. She posts on X @rabiamush


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