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August 15, 2019

Human damage


August 15, 2019

The United Nations (UN) Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has delivered its most ominous warning yet on the risks of climate change. Its latest climate assessment has focused on the urgent need to reverse unsustainable farming practices and deforestation. The focus of the report is on the damage human action has done to the land we live off. Not only does the world need to protect tropical forests as a bulkwark against global warming, we must reverse the damage we have done to the land we live off through industrial farming practices. This is why the report claims that humanity could soon face a trade-off between food security and halting the impact of climate change – unless action is taken now to curb unsustainable ways of using land. The UN panel has talked about ‘sweeping changes’, not gradual action, in the design of our food systems. Land can either be a source of greenhouse gas emissions or a sink for them. The warming up of the permafrost in the Arctic has the potential to release much of the greenhouse gas trapped underneath the soil. Industrial agriculture alone is responsible for so much greenhouse gas emissions that experts have claimed it is oil, not soil, that is running our food systems.

This means that land is getting warmer quicker than the oceans. Reducing emissions from land is essential to averting more environmental damage. What is grown on land and in what way is crucial to whether it curbs or contributes to climate change. Forests, plants and soil store one-third of all man-made emissions. This could increase. On the other side, intensive exploitation of land resources produces high amounts of greenhouse gas as well as consuming 70 percent of the world’s freshwater supply. With the global population set to hit 10 billion in the middle of this century, the IPCC has warned that the issue of land management by governments, industry and farmers will be crucial to combatting or worsening climate change.

The detailed 1000-page report contains warnings for Pakistan. The PM’s adviser on climate change has reported that Pakistan will see more global warming than the world average. With Pakistan the seventh most vulnerable country in the face of climate change, it will need to act on its own. While the Sindh government has laudably moved to ban plastic bags, the bigger challenge of creating a sustainable and environmentally-friendly food system in Pakistan has not been addressed. Already, Pakistan’s agriculture has been suffering in recent years. The tree plantation campaign in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is closer to the type of measures needed, but the emergency is much more serious. Policies on urbanisation, agriculture and industrialisation must be redesigned to reflect Pakistan’s extreme vulnerability against climate change. Pakistan could lead the world’s fight against climate change if it wants.

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