Pakistan ranks among the top 10 countries worldwide most affected by climate change and natural disasters . During the past century, an annual mean temperature increase of around 0.63°C has been observed in the country, and sea level along the Karachi coast has risen by approximately 1.1mm per year , . Though, during the period 2006– 2015, the sea level reportedly rose at a rate of 3.6mm per year . Pakistan’s historical precipitation profile has been complex. The early 20th century was characterised by a prolonged decline in annual rainfall, but since 1960, a slight increasing trend has prevailed. However, this overall trend hides considerable sub-national variation. For instance, since 1960, mean rainfall in the arid plains of Pakistan and the coastal belt has decreased by 10%-15%, contributing to the ongoing degradation of the country’s wetlands and mangrove ecosystems . At the same time, the number of heavy rainfall events in the country has increased, as has the number of heatwave days per year in Pakistan , .
By the end of the century, the annual mean temperature in Pakistan is expected to rise by approximately 3°C - 6°C, depending on the emissions scenario. Sea level is expected to increase by 60 cm, most likely affecting the low-lying coastal areas south of Karachi toward Keti Bander and the Indus River delta and contributing to the salinization of soils and coastal erosion , , . Average annual rainfall is not expected to have a significant long-term trend but is expected to exhibit large inter-annual variability . Pakistan is also expected to experience an increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme climate events , with severe impacts for the country’s natural and human capital .
Pakistan's high vulnerability to climate change is well recognised. With increasing temperatures, Pakistan has already experienced an increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme climate events such as floods, droughts, cyclones, heavy rain spells, extremely high temperatures etc. , which have been impacting the country’s ecosystems, people, settlements, and infrastructure . Between 1992 and 2021, according to the World Bank Group, climate- and weather-related disasters in Pakistan resulted in a total of US$29.3 billion of economic losses (inflation-adjusted to 2021 US dollars) from damage to property, crops, and livestock, equivalent to 11.1% of 2020 GDP . Significant events in Pakistan’s history include persistent drought that prevailed in the southern part of the country during 1998-2002 and again in 2014 and 2015; an extreme heat wave in 2015, where over 65,000 people were hospitalized with heat stroke; and the 2010 catastrophic flood which affected one-fifth of the country and 20 million people, and claimed over 2,000 lives , .
As the climate changes, the number of people affected by flooding in Pakistan is projected to increase, with a likely increase of around 5 million people exposed to extreme river floods by 2035–2044, and a potential increase of around 1 million annually exposed to coastal flooding by 2070–2100 . The 2022 floods have shown Pakistan’s high vulnerability to climate change. Between June and August 2022, torrential rains and a combination of riverine, urban, and flash flooding led to an unprecedented disaster in the country. According to the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), around 33 million people—that is, one in seven— have been affected by the floods, including nearly 8 million people displaced. The floods have taken the lives of more than 1,700 people, one-third of which were children. According to the Post-Disaster Needs Assessment of the 2022 floods, total damages are estimated to exceed USD 14.9 billion, total economic losses are expected to reach about USD 15.2 billion, and estimated needs for rehabilitation and reconstruction in a resilient way are at least USD 16.3 billion. As a direct impact of the floods, loss in gross domestic product (GDP) is projected to be around 2.2% of Fiscal Year 2022 GDP. The agriculture sector is projected to contract the most, at 0.9% of GDP , .
Pakistan’s agriculture sector is likely to be severely impacted by climate change , with projections suggesting yield declines in many key food and cash crops, including cotton, wheat, sugarcane, maize, and rice . According to the Economic Survey of Pakistan year 2020- 21, agriculture has a 19.2% share in the GDP and accounts for 60% of exports, providing livelihood to about 68% of the country’s population living in rural areas, and employing 45% of the national labor force . Climate change will impact the agriculture sector mainly through reduced crop productivity, adverse impact on livestock health and increased agricultural production losses because of extreme weather events . These impacts to agriculture will increase the risk of extreme poverty, food insecurity, and malnutrition in the country, making progress in poverty reduction and human development far more challenging than it is today .
Further, climate change in Pakistan is also expected to enhance the impact of air and water pollution on human health; lead to a decline in labor productivity due to extreme heat; impact water availability, with consequences for riverine ecology, water security and hydropower production; and impact Pakistan’s biodiversity .
