Wednesday October 27, 2021

Climate change and us

July 12, 2021

“There is no going back - no matter what we do now, it's too late to avoid climate change and the poorest, the most vulnerable, those with the least security, are now certain to suffer.”

These are the words of the worlds’ most renowned naturalist Sir David Attenborough who was speaking at the UN earlier this year. There is a consensus now in the world that the threat of climate change is real. It is also very clear that the hardest hit places are (and going to be) the ones that are underdeveloped, and least prepared for this huge crisis looming upon them.

The impact of climate change is far-reaching and comes in many shapes and forms. The surface temperature of the earth has increased about 1.2 degree Celsius since the pre-industrial level and research institutes around the globe are predicting this increase to rapidly accelerate, up to 4 Celsius, in the coming decades. The rise in temperature level is having a significant impact on weather patterns across continents and these changing weather patterns are resulting in a significant increase in heatwaves, floods and droughts, affecting communities and livelihoods.

The rise in surface temperature is also resulting in higher sea levels, destroying coastal communities. There is also a very strong connection of climate change and air and water pollution, costing lives at an alarming rate. The scarcity of fresh water is also an eminent consequence of rapid changes in our climate.

Pakistan, home to over 220 million people, is at greater risk from the consequential impact of climate change than ever before. Poor infrastructure to tackle climate related concerns in urban areas and the complete lack of it in rural areas creates a catastrophic environment. A vast majority of people living in rural areas depend heavily on their agricultural and livestock produce. Any minor shift in weather patterns and the resulting consequences (such as food, water and shelter shortages) are fundamentally disastrous for their livelihoods. Poorly developed urbanized areas are also likely to be hit hard. These heavily populated areas are already under a huge strain from poverty, heatwaves, and many other infrastructure related issues, such as poor housing quality and access to clean drinking water.

The issue of access, management and depletion of fresh water is an especially important area of concern for Pakistan. The need for fresh water is growing exponentially with each passing day and any further deterioration in the freshwater supply can be catastrophic. Fresh water is vital for our rural areas that are heavily dependent on this precious resource for their agricultural and livestock produce. Rapid growth of our urban areas also means demand for fresh water continues to outstrip supply.

There is also an urgent need to focus on reforestation, protection and restoration of ecosystems, conservation of our other precious natural resources and developing environmentally sustainable food practices. Our huge and further growing population puts a massive strain on our already finite resources. There is a massive need for increased investment in various environment-enabling infrastructure projects throughout the country.

The world’s developed nations and global funding institutions are engaged in vigorous talks on the challenges posed by climate change and are actively trying to find ways to reduce its impact. How successful these talks will be, only time will tell. However, what seems to be apparent from these discussions is the desire to help developing nations better deal with the consequences of climate change.

The 2008 Human Development Report (UNDP 2007-2008) outlines the inherent injustice such nations are facing. Despite historically being the smallest contributors to the problem, they are the least well placed to confront climate change and are therefore likely to suffer the most severe consequences from it. At present, and appearing to be increasing with time, there is a massive drive at government level and other forums to help the underprivileged nations so that they can deal or mitigate the impact of climate change eventualities.

It is vital therefore that as a country we move away from absent mindedness and become actively engaged in this narrative. At the diplomatic/government front, we need to convince the world's leading developed industrial nations and international funding institutions that we require substantial financial and technological support to build an environment enabling infrastructure and climate smart practices.

More importantly there is a need to raise awareness among the general public of the importance of conserving our natural world. This requires a holistic and multifaceted approach. We must start spreading this important message through targeted campaigns at educational institutions and within communities, so that we better prepare future generations to be socially and environmentally responsible.

The role of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) is very important here. In Pakistan, a number of these organizations, both national and transnational, are playing a key part in this regard. One such example is that of WWF Pakistan, a glimmer of hope when the need of such actions is dire. Their key priorities encompass freshwater programmes to sustainable food practices, and from oceans marine life to conservation of various endangered species. They are actively engaged across Pakistan. They help government departments in scientific measurements, capacity building of their personnel and evaluation & monitoring of their projects. They have also been very active in educating and (re)training communities and raising awareness of environmentally sustainable living practices throughout the country.

Given the crises we are currently facing, it is imperative that the government support the work of these NGOs and provide assistance to them in all forms possible. The crisis is enormous, and it requires a collective effort to deliver at this front. There is a dire need for the government and NGOs to take partnership in these projects. The world has to see that we are a responsible member of the global community, and we care about our people and society, and we about our planet and future generations.

The writer is an academic and works for the University of Durham.