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Analysis: How green are Pakistan’s political manifestoes?

The Third Pole looks at the manifestoes of Pakistan’s main political parties in the run up to national elections to see what they promise on green growth, renewables, climate adaptation and mitigation

Climate change is a clear and present danger for Pakistan’s growth and stability, and the manifestoes of its political parties are starting to reflect that (Image: Alamy)

Pakistan’s national elections are scheduled for February 8, 2024, but election manifestoes by the major parties were only released at the end of January. The Third Pole looks at how the major parties are – or are not – prioritising climate change in their manifestoes.

The front runner PML-N’s ambitious manifesto

Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) is considered a frontrunner to lead the next government. With Nawaz Sharif, a three-time prime minister, at its helm, the party unveiled its manifesto on January 27. Comprising 33 sections, the manifesto highlights past accomplishments – during Sharif’s premiership from 2013-18, and 2022-23, when the PML-N was part of the coalition government under prime minister Shahbaz Sharif, Nawaz Sharif’s brother – and underlines commitments for 2024-29. One section is titled Sustainable Development and Climate Change and focuses on “Building a climate resilient Pakistan”.

Fighting smog is a major focal point. Described as an “air quality emergency”, it likely reflects the party’s recognition of the significance of urban economy and business, which constitute its primary support base. This has the most detailed planning, including implementing higher vehicular emissions standards, technological upgrade of brick kilns, urban planning and transboundary cooperation with India, using the ASEAN Haze Convention as a template.

The aftermath of the 2022 floods echoes in the manifesto’s second most detailed pledge, the Climate-Resilient, Recovery, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Framework (4RF). This ambitious framework pledges to “restore livelihoods and economic opportunities whilst ensuring social inclusion and participation.” Additionally, there is a commitment to enhance the capacity of the Meteorological Department and early warning systems, alongside prioritising ecosystem-based adaptation and nature-based solutions through initiatives like the Recharge Pakistan Programme and the Living Indus Programme, launched in 2022-23.

PML-N pledges to expand solar capacity to 10% of the country’s energy mix

Addressing the illegal wildlife trade emerges as another significant pledge, with a proposal to establish a national wildlife crime enforcement agency. Crucially, proposed legislation includes bans on using animals in public events such as political rallies and on keeping wild animals as pets.  At a PML-N rally in January, a live tiger and lion were brought and reportedly returned – presumably to a zoo – after Nawaz Sharif’s intervention. The manifesto also vows to grant autonomy to all Wildlife Management Boards, currently under government control, a move aimed at enhancing wildlife protection efforts.

Among other notable commitments are the activation of the Loss & Damage Fund established at COP27 and advocating for provincial consensus across Pakistan to declare the Indus River a “Living Being.” The Indus also flows through China, India and Afghanistan, but the transboundary impacts of such a decision, or the need for transboundary cooperation, are not mentioned. While climate and environmental pledges feature prominently throughout the manifesto, they are conspicuously absent in sections concerning poverty reduction and employment and agriculture.

The economy section, largely devoted to oil and gas, looks to establishing low carbon Euro II emissions standards and the conversion of a heavy oil plant into a solar one at Saindak Cooper-Gold Project. Regarding trade, industry and natural resources the manifesto promises to establish a green financing pool, although it is aimed at mining. The water management and water, food & security sections underscore the importance of adapting to climate change by emphasising the need for a robust knowledge base on one of the world’s largest water systems.

The most interesting pledge, however, is in the energy section. The PML-N pledges to expand solar capacity to 10% of the country’s energy mix, with an installed capacity of 10,000 MW, connect renewable energy zones to grids, lower vehicular emissions by promoting fuel standards and electric vehicles, encourage rooftop solar, establish solar mini-grids and create a fund to support clean energy initiatives. The fly in the mix is the promotion of Thar coal, along with solar, wind and nuclear energy. While solar and wind energy represent cleaner options, dependence on Thar coal contradicts this objective.

The PPP’s promise of a Green New Deal

The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), formerly part of the 2022-23 governing coalition with the PML-N, unveiled its election manifesto on Jan 27. With thirteen sections and titled Chuno Nai Soch Ko (Choose new thinking), it features a photograph of PPP’s prime ministerial candidate Bilawal Bhutto.

At 35, Bhutto, who served as foreign minister from 2022-23, is 39 years younger than Nawaz Sharif. His father served as president and both his mother and his grandfather served as prime ministers. In a January 25 interview with AP, Bhutto expressed regret over the insufficient emphasis on climate change in public and political discourse. The PPP’s Sherry Rehman served as environment minister under the last government.