According to Pakistan’s National Greenhouse Gas Inventory (2017-18) in its First Biennial Update Report (BUR-1), the total estimated emissions for the year 2018 (489.87 Mt CO2e) show an increase in total GHG emissions in the country, when compared with the previous (1994, 2008, 2012 and 2015) inventories. In 2018, the largest contributor to GHG emissions was the Agriculture, Forestry & Other Land Use (AFOLU) sector (223.45 Mt CO2e), followed by the Energy (218.94 Mt CO2e), Industrial Processes (25.76 Mt CO2e), and the Waste sectors (21.72 Mt CO2e) .
In 2018, AFOLU emissions constituted about 45% of the total national emissions. Of which, the Livestock sector emitted 109.12 Mt CO2e (48.3%), followed by 74.98 Mt (33.6%) from Managed Soils, 31.52 Mt (14.1%) from Land and 7.83 (3.5%) from Rice Cultivation .
In the energy sector, emissions are largely driven by the combustion of fossil fuels . The demand for energy in Pakistan has increased, due to the country's high population growth rate, and the use of coal, natural gas, oil, and liquefied petroleum gas has grown to meet the surging demand in the country's energy sector . Pakistan's coal imports have tripled since 2015, reaching 18.7 million tons in 2020, as the country commissioned several coal-fired plants during that period. In 2020, coal and lignite production reached about 5 million tons in the country, and total coal consumption reached 24 million tons .
Overall, Pakistan contributes less than 1% to global GHG emissions, but it is one of the most vulnerable countries to the impacts of climate change and natural disasters . Heightened vulnerabilities to disaster risks are caused due to the expanding population, urbanization, changing land use practices, developmental activities in high-risk zones, and environmental degradation .
Key policies and governance approach
The Ministry of Climate Change is the main Government body overseeing climate change issues in Pakistan . Pakistan's National Climate Change Policy is the country's guiding document on climate change. The first National Climate Change Policy (NCCP 2012) provided the guidelines for developing national adaptation and mitigation plans across sectors. In 2021, the updated NCCP was launched, linking climate action and economic growth, with a strong focus on mainstreaming and integrating climate change policy with other policies . It’s overall goal is to ensure that climate change is mainstreamed in the economically and socially vulnerable sectors of the economy and to steer Pakistan towards climate compatible development i.e., climate resilient and low carbon development .
In 2021, Pakistan also submitted its Updated Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Through its updated NDC, Pakistan aims to reduce its projected emissions by 2030 by 50%, with a 15% drop below business as usual (BAU) from the country’s own resources (unconditional), and an additional 35% drop below BAU subject to international financial support (conditional) .
To reach the target, Pakistan aims to shift to 60% renewable energy, and 30% electric vehicles by 2030 and completely ban imported coal. Moreover, Pakistan seeks to expand Nature-based Solutions (NbS) through the implementation of the Ten Billion Tree Tsunami Programme (TBTTP), Recharge Pakistan, and the Protected Areas Initiative. Pakistan’s emissions, as per 2018 are 489.87 MtCO2e; if implemented fully, the Billion Trees Afforestation Project (BTAP) and TBTTP will sequester CO2 around 500 Mt CO2e by 2040 .
In addition, several new sectoral policies that support Pakistan’s decarbonization efforts have been adopted, including the 2019 Alternative Renewable Energy (ARE) Policy, the Strategic Plan for Energy Efficiency & Conservation (2020–2023) and the 2019 National Electric Vehicle Policy (NEVP) for 2020–2025 .
Successes and remaining challenges
In recent years, Pakistan’s government has assumed a strong proactive stance towards climate change, and consequently, the country has strengthened its policies related to climate change . Additionally, Pakistan's current political climate recognizes the important role that the youth can play in combating environmental challenges. As a result, Pakistan has shown a political resolve to create an enabling environment for the active participation of the country’s youth through the following initiatives: Clean Green Pakistan Champions, Imran Khan's Tiger Force, Green Stimulus Package, the Kamyab Jawan scheme, and Ehsaas Nasho-numa Program .
Nevertheless, Pakistan still faces several challenges in the implementation of its policies and programs related to climate change. One such challenge, is the lack of consistency and continuity within the country’s policy space. Thus far, climate change policies, budgets and programs have been subject to changing political currents, resulting in a lack of their implementation. For example, the first NCCP had little impact on the development of national adaptation and mitigation plans across sectors .
