Climate Change and Climate Action (SDG 13) – A Case of Pakistan

Al Gore, the former Vice President of the USA in his book An Inconvenient truth in 2006 showed the world that Global Warming and subsequently Climate Change is the single most dangerous intervention of human activity on natural climate fluctuations and therefore, if not mitigated and taken seriously by governments and industry alike, would spell disaster for the human race. SDG 13 is about Climate Action in order to mitigate the adverse effects of climate change and global warming. Goal 13 has given a CODE RED Warning and states, “Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts”. UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) document states “2019 was the second warmest year on record and the end of the warmest decade (2010- 2019) ever recorded. Carbon dioxide (CO2) levels and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere rose to new records in 2019. Climate change is affecting every country on every continent. It is disrupting national economies and affecting lives. Weather patterns are changing, sea levels are rising, and weather events are becoming more extreme”. And further states that “The Paris Agreement, adopted in 2015, aims to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The agreement also aims to strengthen the ability of countries to deal with the impacts of climate change, through appropriate financial flows, a new technology framework and an enhanced capacity building framework”.

If Climate Action does not revert global warming, then many scientific reports estimate that by 2050, temperatures could rise by 3°C in the next thirty years, which would cause sea levels to rise all over the world.

Pakistan is a frontline country that is affected by climate Change and Global warming, although from no fault of its own. In 1990 Pakistan’s total Carbon (CO2) emissions were a little above 0.5 metric tons per capita, while in 2019 these emissions reached 0.8 metric tons per capita when the world average is a constant at 4.47 metric tons per capita, but the impact of world warming on Pakistan is that our glaciers are melting at a fast rate creating lakes in the valley below that have devastated the settlements, grazing pastures and agricultural land downhill, forcing villagers to move to higher, but less fertile lands. When these lakes burst their banks there are flash floods that take away humans and animals alike. The melting of glaciers also means less water in the rivers and in the dams. It also means more water every year is falling into the sea creating a sea rise that encroaches on the land forcing villages around the coasts to move inland. Diminishing mangrove forests also do not help the coastal villages from sea erosion and encroachments. Freshwater gets mixed with seawater, resulting in diminished freshwater resources around the coastline. Climate migrants are increasing in the country.

Climate change has resulted in prolonged droughts in Sindh and other areas where it has become difficult to plant agricultural produce for the local population. According to the ‘Global Land Outlook’ report released by the United Nations, “Pakistan is among 23 countries which are facing drought emergencies over the past two years (2020-2022)”. “This shrank the area that could be used for growing crops. “Reduction of the area over which wheat and cotton are grown is linked with a shortage of water during sowing”. Zulfiqar Kunbhar wrote, “The majority of Pakistan’s second-most populous and agriculture-dependent province of Sindh was declared “Calamity-hit” on 23 August. With torrential monsoon rain falling across Pakistan in the aftermath of a devastating heatwave, Sindh’s wheat harvest is down by nearly 20%. Experts say the disaster shows that the problems caused by climate change are growing, and adaptation initiatives in agriculture are needed urgently”.

The velocity of the recent monsoon rain has created an unprecedented flood situation in Pakistan. A large part of the country was seriously affected by these floods that left mass destruction in its path. Whole villages (80% of houses in Pakistan) were washed away leaving no trace of the settlement behind. More than 3,500 people lost their lives, and 33 million were left homeless. 8,00,000 officially registered internal refugees living in makeshift tents. 1,460 health facilities have been affected. Education for 3.5 million children has been interrupted. Tens of thousands of people are affected by diarrhoea, malaria, acute respiratory infections, skin and eye infections and typhoid. Croplands were destroyed and would remain underwater for years to come due to a lack of governmental support that should have helped mitigate from dangers of floods. Roads and bridges and other infrastructure were swept away.

“Two thousand kilometres of road and 98 bridges were damaged or destroyed over the past week, for a total of over 5,000 km and 243 bridges damaged or destroyed in the last 2.5 months”. Thousands of cattle and other farm animals have washed away, not to mention the adverse effect on bio-diversity that lived in these parts of the country. It is estimated that Pakistan’s economy has suffered up to US $ 30 billion and the infrastructure rebuilding requirements are US $ 10, billion. Although the development budget of the federal government is US$ 9 billion and can be redistributed towards infrastructural rebuilding.

The long-term effect of the deluge would be food shortages, a lack of raw materials for the industry thus increasing the cost of living for common people that were already under the burden of inflation that has reached 43% and COVID-19 and now floods, not to mention callousness and mismanagement by provincial administrations as well as National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) in Pakistan. According to the Report on Pakistan’s flood from 27 August to 2 September 2022, “The number of destroyed houses doubled since last week to over 436,000, with Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces most affected. Eight more districts were declared ‘calamity hit’ by the Government of Pakistan, bringing the total to 80 districts in five provinces. Some 1,600 km of roads were damaged or destroyed in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa within weeks. As for the sensation and danger of waterborne diseases in Pakistan the news that is coming out of the food-stricken areas is not good. According to the UN Office coordinating Human Affairs, “Preliminary information indicates major damage to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) infrastructure. Initial estimates are that some 20 per cent of water systems are damaged in KP, around 30 per cent in Baluchistan, and up to 50 per cent in the hardest-hit areas of Sindh and Punjab. Access to safe drinking water is a significant concern, and communities are increasingly resorting to open defecation, heightening the risk of water and sanitation-related diseases. Cases of diarrhoea and water-borne diseases, respiratory infection, and skin diseases have already been reported”.

It is pertinent to note here that, the first recorded super flood was witnessed in Pakistan in 1950, followed by 1955, 1956, 1957, 1959, 1973, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1981, 1983, 1984, 1988, 1992,

1994, 1995 and then every year since 2010 – which also saw the worst flood in the country’s history. And now the devastating floods of 2022.

Although the Country’s Climate Ministry both under PTI’s government with MNA Ms. Sartaj Gull as a minister and now in PDM’s government with senator, Ms. Sherry Rehman as minister is working hard to find ways to address the challenges posed by Climate Change, till such time Pakistan transform its transport system to more environmentally friendly local energy resources and allow people to commute by busses and other means of mass transport rather than the influx of luxury cars driven by imported fossil fuels and force the industry to change to greener technologies as well as other mitigating measures that would reduce the country’s dependence on foreign fossil fuels we cannot manage our carbon emissions.

Tree plantation and hydel power for electricity production would go a long way in mitigating the adverse effects of climate change. One of the problems that Pakistan faces is cross-border pollution because two of its neighbours – China and India are the world’s biggest polluters of the atmosphere because of their rapid industrialization and because of their burning of coal for their energy needs that do not help Pakistan clean up its air quality. Lahore has been rated among the 10 most polluted cities in the world. The government of Pakistan needs to start a dialogue with both its neighbours in an attempt to make them reduce pollutive practices in order to reduce the adverse effects of global warming and climate change. In short Industry, communities, governments and the international community, especially neighbouring countries have to pitch in to help mitigate the impact of climate change otherwise human race is in danger of becoming an endangered species in the near future.

Dr Qais Aslam, a former chairman of the Department of Economics at the Govt College University of Lahore, is now Professor of Economics at the University of Central Punjab in Lahore. With 36 years of teaching and research experience, he is author of two books and numerous research articles on Pakistan’s economy and a regular participant in TV talk shows on socio-political and economic issues. He can be reached at dr.qais@ucp.edu.pk and on Twitter @drqais4.

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