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Thursday December 09, 2021

Uncertain future

October 12, 2021

Climate change, a harsh reality that remained subjected to years of denial, has now become one of the biggest crises of the 21st century. Its effects will be devastating for life around the globe if it is left neglected. The increased frequency of flash floods, massive earthquakes, prolonged droughts and other natural disasters are some of the glaring effects of climate change, which have resulted in a plethora of problems for almost all countries.

The fast pace of climate change causes worry. Greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide, have risen dramatically over the last few decades. Previously, carbon dioxide levels had hovered around 300 parts per million (ppm). According to Nasa, these amounts have now reached “at their highest”, at 417ppm.

This alarming fact is one of the reasons why pretty much all informed individuals are concerned about climate change and are calling on their respective governments and international communities to take appropriate measures in order to tackle it effectively, in a timely manner. The governments as well as the global community have set certain goals that ought to be achieved within particular timeframes. Also, international organisations such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a UN body, and Nasa are also working to tackle climate change.

It was against this backdrop that shortly after coming to power, PM Imran Khan launched the 10 Billion Tree Tsunami programme in 2018. It is one of the largest reforestation projects, and it sets out to plant 10 billion trees during the government’s five-year-long tenure with the objectives of reviving forest and wildlife resources and slowing down the pace of climate change.

Pakistan also aims at cutting carbon emissions by reducing its dependence on fossil fuels. To achieve this, the country plans to switch to renewable energy sources. It also intends to decarbonise transportation in the near future by replacing conventional vehicles with electric vehicles.

These undertakings and programmes are justified given the fact that Pakistan is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change, although it makes a negligible contribution to it. According to a Global Climate Risk Index report, Pakistan ranks at the fifth position on the list of the most vulnerable countries.

Pakistan’s climate change concerns include sea intrusion, variability of monsoon rains, melting glaciers, depleting water reservoirs, torrential rains and droughts. Almost all of these problems have started rearing their ugly heads: the sea is encroaching millions of acres of land and monsoon patterns are changing. For instance, Karachi received around 484 millimetres (19 inches) rain in August 2020, which is the highest rainfall record in the last 90 years, in Karachi.

Given Pakistan’s vulnerability to climate change, the ambitions and actions of the government against climate change are mildly encouraging. However, it has a long way to go in order to completely mitigate the negative impacts of climate change. Unfortunately, it has ignored the fact that people lack climate change awareness. What’s more disturbing is the fact that creating this awareness is not the government’s top priority.

Only a handful people are aware of this threat. A majority of people, unfortunately, have no idea what climate change is and how it will impact our lives. They are unable to figure out why the global annual temperature is surging unprecedentedly and why natural calamities such as acute droughts, torrential rains and massive floods have become frequent. They haven’t been able to notice the root cause behind these incidents.

Independent research has also revealed that farmers, who are affected by global warming, are also unaware of the phenomenon. Their actions also add to it. They burn crop residues and cut trees in their fields as some of these trees affect the growth of the crops that lie under their shade. They do so to ensure a high crop yield. Undoubtedly, these actions do result in some short-term benefits like increased crop production. However, they are quite harmful in the long run because burning residual crop and cutting trees on a large-scale release tonnes of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane. These problems spill over to other developing countries like India too.

Pakistan has a large segment of population, around 62 percent, that lives in rural areas. If these people are taken on board, they can play a vital role in tackling climate change. The main problem is that if people cannot understand the seriousness of climate change, how can they be expected to take action against it?

The majority of these people lack awareness about the importance of trees. To them plants are just for shade and wood, and in some cases fruit. They remain unaware of the mechanism involved in the absorption of carbon dioxide and the release of oxygen, in plants.

The state can create awareness among them by organising widespread campaigns, which should be aimed at educating people about the vitality of trees and discouraging the prevalent norms of their unscrupulous cutting by highlighting benefits associated with them. Also, people need to be motivated to protect and plant trees on their own so that Pakistan can achieve the internationally recommended forest cover of 12 percent – at present the country’s forest cover is five percent.

The government also needs to ensure that its tree tsunami programme manages to attract people’s attention for campaigns such as this cannot succeed without public participation.

The government should pass stringent laws to tackle the problem of unchecked tree cutting. This will help put an end to rapid deforestation. The swift and appropriate action should be ensured against perpetrators who are involved in cutting trees. Before expanding the forests or creating new ones it, is necessary to protect the existing ones.

Climate change is a serious issue. If it continues to be ignored, it can result in serious repercussions for the entire world, for it does not respect borders.

The writer is a freelance contributor.