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March 18, 2017

Perils of climate change


March 18, 2017

The meteorological department in Islamabad has announced that climate change will strongly impact spring in Pakistan. The highest temperature recorded in the capital in March was 25 degrees Celsius. It is expected that spring will cease to exist in the future. What does this mean for our future?

This much-needed, albeit late, warning is crucial to push the government to introduce legislation and the public to take immediate action. There is a lack of media coverage and discussion on the matter. Though Pakistan itself contributes to only one percent of global warming, it will be one of the first and hardest-hit countries of the global south – with Bangladesh already affected by the rapid rise in sea level and flooding.

The increase in global temperatures is likely to be between two to 5.4 degrees Celsius over the next century. An increase of 0.8 degree Celsius over the last year speaks volumes about the steady rise in global temperatures. The top 10 warmest years occurred after 1990. This coincided with the economic and technologic boom, with annual increases in precipitation, snowfall and record-breaking temperatures.

Those who argue that the recent hailstorm in Lahore or the snowfall in Murree is proof enough to deny the existence of global warming, could not be more deluded. Global warming does not only mean an increase in temperatures. Instead, it denotes a change in the system of the natural weather pattern – hence the term ‘climate change’. Intense, erratic and previously unobserved cyclones and storms are clear-cut signs that there is a change in the system.

The dreadful floods of 2010, 2014 and 2015 in Pakistan bear testament to this belief. Such calamitous floods have not occurred in the nation’s history. Tharparkar has been experiencing a prolonged drought for the past three years that has claimed many lives – primarily those of malnourished children (official statistics on the matter remain unavailable). The trouble does not end there. These catastrophes destroy crops, decrease the availability of hygienic water, kill both people and animals and begin the onset of disease.

Pakistan is home to an estimated 190 million people, according to the UN, and its population is growing at an annual rate of 1.89 percent. As the population increased, more demands will be imposed on finite and depleting resources. Cities of Pakistan are expanding and the urban sprawl has exacerbated pollution levels, deforestation, habitat fragmentation and increased demands on energy reserves.

Around 80 percent of the electricity in Pakistan is provided by burning fossil fuels such as oil and gas. Not only are these reserves being exhausted but the problem is also being further aggravated. Increased fossil fuel combustion adds to greenhouse gas emissions. Air conditioners and the gaseous spew emitted from generators also add to these emissions. Increased heatwaves create a greater demand for energy consumption which subsequently leads to greater demands for the main sources of energy in the country: oil and gas.

The birds and the bees are finely attuned to their surroundings and habitats. They depend on the natural changes in the weather to survive. The weather is what controls their breeding seasons, the temperatures they are adapted to and the wind patterns they use for flight. However, climate change is altering everything they depend upon. Their habitats are shrinking and life as they know it is severely threatened, leaving life as humans know it threatened.

Without the birds and bees, there will be no more pollination of the crops and vegetation that we rely on, no checks and balances on soil erosion or water salinity, no transpiration which brings timely rainfall, no fertile soil, no biodiversity and no control over pests. The impact on a single species of plants or animals has devastating consequences for other species that depend on it.

Disastrous droughts, which might expand to 70 percent of the land in several decades, are expected if we continue with business as usual. The effects are already evident. Australia experienced a 10-year-long drought at the beginning of this century and now their famous fruit bats have dropped dead from a recent heatwave. Over 700 of them have died within the span of a weekend.

The Maldives is the first sacrificial lamb of this century as it will soon drown into the rising sea. As all these problems arise and the global population continues to grow, more violence and even war will break out over the demand for resources.

Ecosystems have often proved to be resilient to human damage and capable of healing themselves. But strong action must be taken to revert the system to its natural trajectory. The recent international agreement at COP21 and COP22 that aims to reduce global temperatures by two degrees Celsius below pre-industrial levels through nationally-determined contributions (NDCs) are all the more paramount. But just the fact that Pakistan is a signatory is not enough. It must begin ardent measures to draft and implement its NDCs.

The Paris Agreement created a steady flow of finances to the developing world that we must take advantage of. Developed countries have committed to mobilise $100 billion annually towards this end. With a renowned climate change denier sitting at the helm of international politics (Donald Trump), it has become even more imperative for the global south to rally together and put pressure on the international community to work towards these goals.

For Pakistan to have an audible voice in the international community, it must begin setting precedents. The phrase ‘think globally, act locally’ should be the maxim of our time. A nationwide awareness campaign must be initiated. Local communities must begin working towards ending deforestation and protecting crucial wildlife species. The extensive decarbonising of our major cities needs to be initiated along with proper urban planning and waste management.

Alternative energy solutions – such as solar and wind – need to be put in place. These can be established not for nationwide but community levels at the onset. China – a country we have strong ties with – can be relied upon for support as they have broken barriers in producing green technology. Reducing the implications of global warming is not only imperative, it is possible.


The writer has a master’s degree in
environmental conservation from New York University.