It’s not easy being green: which party’s manifesto is the most environmentally friendly?
With Pakistan’s general elections looming and the country ranked the seventh-most vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change, let us take a moment to analyze how green are the political manifestos presented by the major political parties, namely the Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N), Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).
Before we head out to vote on July 25, let us all be sure that those asking for our trust are adept at leading our nation out of polluted cities where it is hard to breathe and there are inefficient waste-management systems, heat waves, water scarcity, food insecurity, desertification and so on. The list of climate change-related woes is inexhaustible and, unfortunately, Pakistanis are at the receiving end of it despite the fact that we contribute only 0.8 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.
All around the world, election manifestos are eagerly awaited since they inform the public about the stance of political parties on core issues facing the public, and suggest ways forward. They are a campaign tool to sway undecided voters, serving as a reliable source of information about a party’s ideology and how, and in what areas, it differentiates itself from rivals.
PPP was the first major party to make public, on June 28, its manifesto for the general elections. Along with its traditional, decade-old slogan of “roti, kapra aur makan” (food, clothing and shelter), climate change, environmental protection, access to safe drinking water and food security also feature prominently in the manifesto.
Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, the party chairman, pledged that environmental issues will be among PPP’s key priorities, because protecting the planet is the long-term responsibility of the entire world.
However, what is lacking in the PPP manifesto is a coherent way forward to back up these promises. In its 2013 election manifesto, PPP was the first political party in the country to state a commitment to mitigating the effects of climate change in Pakistan but, as it stands, these proved to be empty slogans and nothing much was done to fulfill that promise.
On July 5, PML-N President Shahbaz Sharif unveiled his party’s election manifesto. He cited water scarcity as the biggest challenge in the coming years and said he was willing to work with other parties to solve the problem. In comparison to its 2013 manifesto, PML-N has presented a more comprehensive plan of action to mitigate and adapt to the existing and emerging problems caused by climate change. By highlighting the fact that the country needs a rapid and effective response to the dangers posed by climate change and environmental degradation, PML-N has produced a greener manifesto then their rivals have managed so far.
However, the inability of the outgoing PML-N administration to establish a Climate Change Authority and Climate Change Fund, as envisaged under the Pakistan Climate Change Act 2017, shows that although the party is committed to taking action, issues related to climate change are not a priority.
PTI unveiled its manifesto on July 9. In recognition of the fact that climate change is a threat to the future of the country, it pledges to take action to manage the effects and make Pakistan more environmentally friendly, under the party’s Green Growth Agenda, by investing in long-term adaptation to climate change. It further reiterated that environmental protection would be at the core of a PTI government.
Before we head out to vote on July 25, let us all be sure that those asking for our trust are adept at leading our nation out of polluted cities where it is hard to breathe and there are inefficient waste-management systems, heat waves, water scarcity, food insecurity, desertification and so on.
Dr. Mehreen Mujtaba
Compared with PTI’s 2013 manifesto, which had a cursory reference to urban planning, land degradation, and air and water pollution, the 2018 version is overarching in its vision for dealing with the issues pertaining to climate change. The Billion Tree Tsunami project, the flagship initiative of the provincial PTI government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, has set a benchmark for mitigating and adapting to climate change. The party has also pledged to tackle the problem of water scarcity.
The manifesto is very detailed in highlighting the issues faced by the country in terms of air and water pollution, environmental degradation and other climate change-related issues. However, it fails to provide a concrete plan for how PTI intends to achieve its goals in tackling these issues.
In addition, a pledge to continue to support the use of indigenous coal is perplexing. The dichotomy in this is impossible to miss: a promise to protect the environment on one hand, while at the same time supporting the use of non-renewable energy sources such as fossil fuels, which are detrimental to the environment and a major cause of ambient air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
Energy costs have emerged as another point of contention. All three of the main parties talk about the importance of keeping electricity costs low, with a focus on tapping into more cost-effective and renewable energy sources. However, none of them have shown any progress on this front, at national or provincial levels. None of the main parties seem to be talking about moving towards low-carbon technologies.
It also would have been interesting to see our political leaders taking a leaf out the book of their counterparts in neighboring countries, such as Bangladesh and India to name but two, and showing the political vision to pledge to introduce a ban on disposable plastic, which is emerging as a major environmental problem worldwide.
The next government will have to make some important decisions about the mitigation of and adaptation to climate change. It will have a statutory obligation, under the Climate Change Act, to detail as soon as is practical its plans for meeting the Paris Agreement.
The bottom line is that although all political parties proudly publish political manifestos filled with lists of actions and goals, they are mostly political slogans that never see the light of the day before their terms expire.
• Dr. Mehreen Mujtaba is a freelance consultant working in the areas of the environment and health. She has a keen interest in climate change and its effects on population health and human security.