Sunday December 10, 2023

Time to tackle climate change

August 14, 2022

Climate change is not a new phenomenon. It disrupted many societies; from the decline of the Tang dynasty in China in the 10th century and the decline of Mayan civilisation around 900 A.D to the reshaping of settlements before the common era in Africa. Even the Indus Valley Civilisation is believed to have displaced due to climate related reasons. These societies didn’t zip around the world on airplanes, neither did they spew millions of tons of CO2 in the atmosphere like we do today. In spite of this, just by merely existing, these early civilisations faced consequences of climate change. Climate Change knows no borders. It is a transnational issue, which has speeded up recently due to the towering increase in anthropogenic activities. It has destabilised countries and regions, and ultimately threatened global security. The impact of climate change may seem sluggish, but it is changing lives across the world and exacerbating social and political conflicts.

Third world countries are the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, as such; the climate breakdown will indiscriminately strike Pakistan. Around 75 years ago, at the time of Pakistan’s creation, our founding fathers were not worried about climate change; they strived for an equal and just society. Today, globalisation and climate change have altogether altered the discourse of justice and equality. Non-traditional security challenges are more disastrous for Pakistan’s economy, stability, and security than traditional ones. The flooded Balochistan is a live image of misery that demonstrates what climate change is capable of; it has worsened the living conditions of people of an already stressed and underprivileged province.

According to the Climate Risk Index (CRI), Pakistan is among the top 10 most vulnerable countries in terms of the effects of climate change over the past two decades. Climate disasters like heatwaves, tsunamis, GLOFs (glacial lake outburst floods) and flash floods not only take innocent lives but also hatch new social, political, and economic issues by disrupting the equilibrium over already scarce resources. In Pakistan, climate change has heightened conflicts and disparity not only because of limited resources, but also due to political grievances and tensions in the overly polarised society of the country.

Climate change has emerged as a matter of national emergency for Pakistan. It has altered the availability of water and caused terrible heatwaves. This year, Pakistan encountered an atrocious heatwave with the temperatures exceeding 120 °F in many parts of the country. The unexpected heatwave in the subcontinent disregarded the spring and caused the season of summer to come before time. About 65 people died nationwide from heat strokes. On May 8, a massive Glacial Lake Outburst Flood (GLOF) occurred in the Hunza district of Gilgit Baltistan, displacing 22 families and causing infrastructural damage.

The Indus River originating at the Karakoram glaciers in the Western Himalayas is the backbone of Pakistan’s hydrological and agriculture system. A huge runoff from the melting of glaciers makes up one-third flow of the Indus River, with snow and ice contributing to the remaining two-thirds. Now, massive shrinkage in Indus in the wheat-growing season (November, December) is inevitable. The Indus and its tributaries are needed to fulfill the irrigation needs of the country since direct rainfalls contribute to less than 15 percent of our total irrigation needs. In 1951, surface the water availability was 5,260 cubic meters per person; it shrank to 1,038 cubic meters in 2010, and is expected to decrease to 800 cubic meters by 2025. This means that the country is water scarce. The water crises in Pakistan has impacted both the agricultural and economic sector. Pakistan is a predominantly an agrarian society, comprised mostly of arid and semi-arid land area. The agriculture sector constitutes the country’s single largest economic sector; contributing approximately 23 percent to the country’s GDP and employs 44 percent of the workforce. Moreover, 65 percent of Pakistan’s foreign exchange is earned by the export of goods manufactured from raw materials acquired from the agricultural sector. The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UN-ESCAP) report, “Pathways to Adaptation and Resilience in South and Southwest Asia” indicated that Pakistan will suffer estimated loses equaling 9.1 percent of its current GDP due to water shortage and the change in weather patterns.

The unavailability of water, along with the scorching heat, aggravated food insecurity, which can easily undermine peace and stability across the country. Punjab’s agricultural sector is central to Pakistan’s economy since it accounts for 73 percent of the country’s total food production.The heatwaves destroyed entire orchards and harmed wheat and rice production. This affected the livelihoods of many small farmers and rendered formerly arable lands throughout the country as unproductive. Pakistan is in the middle of a wheat crisis due to the Russia-Ukraine war and there was a reduction in domestic production by 10 percent this year. The Foreign Minister, Bilawal Bhutto, during his visit to the United States to attend the United Nations meeting on Food Security, highlighted that Pakistan is under threat of food, water and energy insecurity. These insecurities are not exaggerations; they are completely real for Pakistan, especially when combined with soaring inflation and continuous political instability. According to a report by Reuters, Pakistan, the fifth largest producer of mangoes, producing nearly 1.8 million tons each year, experienced a 50 percent decline in its mango production. This was the result of climate change and water shortage.

