“Chalo Chalo Copenhagen Chalo” (Lets go to Copenhagen)
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“Chalo Chalo Copenhagen Chalo” (Lets go to Copenhagen)

Islamabad : Pakistan | Dec 13, 2009 at 1:48 PM PST
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Living with climate change

Denmark is the hot spot for climate intellectuals who are currently there to attend COP 15. Pakistan is also one of the vibrant entities in the crowd as people from all sectors and walks of life have been applying for Danish visas for the past few months. One must not doubt their good intentions of course as they all care about their environment and would like to share their voice about how much the climate crisis is impacting Pakistan. But then again I cannot help recalling the number of times our exports were banned and boycotted because of our production environmental violations about which no hue and cry was raised internally. But who cares about that as long as we get our Danish visas and donor funding for a Nobel cause and working together for a greater cause.

I certainly admire the enthusiasm of our Pakistani brothers and sisters who have taken time out from their jobs, ignoring the daily suicide attacks to make their mark in history. Call me a pessimist but as I follow the Pakistani news and civil society activism about COP15 the phrase “Chalo Chalo Copenhagen Chalo” (Lets go to Copenhagen) strikes my mind. The historical context behind this is the craze to go to Middle East specifically Dubai to cash in on the oil wealth. Pakistan’s blue collar human capital drained into the Middle East in 1970s and 80s (“Chalo Chalo Dubai Chalo”-Lets go to Dubai). I use this phrase because literally you talk to any Pakistani environmental activist (real or pseudo) everyone is in Denmark. It’s like a fad. If you can make it there, you are “it” and if you don’t you’re “out”.

You may ask, what exactly is my beef with such behavior? To be honest, I am concerned about the way Pakistan’s “climate agenda” (if we really have one) is being represented by pseudo environmentalists who are doing more harm with their physical presence by spreading the wrong information and making a mockery of the country.

Climate change is a science and undoubtedly like any other environmental issue such as water shortage, deforestation etc, will and is having severe socioeconomic impacts on the globe. But where is the data to prove how little or in excess Pakistan is getting impacted? Early this year, the World Bank issued a draft copy of the South Asia Climate Change Strategy and our climate “experts” from the government and NGOs sent their “valuable” comments based on general observations, media clips and of course based on research done by other experts in other countries (read India and Bangladesh in particular) on “their” climate problems. Bottom line, in that 3-4 page “input” (typical NGO jargon), the gamut of Pakistani policy makers and NGO experts claimed that “Pakistan is also facing the same threats so kindly include its name too in various mitigation and adaptation projects.”

After the climate talks in Bali, Pakistan produced some extra ordinary researchers (no offence to real experts) religiously involved in “ground breaking climate change research.” The quality of research is implausible since its complete yellow journalism in the form of reports, mostly taken from international reports “adapted” for the Pakistani context. Being a research student with a background in ecological economics, particularly climate science I am constantly amazed at the lack of qualitative and even quantitative data in most reports, as well shocked by the blatant plagiarism. But then again I guess I should not complain since these are only “donor reports” written to satisfy project coordinators and managers and not academic documents. And yet this in itself makes me more afraid of what is being produced by these so-called climate pundits because sadly while academic papers only gather dust in libraries and now online journals, these donor reports are actually what most policy makers read and fund.

Pakistan is ignored in most international reports, negotiations and research agendas because we have such limited national grass roots, field based research. No theoretical, scientific frameworks underpin climatic effects at the local/ regional level. Any desk undergrad can ask general questions and document the effects of climate change, but is that enough to produce a comprehensive national Climate Action Plan?

Some experts in Pakistan are talking about carbon trading and advocate that this is the best opportunity window. It is assumed that Pakistan has lot of potential in carbon trading but I will disagree. Pakistan produces 0.4 % of the total green house gases which simply means that mitigation is not where our attentions should primarily be focused. The country is already too poor and yet our policy makers and these “experts” want to sell carbon credits to developed countries--the worst form of green capitalism. The proud nation rejects the Kerry Lugar Bill, claims the media, but is all ready to sell its already fragile and degraded/denuded/deforested (take your pick) environment to the West.

Given my field work in coastal and mountainous areas of Pakistan, interviewing farmers forced to become fisherfolk and now forced to beg due to the changes in land fertility, rainfall patterns, fish catches etc, I have found that Pakistan’s climate crisis is far deeper than what is portrayed in “project/donor reports.” This problem is the new demon of death at the doorsteps of the poor, but the irony is that there are so many other death demons knocking the Pakistani citizen’s door. Some of the famous ones are suicide bombers, poverty, price hikes, energy crisis etc. But interestingly, the targets of these demons are only the poor. Even death demons are afraid of the rich it seems. The pace for the achievement of the infamous Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is already retarding and very much abstract. Even if the creative statisticians and economists achieve them, it will only be in reports, presentations to the venerable UN and generous donors.

Has our government assessed climate vulnerable zones in the country? Do we have any number in mind regarding the Adaptation Fund we are so hungry for? Do we have numbers on Pakistan’s present and future climate refuges? If yes, how were these things finalized and what proof do we have of their authenticity? Beggars are not choosers, and research is biased in Pakistan since it follows the dollars offered by development agencies. Many civil society organizations which were earlier working for human rights, women rights, poverty alleviation, gender (no names since I may need a job at one of those very places) are now following the climate change Pied Piper. Overnight their staff, with degrees in Social Work, English and Economics, have become climate experts. It seems as if we have acquired the license to rape Mother Nature.

Instead of watching a comedy movie on television it is better to amuse yourself by browsing on the internet for the marvels of Pakistani climate experts. But I do feel somewhat consoled that even without the technical know-how and science, we are sensible enough to follow the lead of neighboring countries, who at least have some agenda. One journalist recently highlighted that Pakistan and India-two rival countries stand together on this global issue. Small comfort there.

I apologize for the next NGO jargon but Pakistan “needs” local climate models which can predict scenarios at the village level. Adaptation and strong local institutions is the answer to climate crisis in Pakistan. People living in remote villages may have no clue about COP15 but if you talk to them they have better idea about climate change impacts and how to cope with them. We are following the same path of our masters (west), they offer us money and the model (conditionalities), and we blindly apply them and further ruin our country. Donor agencies offer money for climate change research and we produce donor biased reports and implement so called climate change projects in communities without assessing the needs of people and its sustainability.

To make our global stance and presence we should focus our attention to building the capacity of our universities and students towards understanding the issues of climate science and its nexus with sustainable development. We should put in place checks and balances whereby academic and research fraud is caught and legally punished. Research think tanks and our environmental ministry should save taxpayer money (now being spent on wining, dining and dancing at COP15 events and side events,) and focus on a participatory, community-based climate adaptation plan. And of course the most important message for my Pakistani brethren in Copenhagen: keep the post cards sent by Mayor Ritt Bjerregaard advising “Be sustainable - don't buy sex” and show them to Danish sex workers who in retaliation to his campaign are defending their industry by offering free sex to anyone who can produce one of the “offending” postcards and their COP15 identity card, advocating that the “climate crisis is not spread by sin, but carbon emissions.” At least, this is one cause; we don’t need much research for.

Aneel Salman, is an Ecological Economist and academic, based in New York, USA.

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