Financing the mitigation and adaptation actions in the updated NDC presents a significant challenge for the country . The NDC (2021) estimates that, by 2030, the total cost of NDC implementation will reach nearly US$200 billion . However, so far, public spending and private sector investment on climate actions in Pakistan has been low, and Pakistan has had limited access to climate finance , , . It is, therefore, recommended that the country develops a comprehensive climate financing strategy to (a) optimize the utilization of domestic resources, (b) mobilize additional financial resources through revenue enhancement measures and innovative financing mechanisms, and (c) strengthen the country’s capacity to access international climate finance and bolster private sector investments .
Furthermore, Pakistan also faces challenges related to inadequate capacity and expertise. The country lacks the necessary human, technical, and institutional capacities to effectively design, implement, and monitor climate programs and projects .
Overall, Pakistan faces significant challenges in tackling climate change and achieving its climate targets and ambitions. The government needs to address these challenges by ensuring political commitment and continuity, securing adequate climate finance, improving data and information, and strengthening capacities and expertise to support the implementation of climate policies and actions.
Initiatives and Development Plans
Pakistan has officially initiated the process of creating a National Adaptation Plan (NAP) for building resilience to climate change, which is widely seen as one of the most important mechanisms for adapting to climate change. The 2-year project to develop the adaptation plan, supported by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and funded by the Green Climate Fund with USD 2.7 million, was launched in March 2021 .
The Ten Billion Tree Tsunami Programme (TBTTP) is a flagship national programme, which aims to increase the country’s existing forest area . In the last 6 years, Pakistan has successfully planted one billion trees in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province and increased the provincial forest cover by 6.3%. Pakistan has now raised the bar by initiating the 10 billion tree tsunami - across the whole country. This project aims to generate thousands of green jobs, revive forest biodiversity, engage the indigenous communities, and energize the country’s youth to become custodians of a green future for the nation .
Recharge Pakistan aims to build the country’s resilience to climate change through Ecosystem-based Adaptation for Integrated Flood Risk Management . The initiative is focused on effectively managing and prudently utilizing the country’s water resources by turning catastrophic floods into an opportunity for recharging aquifers and naturally restoring ecosystems . By 2030, the project envisages the reduction of flood risk and enhanced water recharge at six sites in the Indus Basin, building resilience of 10 million people, as well as strengthening vulnerable ecosystems. Pakistan has allocated PKR 6 billion from its national resources to commence the activities in three sites, namely Manchar & Hamal wetland, Taunsa pond area, and Dera Ismail Khan .
The “Protected Areas Initiative”, launched during the COVID-19 era, aims to enhance the country’s national coverage of protected areas from 12% to 15% of land area by 2023, while preserving Pakistan's unique and valuable biodiversity and promoting green jobs and eco-tourism , .
The Prime Minister of Pakistan has also approved the 'Living River Initiative' for Ecological Restoration of the Indus River Basin for a Climate Resilient Future. Under this flagship initiative, multiple ecological regions will be targeted for restoration and preservation .
- Develop a comprehensive climate financing strategy to (a) optimize the utilization of domestic resources, (b) mobilize additional financial resources through revenue enhancement measures and innovative financing mechanisms, and (c) strengthen the country’s capacity to access international climate finance and bolster private sector investments .
- Foster the development of appropriate economic incentives to encourage public and private sector investment.
- Explore the market and non-market based approaches in diversifying the funding sources for commissioning capital intensive projects.
- Invest in nature-based solutions and ecosystem-based adaptation measures. Ecosystem-based adaptation and nature-based solutions are key approaches in addressing floods and droughts that are exacerbated by climate change in Pakistan. Such approaches need to be urgently accelerated to help build resilience at the community and national levels.
- Raise awareness in public and private sector organizations on the importance of adaptation actions.
- Provide subsidies, loans and financial assistance to developers and consumers of green infrastructure.
- Build human resource capacity in related fields of climate change by introducing relevant educational programs in higher education institutions.
- Awareness raising efforts on climate change at the local level, including through engaging print and electronic media, community radio for dissemination to improve, in particular women, girls and children’s security.
- Promote opportunities for youth groups to engage in and benefit from Pakistan’s adaptation and mitigation objectives and targets, particularly through creating jobs for youth, entrepreneurship, macro-enterprises, and start-ups.
- Engage with the Ministry of Education, Higher Education Commission, universities, and CSOs to propagate climate education curriculum.
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