The bill promises to “fast-track measures needed to implement actions on the ground” and establishes a policy-making Climate Change Council, along with a Climate Change Authority to prepare and supervise the implementation of projects to help Pakistan adapt to climate impacts and hold the line on climate-changing emissions.

The legislation has received cautious backing from climate change experts, who say they welcome its potential but question whether the government should instead be offering more direct support to provinces to implement environmental projects.

Pakistan has earlier passed measures to address climate change, but most have been little implemented, critics charge.

Pakistan’s Senate passed the Climate Change Act 2016 this month, following the bill’s passage in the National Assembly in December. The legislation is expected to be approved by the President in the coming weeks, a requirement under Pakistan’s constitution.

Pakistan’s federal minister for climate change, Zahid Hamid, called the legislation “historic” and said it would “fast-track measures needed to implement actions on the ground.”

Pakistan’s former government, led by President Asif Ali Zardari, introduced a comprehensive National Climate Change Policy (NCCP) in 2013, but it languished under the successor government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Upon coming to power in June 2013, Sharif’s government also downgraded the Ministry of Climate Change to a division and slashed its budget by more than 60 per cent. He later elevated its status back to a federal ministry ahead of the historic climate change conference in Paris in 2015.

Climate expert Qamar-uz-Zaman Chaudhry, who was the lead author of the NCCP, credits the climate change minister, who also helped draft a national environmental protection act 20 years ago, with pushing ahead the current legislation.

Chaudhry said the new bill will help the provinces with adaptation and mitigation strategies and projects.

“The Climate Change Act will also ensure awareness of climate policy at the highest level,” he said. “The (climate change) council will hopefully expedite action, and the implementation of climate projects will pick up.”

Hamid said that Pakistan today faces major climate-related risks, including glacial melt, variable monsoons, recurrent floods, sea intrusion, higher average temperatures and greater frequency of droughts.

Millions of people across the country have been affected, and major damage has been caused by recurring natural disasters.

Yesterday it emerged that the amount of sea ice in the Arctic Ocean has fallen to a record low for the wintertime months.

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