Despite low expectations the UN climate meeting held in Paris this December 2015, was a success and a deal on how to tackle climate change going forward has been achieved. Any global conference that includes so many countries cannot be expected to agree on much more than the lowest common denominators, however, over here the bar (lowest denominators) was deliberately set quite high to gain maximum traction and what we now have is 188 countries willingly offering plans to steadily and verifiably reduce carbon emissions in order to still have a chance to meet what scientists depict to be the world’s key challenge: “to avoid the worst impacts of global warming that we cannot possibly manage and to manage those impacts that we can no longer avoid.” ~ Also, the theme of the summit.

To succeed in today’s global business environment, national leaderships need to be smart and astute. This landmark climate-change summit in Paris also provided a tailor made stage for all national leaderships to display their understanding and commitment to today’s emerging global need of striving to balance ‘growth’ with ‘responsibility’. Needless to say that Pakistan’s performance and presentation were both disappointing and embarrassing; failing to capture the mood and spirit of the whole event. Leaders from 203 economies of the world were present and 103 in-depth reports and plans were read out vis-à-vis finding innovative ways to achieve ‘sustainable’ options in agriculture, manufacturing and services, albeit without compromising on respective national aspirations on growth and development. These days, green initiatives or ‘sustainable’ operations (as they are referred to) and business profitability are no longer mutually exclusive.

Thinking governments have already begun to partner with their private sector to set do-able goals that encourage self-cleansing drives and promote ‘sustainable’ operations all the way down to the grass root grower - A win-win in the long-term right from the farmer going all the way up to the end consumer. Planning and investments are suddenly being viewed from an altogether different lens, altering (albeit delicately) weight age from frontloaded profitability to longer-term social achievements. For example, today’s prudence can perhaps prevent Lahore from becoming tomorrow’s Beijing or Delhi. But then, who in Pakistan even bothers to understand such nuances; remember we appointed an environment minister just 3 days before the summit!

The reality though is that a global deal has been struck and like it or not, it carries implications for Pakistan. What we need to realize is that the 350 word INDC (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions) document that we presented ahead of the summit – as our contribution – is not going to be adequate. Not only because it lacks originality and merely reflects India’s reservations and its clever circumvention of core climate concerns, but also because it fails to provide a clear road map on how Pakistan plans to remain relevant in world trade by adhering to the new agreed upon lowest common climate denominators.

Our INDC, given the meager 350 words, simply talks about country’s agriculture and water policies, which as we all know, in reality do not exist; it suffices to say that out commitment is rooted in country’s Vision 2025 and in its climate change policy, which again lacks details and comes across as being least reassuring to the reader; and last but not least tries to find a justification for coal-fired, power plants by arguing that the country’s developing needs are expected to grow, necessitating the requirement of affordable sources of power generation, something, that will not stand compliance scrutiny unless backed by specific details on how we plan to make our coal plants environment friendly. The original 20 page document by the way was thankfully (timely) withdrawn and never presented as that would have meant that we had indeed prepared a homegrown plan, but one that lacked depth, competence, commitment and a proper understanding of the subject!

The agreement in Paris provides Pakistan both with a challenge and opportunity. Challenge, because the country’s policymakers need to find innovative ways to induce and partner all stakeholders in shifting to practices of farming and production that adhere to the new international laws on climate-change. Before one realizes the western markets that take up bulk of our exports will start attaching conditional ties, to our export goods, relating to adherence on points adopted in Paris 2015. For example, the coal power plants being planned under CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor) can come under an environment-watch microscope and a review needs to be done now to ensure that the technology being installed today meets the required standards of tomorrow. In fact, China itself was a game changer at the summit. It pledged in Paris that it will look inwards and the best way for it to tackle carbon and smog is by cutting back on the use of coal. And since China’s still produces bulk of its power through coal, The International Energy Agency estimates that this can cost China nearly $6.20 trillion at the rate of $200 billion per year for 15 years - An initiative that will involve building up alternative fuels and side by side improving technology in its grids and power plants. Pakistan, which is virtually at the point of starting out in its shift to coal based energy, cannot be advised enough to be careful on this count at this stage, since it cannot possibly afford such luxury fixes, say 5 years down the road!

Further, an important aspect of the summit was that each country will deliver every five years a new pledge to further reduce emissions and that developed countries will provide financial resources to the developing ones. For us, simply aping India in devising our climate-change plan will be a mistake; a mistake often repeated by our policymakers in the past, especially when it comes to international agreements and engagements. India as we all know has a very dodgy record on transparent and responsible commitment towards climate change initiatives and even today is regarded as a spoiler by most countries. In not too distant a past (2013) the United Nations (UN) emissions market regulators had to literally ban the HFC-23 credits scheme because Indian manufacturers were cheating the system to earn as much as nearly $20 million per year per an individual factory.

So, really in essence this climate change agreement in Paris provides an opportunity for Pakistan to not only use the pledged funding (by developed countries) to improve our backyard farming & production processes in making them more ‘responsible’ and ‘sustainable’, but also by taking the lead from South Asia in striving to chalk out a truly innovative compliance strategy that is all encompassing: practically do able, does not clash with our growth and development aspirations cum plans, and puts forward a responsible cum soft image of Pakistan to the global community. An opportunity that shouldn’t be missed!