The Pulse

After a Court Order, Pakistan Will Have to Clamp Down on Climate Change

A Pakistani judge, citing climate change as the most serious threat facing Pakistan, has ordered the government to act.

A Pakistani court set an important precedent this week when it ordered the country’s government to enforce the 2012 National Climate Policy and Framework. Basically, the court order holds the Pakistani government to the country’s climate change law. According to recent reports, the court has ordered the government to establish a climate change commission to oversee the process of implementation.

The court order is the result of a public interest litigation case initiated by a farmer who claimed the the Pakistani government had neglected the implementation of its own climate policy. Ahmad Rafay Alam catalogs the detail of the case and the implications of the court order in more detail at the Third Pole.

Judge Syed Mansoor Ali Shah, the presiding judge at the high court, said that climate change “appears the most serious threat faced by Pakistan.” He additionally summoned Pakistani government officials to court to cite progress in the implementation of the 2012 framework. After seeing that the Pakistani government had neglected the implementation of the framework, the judge noted that “climate change is a defining challenge of our time… it is a clarion call for the protection of the fundamental rights of the citizens of Pakistan… like the right to life which includes the right to a healthy and clean environment and right to human dignity.”

The case is the first example of judicial activism in Pakistan on the issue of climate change. Dawn notes that the judge, in ruling on the case, invoked the principle of “climate change justice.” Even though Pakistan accounts for under one percent of total global carbon emission, it has considered emissions cuts for some time now. The government’s 2012 policy, which highlighted the government’s interest in proactively approaching the issue of climate change, nevertheless notes that Pakistan “has very low technical and financial capacity to adapt to [the adverse impacts of climate change].”

Essentially, the new court order identifies a major discrepancy in what Pakistan has said it would do to address climate change and what it has actually done. It’s unclear to what degree a court-mandated commission will be able to rally the resources and bureaucratic infrastructure necessary for implementing emissions cuts and other climate-friendly policies. Pakistan, of course, faces a bevy of other problems that may seem more pressing, despite Judge Ali Shah’s thoughts on climate change. Terrorism and poor national energy and water infrastructure are just two such issues.

The Pakistani judge isn’t alone in his assessment of climate change as a major threat in the region. Recent survey data collected by Pew Research showed that Indians also rate climate change as the top challenge for their country. Of the Indians surveyed, 73 percent said they were “very concerned” about global climate change. For comparison, 49 percent cited global economic instability, 45 percent cited cyberattacks, and 41 percent cited ISIS. Additionally, the proportion of Indians who see air pollution as a “very big problem” jumped from 52 percent in 2014 to 74 percent in 2015.

Later this year, when world leaders convene for the Paris COP21 climate conference, Pakistan will present the extent to which it is vulnerable to the negative effects of rising global temperatures. Pakistan faces a range of threats from climate change, including intensifying flooding and droughts (extreme weather events), glacier recession (though some glaciers in the Karakoram range are actually accruing snowmass), increased health risks, and coastal degradation.