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Meet the veteran Climate Tracker from Pakistan

By March 23, 2016 No Comments

The first indication of Farrukh’s holistic and activist approach towards climate change was during a research trip to the flood prone district of Muzzafargarh in Rajanpur. Farrukh and I were there to collect data on the Adaptive Capacity of stakeholders to climate change. After many days of exhaustive fieldwork, something that Farrukh said resonated- that as Pakistanis we have been practicing what is now called ‘adaptation’ for decades, and that repackaging it under different names may not serve much of a purpose.

Four years later, speaking to him about his experience as a young climate activist, Farrukh reiterated his view that adaptation will continue to be practiced by indigenous and/or communities; the real area where a difference can be made, particularly by youth groups, is by looking towards the future- particularly, through promoting keeping fossil fuels in the ground and promoting the use of renewables.

To understand how and why this young climate activist feels so strongly about climate change, we must rewind to COP 15 in Durban, which Farrukh attended as a social activist as a part of the South Asia Platform. It was precisely here that the lightbulb went off in his head.

‘We were participating in an exercise where youth from all countries were sharing their thoughts on climate change and how it was impacting them. This girl from Netherlands was literally crying about how the people in the Maldives would be impacted by climate change. It was then that it struck me that a person from a country not even at risk from climate change is so passionate about its impacts. It made me realize how coming from a vulnerable country like Pakistan, I should be equally-if not more- worried,” said Farrukh.

This experience, coupled with the devastating impact of the 2009 flood throughout Pakistan, followed by another flood in 2010, led to the formation of the ‘Pakistan Youth Climate Movement’, co founded by Farrukh.

Farrukh Zaman

The Pakistan Youth Climate Movement proved to be a door opener for Farrukh. “My interest from an activist approach changed when I was invited by Marvi Memons team to be a part of a Parliamentary Committee on climate change to work on a paper which eventually became the climate change policy of the country,” he said.

“I was the only youth that was invited to be a part of that meeting. For the first time, I was made aware that there is a policy realm that can address climate change,” he added.

From then on, Farrukh went on to obtain the Climate Tracker fellowship twice, first in Durban and another in Doha, as well as working for leading organizations working on the issue. Farrukh feels that his experience as a climate tracker was instrumental in building his capacity. “When you have to report on issues, you have to know the issues,” he states.

Communicating climate change has not always been plain sailing, however. Farrukh feels that the biggest hurdle, particularly 5 years ago when knowledge of climate change in Pakistan was exponentially less than it is today, is that there is no separate word for climate, rather it is the same as weather.

“Linguistically, it was a challenge to even communicate what climate change was, and how it was different from seasonal or weather changes,” he said. 

In his experience, communicating climate change to young people was difficult- but the solution was to relate it to a context close to their hearts.

“This made it much easier to raise awareness about the issue. I feel the discourse changes the most after the 2010 floods, which definitely helped. For the first time in Pakistan, the media started talking about it. Climate change, although still not clearly differentiated from pollution, weather or environment linguistically, was finally becoming an acceptable term,” he added.

Fast forward to today where Farrukh is a Fulbright scholar and researcher at Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, and where awareness of climate change in Pakistan is at an all time high.

“We have come a long way- from not really having anything or any idea, to having a climate change policy passed by the parliament,” says Farrukh.

However, he disagrees with the National Climate Change Policy’s overly focused stance on adaptation. Whilst Farrukh feels that this is an answer, it is definitely not the only one.

“Pakistani’s have been adapting for decades, and will continue to do so. But for myself, the most pressing issue for Pakistan is energy. The way we are developing our energy infrastructure, based on a blueprint, is highly fossil fuel dependent. Despite the clear impacts that climate change are having on Pakistan, our policies relating to energy and energy access are focused towards fossil fuels,” he said.

Whilst Farrukh doesn’t deny that for a growing, developing country, energy is important, he feels that there are alternate means to address energy needs through renewables, not by forgoing energy targets, but by decarbonizing.

“Our policies are not currently under implementation. Now is the time to strike, to amend these policies before the  fossil fuel reliant infrastructure is in place; because once it is in place, we will be locked into the pattern of high carbon emissions for 40 to 50 years,” he adds.

While Farrukh was reluctant to share his plans for when he returns to Pakistan next year, he did highlight the two most important areas, where a difference can be made to ‘Keep it in the ground’.

The first is to recognize the important of partnerships: both between the academia and the policy makers, and vice versa.

“I feel that it is important for Governments to partner with the private sector, which can provide the technology impetus that is needed right now,” he states.

Second, he believes that the youth can play the biggest role is through communication- highlighting the need to invest in renewables and creating a momentum for change.

Anam Zeb

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