Three large dams built on River Indus (Mangla, Terbela, and Chashma) fulfill almost 30 percent of the nation’s power need. The reduction of water flow in the Indus Basin has left Pakistan’s hydropower infrastructure in disarray, unable to meet the country’s ever-growing power demand. Outages of 16-18 hours per day have induced discomfort and civil unrest, especially in regards to inefficient governmental policies that favor influential stakeholders. The distribution of water and power can also prove to be a source of contention between provinces.

Extreme variability in the pattern of rainfall increased the frequency of successive floods and droughts. This overwhelms the government, which is not fully capable of protecting its citizens while also maintaining order to tackle the dynamics of climate change. According to the figures released by National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), on August 05, 2022, “Flash floods caused by abnormally heavy monsoon rains killed at least 549 people (mostly women and children) in Pakistan over the past month, with remote communities in the impoverished southwestern province of Balochistan among the hardest hit. Aside from the fatalities, the flooding had damaged more than 46,200 houses, NDMA reported. These floods also damaged critical infrastructure like highways, bridges, and houses. Pakistan faced deadly floods in 2010, which displaced at least 3.2 million people, but authorities back then were also just as incapable of providing food and shelter to the internally displaced populace. Government incompetence has left major cities such as Karachi, the city most vulnerable to floods, defenseless to climatic havoc.

Sherani, Balochistan has one of the world’s largest scots pine and wild olive forests, expanding over thousands of hectares, and in the past three months, forest fires annihilated almost 40 percent of them. In fact, these wildfires wiped out nearly half of the 1.4% forest cover in the province as a whole. The pine forests of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa also faced two major fires. Global warming has devastating effects on mountain ecology, leaving several endangered animal and bird species under the risk of extinction. People living in this region are facing great emotional and social costs due to the mass displacement of animals and birds. The government is leading to the emergence of Hobbesian state of nature where man is at war against every other man over limited resources (According to the definition of Hobbesian Society, Hobbes “social contract theory”, a population to whom all individuals in that society cede some right for the sake of protection // Karl Mark’s “Conflict Theory”: society is in a state of perpetual conflict because of competition for limited resources // the author named the wrong theory here). However, timely actions can help us prevent the social and political order of the country from completely breaking down.

In 2015, a Net Zero Coalition to curb carbon emissions was signed between all countries that are members of the United Nations as part of the Paris Agreement. As such, Pakistan is also a signatory to the global move towards net zero emission. However, the top most tier of the government is not fully aware of the net zero concept, let alone substantial steps to curtail carbon pollution. Only a few countries with net zero commitments have legally formalised them into their law. The 2021 Glasgow Climate Pact is more of an emotional appeal to governments around the world to reevaluate their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to bring them in line with the 1.5 degrees Celsius goal of the Paris Agreement before the end of 2022. Pakistan needs to reevaluate its NDCs and judge whether they are workable according to the needs of its people. There is a dire need to create a balance between the green transition and the living needs of the people of the country. To achieve the goal of environmental protection, Pakistan has signed various international agreements, i.e., the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), 1994; Kyoto Protocol to UNFCCC, Paris Agreement, Montreal Protocol on Ozone Depleting Substances; Basel Convention on Biological Diversity, 1994; International Convention to Combat Desertification, 1994. As a signatory to Kyoto Protocol, Pakistan faces increasing pressure to reduce emissions from thermal power generation.

Pakistan is also a signatory (December 2020), to the Minamata Convention on Mercury, which is a multilateral environmental agreement that addresses specific human activities which are contributing to widespread mercury pollution. Implementation of this agreement will help reduce global mercury pollution over the coming decades. In a recent report, experts have emphasised the need for putting an end to toxic lighting under Minamata Convention on Mercury, as Pakistan can save $6.5 billion in electricity bills between 2020-50 with a shift toward LEDs. Similarly, climate mitigation strategies must include the Minamata Convention for the elimination of mercury’s use in various industries, especially related to beauty products.

As the number of days of the growing season are contracting, this climactic scenario urges Pakistan to allocate its resources efficiently. Pakistan needs to strengthen its national institutional framework and to diversify its stakeholders and research capacity. The recent $200 million support by World Bank is an encouragement for Pakistan to develop climate smart techniques for agriculture.We need to improve water usage in agriculture and use weather resistant crops. The government needs to undertake urgent reforestation programmes to help us in the long-run against climate change. The geography of Pakistan is such that it has great potential for renewable energy. The hot and sunny Thar is idle for solar power plants, whereas the North has great potential for hydropower. Climate change needs to be on the forefront of our political agenda with a proactive whole-of-government approach. If the issue of climate change is left unchecked, the repercussions of our inaction and negligence will foster greater turmoil and millions will have to struggle for survival.

-Rushan Bilal is an undergraduate student at the School of Politics and International Relations, QAU. She can be reached at