Climate concerns

June 04, 2023

The missing Cs of collective climate action

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ast Sunday, standing in Hassanabad, we could see the impact of the devastation caused by the glacial lake outburst flood emanating from the Shishper glacier. This GLOF wasn’t an isolated event. The floods resulting from receding glaciers continue to be a threat to the local communities, their livelihoods and infrastructure, with direct implications for food security in the country.

Recent empirical studies show that owing to climate change, the intensity and recurrence of GLOF events is likely to increase.

During our visit to the GLOF-affected areas last week, we had the opportunity to interact with a diverse group of stakeholders. We were part of a delegation facilitated by IEEE REACT, which included technical experts, scientists and scholars working in the domain of climate, environment, society and governance. The purpose was to exchange ideas for collaboration and co-production of knowledge for impactful climate action.

The threats and risks posed by GLOFs are not unknown in the region and beyond. In our meetings, the district administration of Gilgit-Baltistan and Hunza sounded well-informed and seemed keen on employing technology for developing early warning systems and monitoring the dynamics of glacial lakes. The representatives of PMD, GBDMA, GLOF II, and AKAH foundation were aware of the multipronged challenges involved in effectively tackling the effects of climate change. The district administration has taken some laudable steps to engage citizens’ representatives in mitigation efforts. Organisations like Agha Khan Agency for Habitat (AKAH) are also working to build resilience against disaster events and build community capacity in disaster risk reduction (DRR) and community based disaster risk management (CBDRM). The faculty members and students at Karakoram International University are undertaking rigorous research related to climate change.

Despite these laudable organisational efforts, there is a huge disconnect in the interventions. Most of the initiatives are undertaken in silos, preventing the formation of effective, efficient and resilient systems of forecasting, measuring and mitigating the GLOF effects. Low connectivity and ineffective collaborations also result in the waste of resources.

In Pakistan, we still need to internalise that network-type management and cross-sectoral partnerships are essential to building collaborative alliances for collective action to deal with the multifaceted environmental challenges we face. For effective climate action, the development actors/ organisations must connect, collaborate and contribute to each other’s efforts to maximise the benefit and minimise the losses resulting from climate change.

At least at the rhetorical level, there is a general consensus that Pakistan needs tech interventions to predict, assess and mitigate the effects of climate change. It is encouraging to hear that scaling up internationally recognised, AI-based initiatives, such as AI4GLOF, can build national capacity for long-term predictive analysis and early warning systems for disaster assessment and management. Indeed, tech-led interventions in glaciated regions can facilitate disaster management authorities in responding to and mitigating the effects of impending natural disasters. However, a scaling up of any intervention requires building sustainable collaborations.

Data sharing and knowledge co-production are domains where building sustainable collaborations can yield quick results. The stakeholders can connect and collaborate to contribute towards a common goal of effective and efficient collective climate action. The development actors, including government departments, INGOs, NGOs, federal, provincial and local governments, funding agencies, scholars and interested citizens, must collaborate on data gathering and sharing to contribute to the common good. Governments must lead the way and facilitate by adopting open data policies. The databases maintained by the government must be freely accessible in user-friendly formats.

Currently, there is no dearth of documents related to climate policies that stress the need to employ technology to predict and mitigate the effects of climate change. The 2018-2026 adaptation strategy delineated in Gilgit Baltistan Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan 2017 stresses the need to promote GLOF-related scientific research and understand the glacier dynamics. The medium-term plan envisages Gilgit-Baltistan Environmental Protection Agency (GBEPA), NGOs and academia responsible for researching the impacts of climate change on glaciated regions in Karakorum, Himalayan and Hindukush Ranges. This plan also calls for “establishing a database resource centre in GB under a climate change unit in GBEPA to acquire, store, process and interpret climate, weather, environmental and hydrological flows in order to establish a climate baseline and change detection.”

Likewise, the recently announced climate policy of the MOCC commits the government to policy measures like “developing knowledge-based management (KBM) and networking with strategic climate change research establishments to ensure benefits from international scientific advancements.” It also commits to “support the exchange of meteorological data, including that obtained from high altitude monitoring stations” and “facilitate exchange of real-time hydrological data in the region for improved flood forecasting and warning services”. Unfortunately, these policy measures do not translate into practices.

The public, as well as private, investment in climate-related Research and Development (R&D) Funding remains abysmally low. Data availability remains a continuous challenge for scholars and students working on the climate. Most stakeholders are ready to share data. However, they have concerns about data acknowledgements and recognition of their share in collecting, compiling and analysing data. There is no harm in that, but we do need a mechanism for data sharing that will enable the co-creation of knowledge and benefit the wider communities. If Pakistan is to tackle climate change, it must adopt open data policies; government organisations and local administrations can play a strong coordinating role in this effort. The government needs to realise that merely including climate change as the core courses in universities will neither ensure awareness nor promote grassroots-level research.

There is a dire need to develop viable mechanisms for the dissemination of results of climate-related research among researchers, district administration, its affiliate relevant departments and communities for effective anticipatory climate action. The scientists and scholars working in the domain must advocate for and develop datasets and devise open-use policies.

The writers work for the Department of Governance & Global Studies at Information Technology University

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