The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of the United Nations has produced yet another significant report on climate change, this time warning of a “code red for mankind” due to climate change’s pace and apparent apathy in dealing with its concerns. While the IPCC report is a sobering warning for the entire world, the predictions for South Asia are particularly concerning.
Climate change is a worldwide phenomenon that is mostly manifested through global warming. The detrimental effects of climate change on natural resources, anthropogenic activity and natural disasters around the globe have been reported by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
It is now a dreadful reality. For several years, a shifting climate has created havoc in several cities of South Asia. Rising sea levels and seawater intrusion have been observed as a result of global warming and poor river management, posing a serious threat to the populous coastal areas of Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and India.
Pakistan is the world’s fifth most vulnerable country to climate change. According to the Global Climate Risk Index, the country lost roughly 10,000 people to climate-linked disasters between 1998 and 2018 and sustained $4 billion in losses as a result of 152 extreme weather events during the time. Climate migrants in Pakistan have been projected to a number of approximately 30 millions in the last decade, according to analysts.
Heatwaves caused by climate change are killing thousands of people and disrupting crop cycles and yields on a regular basis. Both Karachi, the country’s largest metropolis, and Islamabad, the country’s capital, have been hit by urban floods this year. Furthermore, landslides forced the closure of Pakistan’s 806-kilometer Karakoram Highway, which is an important part of the country’s economic corridor with China. Timber mafias are swiftly stripping old-growth forests further north, towards Shimshal, and east, towards the Skardu Valley, all but ensuring future environmental catastrophes.
To suggest this will be the country’s most serious security problem in the next few decades is an understatement. Pakistan is the only country that relies on non-polar ice for freshwater and contains more glacial ice than anyplace else on Earth outside of the polar regions, with 7,253 recognized glaciers, including 543 in the Chitral Valley.
These glaciers feed rivers that account for around 75pc of the country’s stored water supply, which serves a population of at least 180 million people. No other country in the world stands to lose as much as Pakistan. Yet, no government has taken the looming threat seriously. While the world is moving on to more environment friendly options such as solar and wind energy, Pakistan still produces more than 60pc of its total electricity from fossil fuel.
Climate change has an adverse impact on water reserves since it affects glacier behavior, rainfall patterns, greenhouse gas emissions leading to floods and droughts. Severe floods have caused devastation during the last decade, impacting the province of Sindh the most. Between 1998 and 2004, Pakistan saw some of the worst droughts in its history.
Water availability per capita has decreased from 5,600 cubic metres in 1947 to the current level of around 1,038 cubic metres. A vital source of fresh water and power generation for Pakistan, the mighty Indus River and several tributary rivers that originate in the Himalayas and Karakorum Mountain range are being adversely affected by rapid climate change in the region. We’re heading for a water shortage at an alarming rate.
Reduced river flows into the Indus and dwindling glaciers can also heighten the likelihood of conflict between the already troubled neighbors – India and Pakistan. Since Tibet is the source of not only the Indus but also the Brahmaputra, which flows to India and eventually Bangladesh, upper riparian China may be drawn into the conflict. Climate change has the potential to exacerbate domestic problems in many countries, particularly in Pakistan, where provincial water rights are still a major source of controversy.
Pakistan has set an ambitious new goal of reducing national carbon emissions by 50pc by 2030 and claims to have lowered the emissions by 9pc. Prime Minister Imran Khan has personally been involved in efforts to reforest the north and recently announced a massive target of planting 10 billion trees across the country.
Pakistan’s present government is talking about climate change, but it’s a dialogue that has come too late. With only 5.7pc of land, or around 4.54 million hectares under forest cover, Pakistan’s deforestation rate is the second highest in Asia.
This devastation, mostly caused by timber mafias’ illicit logging, has clogged our waterways, leaving us vulnerable to floods and storms. Lack of access to natural gas, electricity, and job prospects has resulted in widespread deforestation in Pakistan’s northern provinces.
The government must conduct urgent reforestation projects on mountain slopes and involve local populations under the umbrella of the Billion Tree Tsunami project. Afforestation programs are significant advances in the fight against climate change, but more efforts are needed to push the country in the right direction.
Weak institutions result in ineffective policy making and implementation. Measures to restore the ecosystem that are half-hearted or flawed become a threat to the ecosystem itself. Our development model must undergo a paradigm shift in response to shifting climatic scenarios. All economic planning and investment must, by necessity, include climate adaptation planning and investment.
Climate services can assist the country in achieving three goals: climate adaptation, disaster risk reduction and sustainable development. To address the rising climate change challenges, Pakistan needs a multi-tiered approach that includes short, medium, and long-term actions.
The climate war between the giant, wealthy industrial superpowers that have polluted and poisoned our world for profit, and the poor, who have caused the least damage but will bear the brunt of the repercussions. Although, Pakistan contributes less than 1pc to global greenhouse gas emissions, its poor will face the brunt of the world’s deadliest polluters. According to the World Bank, if nothing is done to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, 800 million people in South Asia will face increased poverty, homelessness, and starvation. To avoid a dreadful fate, Pakistan must lead a global south coalition against climate change and be a voice for countries suffering from the effects of global warming.
Pakistan is currently in the midst of an existential crisis. Climate change is endangering not just one region or a country, but millions of lives and livelihoods across the globe. We are, tragically, already too late to undo the damage caused by the widespread consumption of fossil fuels, as this year’s IPCC report highlighted.
The option we face now – in Pakistan and around the world – is whether to continue on a course that will inevitably lead to our annihilation or to begin fighting for our collective survival.