Punjab’s PACT on climate resilience

Punjab’s PACT on climate resilience

In August of 2018, members of the Energy Department in Punjab, Pakistan, investigated potential climate-related risks to a number of their projects using the beta version of a new online screening tool, the first of its kind in the country. While screening a project to install solar panels in schools across Punjab, officials realised that water stress and drought, projected to worsen with climate change, pose a serious risk to the successful implementation of the project. For one, they would not be able to properly clean the panels if no water was available. Additionally, as noted by Mr Sadaf Iqbal, Manager (Environmental and Social Safeguard), Energy Department, “poor water quality which could have destroyed the solar panel performance over the long term was not considered. The tool [could help project officers] to incorporate these key considerations in the design at the planning stage.”

Members of the Energy Department testing the Punjab Adaptation to Climate Tool (PACT)

While a number of national and sub-national governments have sought to mainstream climate change in development planning, Punjab is arguably the first provincial government taking steps to proactively manage climate risks by screening for water-related climate risks on a project-by-project basis, using an online tool. The Punjab Adaptation to Climate Tool (PACT) is designed to help departments identify and integrate climate considerations into project design, ultimately making their investments more sustainable and resilient to a changing climate. Hosted by the Punjab Planning and Development Department (P&DD), it is currently used by 3 departments: agriculture, irrigation and energy.

A PACT for what?

A highly flood prone country, Pakistan has experienced heavy floods every other year since 1992 (8 incidents in the period between 1992-2015). In 2010, the country recorded its worst ever impacts from heavy flooding due to extreme monsoon rains, incurring losses of 10 billion rupees (PKR) (US $71 million), with at least 1900 deaths and around 160,000 square km of land inundated. The short and long-term impacts of the 2010 floods made the government sit up and take notice of a growing problem.

Like many countries, Pakistan has climate policies and plans; the 2012 National Climate Change Policy was followed by a Framework for Implementation in 2013. But a lack of on-ground implementation led to the 2015 Lahore High Court judgement, in which Judge Syed Mansoor Ali Shah stated: “For Pakistan, climate change is no longer a distant threat – we are already feeling and experiencing its impacts across the country and the region. The country experienced devastating floods during the last three years. These changes come with far reaching consequences and real economic costs.”

In a legal precedent by national and international standards, the judgement directed all of the main federal ministries and provincial level authorities to plan for managing climate change impacts (internationally termed climate change adaptation), paving the way for PACT. 

Climate change no longer a distant threat in Punjab

Climate change is already a reality in Punjab (see box). The High Court’s judgement provided political momentum for government officials to respond to climate change – yet they don’t always know how to respond. PACT is a step toward meeting this need, a first-of-its kind tool which systematically considers water-related climate risks in the project development process, enabling departments to proactively plan for the future. 

Climate impacts in Punjab

Floods are not the only climate-related threat in Punjab and Pakistan. In spite of being drained by 5 rivers, Pakistan has the lowest per capita water availability in South Asia. The country is the 4th largest abstractor of groundwater globally; groundwater depletion and drought are its top-ranking climate-related risks. These are only set to worsen with projected temperature rise, altered precipitation patterns and river flows, coupledwith increasing demand for water to grow crops. Agriculture, which uses 88% of the country’s total water supply, will be especially hard-hit. In 2007-08, heavy rains, rising temperatures and water shortages reduced Pakistan’s agricultural sector growth rate from 4% to 1.5%. Extreme heat is another top climate concern. During the heatwave of 2015, around 1300 people lost their lives. On 30th April 2018, for the first time ever, Pakistan recorded a temperature of 50°C, the highest recorded in the month of April. Within Pakistan, Punjab is particularly vulnerable to the vagaries of a changing climate, facing long periods of drought, interspersed with flash floods, riverine floods and urban flooding. Punjab is Pakistan’s most densely populated province and the second largest in terms of area. Its land is predominantly floodplain, which has helped the province become an agricultural hub, accounting for 77% of Pakistan’s total area under agricultural production. On the other hand, this has greatly increased its vulnerability to flooding, particularly in the summer monsoon period when the volume of water in all five rivers rises. Floods lead to loss of human life and destruction of crops and land, with knock-on economic impacts.

How does PACT help manage climate risks?

PACT is a web-based climate and water risk screening tool, developed specifically for, and in consultation with the P&DD and the departments of agriculture, irrigation and energy under the Action on Climate Today (ACT) programme, in partnership with climate adaptation advisors Acclimatise and international and national experts[1]. The tool has been designed to fit within departments’ existing processes; Mr. Nusrat Tufail Gill, Chief Environment & Climate Change, P&DD highlights that PACT helps “to mainstream climate change in projects and include adaptation during project development and planning stage.” Considering climate risk becomes just another step in the project development cycle.

Adopting a risk-based approach to climate adaptation, as recommended by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), PACT is underpinned by the best available science on climate change in the region and local stakeholder inputs. It includes 15 climate-related indicators, with a focus on water. Through an intuitive interface, the tool asks project officers to answer a series of questions on the project’s characteristics based on their experience and perception, without requiring climate change expertise. The final result is a risk rating that indicates to what extent achievement of the project’s objectives is at risk due to climate change.

The process of answering PACT’s questions can yield insights into climate vulnerabilities that users may not have previously considered.  For example, officers from the energy department, when testing the same project for solar panels in schools, noted that cloud cover, linked to precipitation, decreases the effectiveness of solar panels. As future climate change may mean more frequent and/or heavy rain in certain areas of Punjab, this needs to be factored into the project design.

For agriculture, PACT can help “identify climate resilient interventions and their sustainability for development of climate smart irrigated agriculture projects in the Punjab,” noted Dr Maqsood Ahmed, Deputy Project Director (Watercourses), Punjab Irrigated-Agriculture Productivity Project (PIPIP), Agriculture Department.

PACT also helps departments make the best use of financial resources; as Dr Muhammad Javed, Director Strategic Planning and Reforms Unit of the Irrigation Department Lahore, noted, “by mainstreaming climate change, the cost of a project could rise initially but in the long run, sustainability of the project would help conserve financial resources.”

Throughout the screening process, PACT points the user toward resources with more detailed information on climate impacts and adaptation solutions. The aim is that over time, departments will develop their own knowledge and capacity on climate change adaptation, in part by using PACT.

On the road to climate resilience in Punjab

Political and legal statements on climate change, like the Lahore High Court judgment, do not always translate into action. There are several factors that have helped PACT become a reality in Punjab. The P&DD took early interest and leadership in adopting a screening tool, providing support throughout the development process. Nominated individuals from the three pilot departments were also actively involved in the process, through testing and providing inputs at each step. Selected officials were trained in the tool’s use from an early stage, which meant they could mentor their own colleagues.

With the finalisation of PACT, P&DD will host it on their website, and has advised all departments to use the tool within their project development cycles. Over time, the aim is that the number of projects which consider climate change from the design phase will increase, ensuring the sustainability and resilience of projects and the communities they serve. While the tool has been designed with the agriculture, irrigation and energy departments, it has the potential to be used by other departments, as well as by non-government and private entities. The tool can also be regularly updated as climate data improves in the region and globally.  

PACT functions as an aid to decision-makers, enabling increased sustainability and resilience in project planning, design and outcomes – a big step forward in terms of proactively and systematically responding to climate change. The Government of Punjab has established itself as a pioneer in the region by investing in building climate change capacity in sectoral departments, setting an example for other national and sub-national governments in South Asia and around the world.

For more information about PACT, please contact Arif Pervaiz (arif.pervaiz@opml.co.uk)


Cover photo from Asianet-Pakistan / Shutterstock.com

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