Pakistan is taking steps to roll out its national policy on climate change, which had been shelved for the past two years since the government changed in 2013.

The push to put the policy into practice comes after the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz Sharif (PML-N) administration appointed a climate change minister in January and upgraded the climate change division to a ministry.

The government’s change of heart comes after floods took Punjab province by surprise last year, and in the run up to a key U.N. conference in Paris in December tasked with agreeing a new global deal to curb climate change.

Last Thursday, Pakistan’s climate change minister, Mushahid Ullah Khan, chaired his first meeting on the national climate change policy, promising it would be implemented.

“Climate change is such a big issue – people are saying it is bigger than terrorism – and we all have to work together to address it,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation ahead of the meeting.

The senator, a veteran politician from Rawalpindi who was previously the PML-N’s information secretary, said Pakistan was “a unique country” because it has both glaciers and a coastline.

“We are lucky, but that also makes us more vulnerable,” he said during an Earth Day event at the COMSATS Institute of Information Technology (CIIT) in Islamabad.

Pakistan has suffered from regular and extensive flooding in the past few years, and there are concerns that Himalayan glaciers will melt faster due to global warming, while sea levels rise.

The new minister admitted he is not an expert on climate change, but vowed, “I can and will learn”.

Hina Lotia of LEAD-Pakistan, an NGO working on environment and development issues, said it was “refreshing” to find representatives of different ministries, line departments and provinces at last week’s climate policy meeting.

They decided to set up provincial committees chaired by high-level local officials to implement the national climate change policy in Pakistan’s four provinces.

Each region will develop its own plan for priority actions based on the national policy document, including how the work will be financed.

It was also agreed that Pakistan should come up with ideas to access funding from the newly established U.N. Green Climate Fund.

Paris adaptation focus

Besides rolling out climate change policy at home, the Ministry of Climate Change is also preparing Pakistan’s contribution to the new global climate deal under negotiation.

Sajjad Ahmad, the ministry’s director general for environment and climate change, said the government was working on the measures Pakistan will take both to mitigate climate change and adapt to its impacts.

He noted that Mexico’s recently announced national offer ahead of the Paris climate talks included “a strong adaptive component”, adding that Pakistan’s would have that too.

The climate change minister said he intended to bring a large delegation to the Paris negotiations, which will include journalists and young people. “I will also try to take the prime minister,” he added.

Ahmad said Pakistan, as a member of the group of developing countries, would look for a “balanced agreement” in Paris that is focused not only on the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. “We would like to see more on adaptation in the text,” he added.

The planned agreement should also uphold the principle that countries have different levels of responsibility for tackling climate change, depending on their historical contribution to the problem, he added.

The new ministry aims to launch programmes to mobilise young people, given that they make up 60 percent of Pakistan’s population.

“They are planning to raise awareness about the importance of climate change among youth in Pakistan and to encourage them to take part in activities relating to climate change,” said Shahid Kamal, advisor to the CIIT Centre for Climate Research and Development.

“The involvement of youth will be a very positive step in meeting the challenge of climate change in Pakistan,” said the retired ambassador.

This article is published in collaboration with Thomson Reuters Foundation. Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.

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Author: Rina Saeed Khan is a freelance environmental journalist based in Islamabad, Pakistan.

Image: Pakistan’s new climate change minister waters a tree at an Earth Day event at the COMSATS Institute of Information Technology (CIIT) in Islamabad. TRF/Rina Saeed Khan