Politically conceptualizing a “Green Economy”

Malik Amin Aslam Khan

“Our foot is stuck on the accelerator and we are heading towards an abyss” (Ban Ki-Moon)

The global growth model is clearly on an unsustainable pathway. An exponentially expanding population, extravagant consumption patterns, rising greenhouse gases triggering catastrophic climate changes, dwindling biodiversity reserves, rapid and unregulated urbanization - these are just some of the environmentally alarming trends delivered by the existing model for economic growth. Thus, it is no surprise that while the global GDP has more than doubled in the past three decades the planet has paid a very heavy price with more than 60% of its natural ecosystems being degraded.

It was these concerns that led to the introduction of the concept of the green economy. The aim was to revisit, revise, rethink and improve the clearly unsustainable growth model and come up with a viable solution. Subsequently, the Rio+20 meeting (2012) endeavored to develop consensus on a global vision for a green economy. Although the meeting was marred by failed expectations, the one agreement coming out was on urging countries to individually rise to the challenge by committing to their own homegrown versions of a green economy. 

Within this context, many countries have started grappling with the idea of defining what “green” means and then integrating that into their growth trajectories. Pakistan is one such country, which has been trying to demystify “green” within its own national context. The recent announcements of national policies on climate change and work on a national sustainable development strategy are good examples of this commitment.

However, even though defining “green” remains a priority starting point for transforming economic growth the other equally, if not more, essential element pertains to implementation and translating all these policies into practical action on the ground. This is an area, which has remained neglected in most countries, especially in the developing world. 

In this regards, one of the leading mainstream political parties in Pakistan, “Pakistan Tehreek-e-insaaf” has taken the lead by not only coming out with a clear vision but also politically backing it up with a strategy for implementation. The “Green Development Agenda” unveiled by the party last week lays out a four-step strategy for the “greening” of growth in Pakistan. 

The first step focuses on stating the obvious. There is no doubt that environmental degradation remains a serious, but politically unrecognized, challenge for Pakistan. Issues such as widespread air and water pollution which plague the country are costing its, already stressed economy, almost 6% of its GDP and draining away more than Rs 1 billion per day (WB report). Pakistan’s high vulnerability to climate change is now threatening to further add on to these costs.  

However, the local environmental challenges plaguing the country are neither new nor unstated. They are, in fact, very well researched and existing policy documents and strategy papers identify them in detail. The solutions to these challenges are also not rocket science and are equally well known and documented. However, for a political party aiming to address this challenge, the first starting point still has to be to clearly restate these challenges as well as the solutions within the context of various impacted sectors such as energy, water, forestry, transport, air pollution, waster generation, agriculture, biodiversity protection, ecosystem valuation as well as overall environmental governance. PTI has done just that in its launched green vision by not only enlisting but also focusing the solutions into action oriented targets. Among others, these include aiming to double the forestry cover in 5 years, carrying out national ecosystem valuation and introducing the concept of “eco-budget”, making environmental rights a part of basic human rights under the constitution of the country, delivering clean drinking water for all through a focused program, improving water conservation as well as preserving the diverse wetlands of Pakistan, expanding mass transit systems across all major cities, removing inefficiencies in energy distribution and transmission as well as reaping the large renewable resources in the country, properly valuing the biodiversity treasures of Pakistan and inculcating environmental education into the national curriculum. The above are just some of the targeted commitments that the PTI green agenda has unfolded which aims to transform “green Pakistan” from a mere slogan into a well thought out framework for action. The agenda also includes a pathway for financing this transition through internal budgetary re-prioritization, public private partnerships as well as leveraging global financing through development of a dedicated green fund for this purpose.

The second step of the PTI strategy is to accord full political ownership to the “green” development agenda. This has been done by clearly articulating the party policy on environment while also making environmental conservation a part of the core objectives of the PTI party constitution as well as keeping this in focus during the upcoming election manifesto. In addition, the party has decided to integrate the responsibility of implementation and environmental monitoring into the party organizational structure. Thus party workers from the village to the national level will have the responsibility to act as custodians and stewards of the environment. All the above show a strong political ownership within the party to recognize and rise up to the environmental challenge that Pakistan faces.

After clearly defining the “green” vision, articulating it in a focused policy document and integrating it within the party organizational structure the third step pertains to creating the political “buy-in” for this agenda. The challenge of how to define the environmental issue into terms understood by the common man and then to create mass public and political appeal has remained largely unaddressed by most policy initiatives in Pakistan and even globally. In a country plagued by extremely high rates of unemployment and joblessness, the obvious key was to transform this vision of an alternate and “green” economy into any new green jobs that could be generated. Utilizing the recent global research on green jobs and the lessons learnt from other countries where such shifts have created large job opportunities, PTI has endeavored to address this challenge. The party has carried out an indicative exercise to translate the wider green agenda into specific country wide programs and projects that would generate not only a new, green and sustainable economy but also generate 5 million new green jobs in 5 years of Government. This, hopefully, will create the much-needed political buy-in as the people, stressed and plagued by air and water pollution, are not only saved from the unavoidable health and clean-up costs but are also promised a new economy with abundant green job opportunities. This should lead to a paradigm shift leading to prosperity, poverty reduction and a better quality of life for the people while fulfilling the imperatives for a cleaner environment.

Finally, the last step pertains to defining the keys to successful implementation. Having clearly defined targeted environmental objectives and politically owned up to them in policy, party constitution as well as election manifesto documents there will be an unflinching obligation upon PTI, once elected, to fully implement and deliver on the promise of a green economy and green jobs for Pakistan. In this way, the keys to implementation will be already well integrated into the system.

The above outlined strategy of PTI remains an evolving strategy, which will continue to improve through a feedback process. It is, however, the first initiative by any mainstream political party of Pakistan (and maybe the developing world) to not only clearly articulate a "green" development agenda but also extend it full political ownership as a part of its overall electoral strategy. The party remains hopeful that this politically palatable and homegrown green program will not only provide the strong impetus required for an environmentally sustainable future for Pakistan but also become a trailblazer for other developing countries searching for a pathway towards a green economy.

For further information, here is the link to the policy presentation and a related article:

By Malik Amin Aslam Khan, Global Vice President – IUCN, Former Minister of State (Environment), Author of the “Green Development Vision” for PTI


Figure-1: PTI Implementation Strategy for its “Green Development Vision”
  • Figure-1: PTI Implementation Strategy for its “Green Development Vision”

    Figure-1: PTI Implementation Strategy for its “Green Development Vision”

    Photo: Malik Amin Aslam Khan