Environmental SOS

Polar ice caps are melting so fast that per at least one study they are impacting rate of Earth’s rotation

By Editorial Board
June 06, 2024
A heap of plastic waste can be seen on the shore. — AFP/File

As the world marked World Environment Day, held annually on June 5 since 1973, the environment is likely in greater peril than ever before. Last year – 2023 – was the hottest year on record and there is an over 65 per cent chance that 2024 will break the record. The polar ice caps are melting so fast that per at least one study they are actually impacting the rate of the Earth’s rotation. Up to 40 per cent of the world’s land is now considered degraded, directly impacting around half of the global population. If current trends continue, the UN estimates that droughts will affect over 75 per cent of the world’s population by 2050. Hence the theme of World Environment Day 2024: Our land. Our future. We are #GenerationRestoration, which aims to draw attention towards land restoration, halting desertification and building drought resilience. All three of these issues are particularly pertinent for developing countries in the Global South like Pakistan. Last year, experts claimed that environmental degradation costs Pakistan Rs365 billion per year in the form of water supply, sanitation and hygiene issues, agricultural soil degradation, indoor pollution, urban air pollution, lead exposure and land degradation and deforestation. This figure will reportedly rise to Rs450 billion if urgent remedial measures are not taken. Meanwhile, environmental experts also estimate that up to 62 million hectares out of the around 80 million hectares of land in Pakistan are vulnerable to desertification.

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The country’s ongoing heatwave, which has seen temperatures rise above 52 degrees Celsius in some areas, is a sign of what is to come should environmental degradation and, as a result, global warming continue at its current pace. As more and more land becomes bereft of water, unsuitable for farming and generally inhospitable, Pakistan’s abysmally low living standards will plummet even further. Those having a hard time imagining this should consider what life would be like if our urban areas were even more crowded, the house prices even more unaffordable, the hot weather and expensive electricity bills more permanent, the air less breathable and the water supply even more polluted and inconsistent. These will be the likely results of continued failure to deal with the environmental crisis.

Actions on the home front such as reforestation, containing urban sprawl, sustainable water use, modern agriculture and a shift towards renewable energy are imperative. That being said, the environment is global and does not recognize any borders. Without a shared international commitment and cooperation to ensure environmental preservation and restoration, countries are unlikely to make much headway in improving their environment in isolation. This not only means countries setting higher environmental standards and more stringent protection laws but also for countries contributing most to climate change to take more ownership of the problem. With COP29 about five months away, it is necessary for the developed countries of the Global North to boost the thus far paltry contributions to the Loss and Damage fund established at COP28. Beyond remedial payments, the West must also enact more proactive legislation to restrain their companies from using the developing world as a dumping ground for their polluting activities.

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