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Climate of threats


August 3, 2017

Much has already been written about Trump and his withdrawal from the Paris Accord. “Pittsburgh over Paris” has been the pitch of the mongers while “Earth over Economy” has been the cry of the dissidents. Opinions on the matter are, as always, varied. And yet, we rarely mention the war that Trump’s decision seems to have stoked. It’s a war that most developing nations have unknowingly been on the frontline of for a better part of the last three decades: the war against climate change.

Situated on the Equator, to the south of the Tropic of Cancer, the war against climate change had been thrust upon Pakistan ever since the earliest pieces of evidence forecasted the epidemic in 1958. The curse of the fossil fuel-powered progress of the world has haunted Pakistan along with other countries with a similar geography and atmosphere since the 1980s. The scars are visible for the world to see. With time, the curse of climate change has become no less than a nightmare – a calamity that has proved catastrophic on various occasions.

Greenhouse gases, the waste product of fossil fuel energy sources, prevent heat from escaping the earth’s atmosphere and warm up our planet in the process. Since Pakistan lies in the tropical part of the globe, the effects of this phenomenon have been accentuated. In 2009, the Pakistan Meteorological Department reported that the country’s annual mean temperature had increased by 0.47 degrees Centigrade in the latter half of the 20th century. The ultimate manifestation of this rise in temperature was observed in the summer of 2010, which was the hottest summer in the entire recorded history of Asia. Such surges in temperatures have caused the Himalayan glaciers to melt at an abnormal rate. The floods of 2010 and 2011 were a result of this process.

Floods in Pakistan have become such a frequent occurrence that a vast majority of the population often turns a blind eye to it while those affected by the calamity duly evacuate – in an annual routine – without waiting for a warning. People are still getting accustomed to the novelty of the summer heatwaves, which led to about 700 casualties in Karachi in 2015.

The threat is not merely limited to floods and heat waves. A report issued by the National Institute of Oceanography in 2015 suggested that three of the coastal cities of Pakistan – Karachi, Thatta and Badin – will be completely engulfed by the persistent rise in sea level by the year 2060. Considering the importance of these three cities to Pakistan’s economy –especially Karachi – it wouldn’t be a mistake to suggest that climate change could potentially alter the geography of Pakistan and adversely affect the economy as well.

Rising temperatures have caused the winters to be milder and shorter. A direct result of this has been the continuously diminishing yield per acre of wheat – Pakistan’s chief Rabi crop – while the plummeting fresh water reserves have already sounded alarm bells. When you add the ever-increasing population to the scenario, a synthetic famine appears to be an undeniable probability in the near future.

Floods, heatwaves, the potential loss of land and a synthetic famine suggest that Pakistan is likely to face dire consequences. Under such a scenario, the country is rightly putting its eggs in the basket of clean energy. Projects like the Quaid-e-Azam Solar Energy Park reflect our commitment to the cause. The fact that we are among the limited list of countries producing 1,000 megawatts or more of clean energy is a feat in itself as Pakistan is a developing country that experiences severe shortfalls in the power sector.

The real challenge is to make renewable energy both available and affordable. The fact that the reins of clean energy are in the hands of greedy businessmen instead of entrepreneurs has made it a luxury that is well out of the capacity of the majority.

At the same time, mass investments in coal-powered stations under CPEC seem to counter Pakistan’s surge forward in clean energy. However, they also suggest that Pakistan is no utopia.

Coal-powered stations are the cheapest investments when it comes to the power sector as their harvests can be reaped in the short-term. With the elections coming up next year, an increasing investment in coal power is appears to be understandable. The lack of political will and economic bottlenecks are the major challenges that prevent Pakistan from tapping into its true potential of renewable energy.

Boarding the revolutionary clean energy bandwagon is Pakistan’s escape from the curse of climate change – or so it appears be. Pakistan’s adversity lies in the fact that most of its problems related to climate change are out of its hands. Heavy investment in clean energy seems to be a distant dream, especially in light of the economic constraints in the country. However, even if Pakistan was hypothesised to go 100 percent clean on energy and make the shift almost instantly, it would still have a negligible impact on the challenges that the country confronts.

Pakistan ranks among the countries with the lowest per capita carbon footprint, with a value of mere 0.8 metric tonnes. It is comparatively more responsible than many other countries in this regard. When you couple this with the fact that the Global Climate Risk Index (CRI) has ranked Pakistan as the seventh country that is heavily exposed to the whims of Mother Nature, the circumstances that Pakistan finds itself in seem to be both severe and unfortunate.

So, when Donald Trump withdrew from the Paris Accord, he is actually withdrew from taking the responsibility of his nation’s progress and leaving countries like Pakistan to pay the price for it every day. It is the poor and vulnerable who are suffering for the comforts and progress that the first world enjoys. The principles of justice would suggest the need for a game of tit for tat. But geography has compelled Mother Nature to begin her havoc from the parts least equipped for it: the third world.

While the problem might be evident in equatorial countries today, climate change is likely to have an impact across the globe. From the exaggerated melting of ice in the Arctic to the frequent wildfires in the US, Mother Nature’s warning signs are for all to see and fear. Unless the mega polluters mend their ways and put accords and conventions into practice, nobody’s future is secure. Climate change might be seen by many as the developing world’s problem today. But Mother Nature will find her way around soon enough. She always does.


The writer is a freelance contributor.