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Tuesday June 25, 2024

What’s the climate like?

Global North – world’s most affluent countries – is responsible for half of total emissions since Industrial Revolution

By Murtaza Talpur
May 27, 2024
A displaced girl carries a bottle of water she filled from nearby stranded flood-waters, as her family takes refuge in a camp, in Sehwan on September 30, 2022. — Reuters
A displaced girl carries a bottle of water she filled from nearby stranded flood-waters, as her family takes refuge in a camp, in Sehwan on September 30, 2022. — Reuters

Climate change is happening at an accelerated rate, causing economic, human and ecological losses globally. One of the main reasons for global warming is the emission of greenhouse gases (GHGs).

The Global North – the world’s most affluent countries – is responsible for around half of the total emissions since the Industrial Revolution. While the Global South – the least developed countries – contributes far less to global warming, it is severely affected.

Asian countries are greatly affected due to climate change. According to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the annual mean temperature over Asia in 2023 was 0.91 Celsius. Over the past four decades, glaciers in high-mountain Asia (MHA) have lost significant mass. Since 1982 oceans in Asia have demonstrated a high trend of warming. Through 2023, 80 per cent of reported hydrometeorological hazards in Asia were floods and storms.

In Asia, Pakistan is one of the most climate-hit countries. According to the Global Climate Risk Index Report, Pakistan ranks eighth in terms of climate vulnerability. In the last three decades, major climate-induced events have played havoc across the country.

The recent floods in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (February and April 2024) have left people even more vulnerable, besides damaging standing crops. More rain is expected in the coming monsoon. Therefore, relevant organizations and government institutes should be prepared beforehand.

Pakistan has witnessed the following major climate-related events in the past three decades: unprecedented rains and floods in 1992/93; the 1995 heavy monsoon rains that caused more damage to humans; cyclone in Pakistan’s coastal areas in 1999; and an earthquake in 2001.

In addition, Sindh was severely affected when above-normal monsoon rainfall caused flooding in 2003; it caused urban flooding in Karachi where two days of rainfall of 284.5 millimeters led to large-scale destruction in the city, whereas District Thatta was the worst hit where 404 millimetres of rain caused flash floods. At least 484 people were killed and some 4,476 villages in the province were affected.

In 2007, torrential rains wreaked havoc in KP, Sindh and Balochistan. In the same year, coastal areas in Sindh and Balochistan were shaken by Cyclone Yemyin.

The 2005 earthquake in Azad Jammu and Kashmir, the 2010/11 super floods, and the 2022 torrential rains affected a total of 33 million people. Incidents like heavy showers and floods in 2016; flash floods in Karachi in 2017; and an extreme heatwave in 2015, where over 65,000 people were hospitalized with heat stroke will forever remind people of the severe effects of climate change.

The country has also dealt with major droughts. Sindh faced the worst drought situation in 1999, 2003, 2020 and 2021. According to the PDMA, during 1999-2001, Pakistan witnessed the most severe drought which affected 1.4 million people, 5.6 million cattle, and 12.5 million acres of cropped area. Between October 2020 and March 2021, the impact of La Nina caused below-normal rainfall in drought-prone areas of Sindh.

According to the World Bank Group, climate and weather-related disasters in Pakistan between 1992 and 2021 resulted in a total of about $30 billion of economic losses from damage to property, agriculture and livestock, and this is equivalent to 11.1 per cent of the 2020 GDP. The 2022 torrential rains and flooding caused more than $40 billion in economic damages.

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, agriculture is highly exposed and vulnerable to natural disasters like floods that cause major harvest and livestock losses. I happened to recently visit the coastal areas of Sindh. Once fertile lands are now completely barren and deserted. While interrogating, a farmer told “I remember we used to harvest tomatoes, sugarcane, wheat, onion and rice crop in our field, but now the land is saline. We hardly harvest paddy crop.”

This is because of sea-intrusion, and sea-level rise has turned fertile lands in the coastal districts of Pakistan into deserts.

Agriculture employs 26 per cent of the population, particularly those from poor and vulnerable households. The sector has been plummeting due to land degradation, overuse of chemical inputs, water shortages, and lack of research. By 2050, yields are projected to drop by 50 per cent. This situation further exacerbates food security and intensifies malnutrition in children and pregnant and lactating women, inviting another human disaster.

Pakistan needs to repurpose environmentally damaging subsidies and promote climate-smart and regenerative agriculture and livestock systems. Farmers should switch to more water-efficient crops or better target water in irrigation, rather than use methods like flooding fields.

Water resources are highly affected due to climate change. Pakistan is already facing extreme water scarcity challenges; climate has exacerbated it. Climate-related incidents such as flooding or cyclones destroy water management infrastructure, pollute drinking water, limit the supply of water, and spread waterborne diseases. To combat this challenge, Pakistan needs to improve its water management mechanism and WASH systems – which is the leading driver of food insecurity, child stunting, malnutrition – and reduce its high fertility rates.

Climate will keep changing; we need to be more resilient and adaptable to it. As Pakistan’s urban population is likely to reach 60 per cent by 2050, the current high exposure to climate impacts requires an earnest action. To make cities become more livable, urgent reforms are needed such as integrated land use planning, boosting investments in municipal services and prioritizing energy efficiency and clean transportation. For this transformation, strong municipal governance and the expansion of city finances via property taxation are vital.

The Global North has a huge responsibility to save the planet by taking mitigation measures. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions and extending climate financing to the Global South for adapting to the evolving climate is not merely an option, but a fundamental necessity.

The writer is an assistant director, Climate Change Adaptation at the Pakistan Red Crescent Society (PRCS), Islamabad.