The PPP promises a Green New Deal, focusing on climate change investments in the public sector, public-private partnerships and encouraging foreign direct investments. It asserts that “investment in Pakistan’s public sector infrastructure including roads, communication, health, irrigation, agriculture will all be made with a focus on climate resilience,” and that indigenous and green energy will be the focus in providing electricity. There is also a pledge to create solar parks through public-private partnerships nationwide, offering free electricity access for up to 300 units to the most economically disadvantaged households.

Pakistani politician Bilawal Bhutto
Bilawal Bhutto, candidate for Pakistan People’s Party at a campaign rally in Bhalwal, Pakistan, January 24, 2024. (Image: Anjum Naveed / AP via Alamy)
Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif waves to his supporters at a rally in Hafizabad, Pakistan, January 18, 2024. (Image: K.M. Chaudary / AP via Alamy)

In its health section, the PPP stresses the importance of establishing “climate-resilient health facilities linked to the national disaster management system”. Climate-related challenges are underscored as critical issues affecting women, acknowledged within the poverty and rights sections. The PPP pledges to confront climate change as a human rights concern. Additionally, the manifesto dedicates a section to water security, emphasising the necessity of climate-resilient infrastructure.

The Green New deal section presents a compelling and urgent narrative:  “From melting glaciers in the north triggering Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOFs) to record-breaking heat waves, droughts, and forest fires in various regions, there is no longer any doubt that climate change represents an existential threat to Pakistan.” It has detailed sections on policy measures, and separate sections for adaptation and mitigation measures. Interestingly it also has a section on international climate justice and finance, which highlights the Loss & Damage Fund, international partnerships and global initiatives against climate risks.

PTI – Holding on to a green past, hoping for a greener future

The last of the three largest parties, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), or Pakistan’s people’s movement for justice, released its manifesto on January 28. The PTI has struggled to make progress since its government was ousted by a no-confidence vote in 2022, and on January 31, 2024 its founding chairman, Imran Khan was convicted of a case involving state secrets. During its tenure (2018-22), the PTI had highlighted specific environmental policies, particularly a reforestation programme called the Ten Billion Tree Tsunami.

The Ten Billion Tree Tsunami project

The Pakistan Economic Survey Report 2021-22 states that the project was initiated in 2019 at a total cost of PKR 125 billion (USD 450 million) over 2019-23 to plant/regenerate 3.3 billion plants across the country.

As of March 2022, the Survey says that 1,586 billion plantings were done. PTI blames the ouster of its government in August 2022 for the non-completion of the project.  

Despite its political challenges, the manifesto released by PTI’s new chairman, Goher Ali Khan, is lengthy, though short on specifics. It mentions the Ten Billion Tree Tsunami and the launch of climate bonds as key steps during its tenure and says the party is “committed to prioritising ‘green’ sources of economic growth and making the economy climate-proof, with particular attention to the agriculture sector”.

The PTI manifesto ends with a section titled “Climate Change – A silent Killer”, outlining plans for a renewable energy transition, adopton of low-emission technologies, carbon pricing and government incentives to promote renewable energy sources. It also promotes energy efficiency in carbon-intensive industries such as cement and steel. It then ticks off a series of implementation plans across all economic sectors, as well as incentives. Although lacking detail, the scale of proposed interventions, ranging from awards for reducing emissions to generating 1GW of power through renewables by 2028, underscores the party’s ambitious climate agenda.

Muttahida Qaumi Movement Pakistan – Promising a better Karachi

The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (Pakistan) (MQM-P), released its manifesto on January 5, ahead of the national parties. Given its stronghold in Karachi, Pakistan’s most populous city with approximately 20 million residents, MQM-P’s agenda influences the national discourse. The manifesto outlines ambitious objectives, including achieving 100% electrification of Karachi through solar and wind power, increasing renewable energy to at least 35% of the country’s installed supply by 2035 and doubling forest cover in Karachi from 4% to 8% within five years.

The manifesto also devotes a significant section to the Indus River, advocating for its recognition as a living entity and its right to flow freely along its entire length. Much of this is related to the impact on Karachi’s coastline, with MQM-P’s manifesto focusing extensively on restoring and preserving the coast.

Speaking to The Third Pole, Mustafa Kamal, MQM-P’s senior leader and former Mayor of Karachi, said the manifesto highlights a need for action: “Climate change is an emerging phenomenon and it needs continued and consistent efforts to tackle these challenges through an integrated approach.”

With additional inputs by Omair Ahmad

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