Revisiting the National Sustainable Development Strategy

Ex Journalist, Columnist, and Social Entrepreneur...Also a traveler, teacher and a Political Conservative

Three years ago I spent 36 hours working nonstop locked in my office on a document that could potentially change the way Pakistan looks at Sustainable Development. The document I was working on was called the National Sustainable Development Strategy and I was responsible for the last chapters dealing with finance and Economics of Sustainability.

Today, I spent 6 hours providing feedback on the same document as somehow it is now under the Ministry of Disaster Management (WTF?), and they have decided to rewrite the damn thing again. So instead of having implemented that document that was written in 2009, the Ministry of Environment and now Ministry of Disaster Management are still playing ‘conference conference’ with it. But being the insufferable idiot academic I am, I chose to provide a detailed critique of the document they have somehow managed to not still implement. Following are some of the key points that I feel could do wonder for not only the new National Sustainable Development Strategy but also for general discussions on Climate Change internationally.

  • With regards to the Climate Change Fund or the SD Fund (it was originally called the GREEN FUND); there need to be specifics as to who gets control of it. Logically speaking in the post 18th amendment scenario, the money needs to be with the Provinces. So the SD FUND should allocate resources to the provinces based on their need. But thing is money should not be just handed over to the provinces; it should be only issued against projects that the provinces bring to the National Commission on Sustainable Development. The reason I say this is simple, it solves two problems that everyone keeps pointing out. Firstly it solves the issues of what role the NCSD plays, it shall play the role of oversight body that can track specific projects that are being undertaken at provincial level. Secondly, the money that is coming to the provinces, it shall come in sequence i.e. it would not be a full payment; it would be done on a project by project basis every quarter. This way you build transparency in to the system.
  • The second issue is that of Public Private Partnerships. As a rule the Government and the associated contractors love mentioning the PP Partnerships in all discussions and yet somehow there is not a single mechanism or framework in place on how to go about them. I think it needs to be specified. Logically speaking if you are going to talk about having PP Partnerships and say they are crucial to the future sustainability of things, then it also makes logical sense to give out a basic framework for them. Also it needs to be made clear what level of authorities can enter in to such partnerships i.e. is it Federal or Provincial in nature.
  • Moving on, with regards to the Green Economy discussion. Like I said today, we cannot just keep saying that we shall have green economy because it sounds nice. We need specifics; to start out with it should be clearly defined as to what we mean by the green economy and how we intend to go about it. Logically speaking if I was the person making this document, I would aim for converting 3% of the total economy to green economy in the next 20 years. This way I would give a specific amount by which the progress of this initiative can be measured and it has a time line so there is proper tracking of it instead just repeated discussion of it. Secondly, saying that we do not know the real definition of the Green Economy is not the smartest move especially when in the next chapter the whole discussion focuses on how to make the economy green. Logically, if there is no definition for it how can you make it happen? See these are logical things that need to be edited and added in to the drafts.
  • Also on the Green Economy, I am yet to see one specific plan of how it is going to be rolled out and introduced to the Industries. If I was to propose something, I would say that the current EXPORT DEVELOPMENT FUND that the Ministry of Commerce has be used. What I mean by that is simple, EDF is a bad idea, our studies are proving that it is not making Pakistan more competitive globally, so for a while we have been calling for it to be shut down, what can be done however is this. We take 10% of that fund, call it the Green Economy Initiative and reward any exporter going green with subsidies they were going to get anyways under the EDF. This way, the industries see a new way of reducing costs and this way it make sense for them to invest in upgrading and changing their processes. Also by doing this, the jobs they shall create will be called Green Jobs and can be easily counted and shown as progress over time. So what I am suggesting is a way that can get the green economy ball rolling and is also measurable over time instead of just sounding really cool on paper.
  • With regards to the whole discussion on Poverty it needs to be redone. As it stands now, it is a chapter that’s imply tells the reader how bad poverty is and how the Climate Change is making it worse by referring to studies from abroad. It is effectively lifted from somewhere. Instead of a chapter like that, the whole idea should be changed to focus on how Sustainable Development will ensure falling poverty over time. What I am saying is, that instead of telling people how bad the poverty is, tell them how mitigation can fix it. Connect this with the whole idea of green economy and green jobs and you end up with something that had got actual meat on it and can be sold to the industries and businesses. For example, in Swat which is recovering from a war, if you went ahead and moved farmers to organic farming and built them a international level processing center for Fruit Packaging, you will create jobs while improving the environmental impact of farming. Now this is the type of stuff I am talking about, specific and measurable.
  • Also, there has to be some estimation on the cost of Climate Change to Pakistan. I did a study a while back for the Ministry of Commerce where we measured the cost of War on Terror on Pakistan. The final figure is still quoted by the Ministry because it’s a figure based on calculations that took 3 months to complete and are based on solid economic modeling. If such a calculation was carried out with regards to the cost of Climate Change to Pakistan and also calculation of how Greening the economy would improve our Exports and GDP and by how much, the case becomes stronger and rooted in economic theory.

I feel that now is probably as good a time as any that we started genuinely moving forward on environment and climate change. So far we have had a lot of talk but somehow it hardly gets converted in to actions. I think that is primarily due to the fact that business and trade experts are not paying attention to these issues. Economists and Trade Experts would need to be given center stage if all these discussions are to lead us anywhere. Because all said and done, the bottom line of anything is the money issue.

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