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Special Advisor to Prime Minister (SAPM) on Climate Change Malik Amin Aslam has said that Covid-19 has posed numerous challenges, however, it has created an opportunity for Pakistan to respond to threats emanating from climate change.

During the pandemic, Pakistan has initiated a ‘green stimulus programme’ which is focused on green employment and saving of nature. He said this during his keynote address at a roundtable webinar entitled ‘Debt Swaps for Green Recovery: Opportunities, Challenges and Way Forward for Pakistan’ organised by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI).

“As the country is inclined towards clean green initiatives, the incumbent government is focusing on financing this transition through various mechanisms,” Aslam said, adding that the first step in this regard is restructuring of Asian Development Bank financing.

The PM’s aide said that the initiative is focused on green employment whereas USD120 million from World Bank is being utilised as eco-system restoration fund. Besides this, the objective is to be achieved through creation of estimated 100,000 green jobs based on these activities, he added.

Aslam further stated that the government is also focusing on ‘debt for nature swap’ and green euro bonds worth USD500 million for hydropower projects. SDPI Executive Director Dr Abid Qaiyum Suleri was of view that based on the current scenario, it is not only Pakistan, but several countries across the globe are facing financial constraints, which has limited their window and fiscal availability for investment in green development.

“Swapping our debt for nature, biodiversity, green and clean projects could be a useful source for taking care of Covid-19 recoveries and social safety,” Dr Suleri mentioned.

Ministry of Planning and Special Initiatives SDGs Support Unit Chief Ali Kemal informed the participants that several debt swaps agreements are taking place through which 85,000 green jobs have been created under the climate change agenda. Besides this, USD180 million has been generated for eco-system restoration, he added.

He further stated that Covid-19 has led to the digitalisation of different sectors that can be a pathway for country to improve its index.

Economic Affairs Division Senior Joint Secretary Samar Ihsan highlighted that in the past, Pakistan had debt rescheduling under different agreements. She mentioned that Canada swapped for 447 million Canadian dollars for quality of education, Germany swapped 50 million euros for education, and Italy swapped 85 million dollars – 50 per cent of which was for Afghan refugees while 50 per cent for health and education. The government has been striving to explore the potential areas for biodiversity, she added.

FCDO Climate Change Adviser Sobiah Becker explained that how upcoming opportunities can be utilised for debt swaps in COP-26 as well. This pandemic has shown that the planetary health is also linked with human health, she added.

Khurram Lalani from Energy and Infrastructure, Resources Future said that it was initially assumed that the pandemic will lead to less investment in green infrastructure globally, but the opposite has happened as investments have increased by 96 per cent in the last year.

SEED Pakistan Strategic Planning Advisor Omar Mukhtar opined that for building back better, we must ensure that economic recovery exists and debt for climate swaps should be among the environmental goals. “The fiscal space is tough in Pakistan and the federal share of government revenue is Rs3,300 billion out of which Rs2,600 billion were paid in debt while the remaining were borrowed for expenses,” he added.

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