SENSITISING participants of the UN Climate Summit in New York last month about how Pakistan is suffering multiple natural disasters, adviser on national security and foreign affairs Sartaj Aziz said his country requires $5bn annually to undertake adaptation measures to fight climate change impacts.
At present, Pakistan receives about $3m for a climate adaptation fund from the international community which some officials describe as ‘peanuts’. But any raise in this aid looks less likely in immediate future keeping in view the country’s visible apathy towards meeting the grave environmental challenges.
Pakistan, although being one of the most vulnerable countries to the worst climate effects, amazingly appears more inclined to roll back whatever measures it has taken so far, and has already dissolved its climate change ministry and reduced its status to just a division (department). The development budget has also been cut by more than half
After the 18th Amendment, the environment ministry was transferred to the provinces where it became dormant. Provinces apparently consider environment a federal job. Many bureaucrats still regard the climate threat a global issue and not a national issue.
Although being one of the most vulnerable countries to the worst climate effects, Pakistan amazingly appears more inclined to roll back whatever measures it has taken so far. The development budget has been cut by more than half
Compared to Pakistan’s lax attitude, India has been taking serious steps to tackle the challenge of changing weather patterns and, as a result, been getting big amounts in climate change aid from developed countries. India is spending over 2.6pc of its GDP on mitigation and adaptation measures.
In Pakistan, the climate change division, whose minister-in-charge is the prime minister himself is being run on an ad-hoc basis these days. Its secretary retired recently and no decision about his replacement has been made yet. Mostly non-relevant persons are being sent to represent the country at climate moots abroad. At a time when the country is facing numerous environmental challenges, such as severe droughts and this year’s huge floods, the climate change division should have come up with an appropriate response.
Describing climate change as ‘unresolved issue,’ Sartaj Aziz said in the last 40 years, nine out of the 10 major natural disasters in Pakistan have been triggered largely by climate change which caused decelerating effect on the country’s growth. The losses suffered during the floods in 2010 and 2011 surpassed $15bn, and this year’s figures are being worked out. Unofficially, these are estimated to be around $240bn.
The advisor assured the summit participants that his government was evolving a comprehensive climate change policy, focused on mitigation and adaptation measures which will cover energy, transport, town planning and agriculture. But, one may note, Pakistan’s climate change policy, the only one so far, has already been launched with similar objectives.
The policy, one may recall, was approved by the cabinet in September 2012 and was officially launched by the defunct ministry of climate change on February 26, 2013.
According to the National Economy and Environment Development Study 2011, climate change adaptation measures from now to 2050 will cost around $6bn to $14bn and mitigation efforts during the same period will cost $7bn to $18bn. This is the price tag of climate change.
As also pointed out by Sartaj Aziz, Pakistan contributes only 0.43pc to the total annual global greenhouse emissions, ranking 135th in the world, yet it faces severe effects of climate change. This anomaly is difficult to explain. The standard prediction says that people in the tropics and the sub-tropics of developing countries would begin to bear the adverse impact of global warming long before those living in the temperate zones or rich countries.
One may say it is unfair because the countries in the temperate zone — North America, Europe and Japan — which industrialised early, became rich by virtue of burning large amounts of fossil fuel two centuries ago. Their emissions account for 80pc of the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, causing the warming, yet they get hurt least. However, these countries are now, after all, becoming vulnerable to extreme and harsh weather: heat waves, blizzards and flooding on an unprecedented scale.
Along with other factors of production, agriculture has been a major victim of climate change. In 1949-50, this sector was contributing 53pc to the country’s GDP, which dropped to 31pc during 1980-81, and during 2012-13 it dropped drastically to only 21.4pc.
Crop yields are expected to decrease in the years to come not only because of flooding, but also due to rise in temperatures. Some areas may even become barren. Cotton was once an important crop for Faisalabad, but now it is not grown there anymore.
The growing season length of wheat and rice in Pakistan will be reduced as a result of climate change with negative effects on the yields. The reduction is already too pronounced in the semi-arid areas and rice seems to be more sensitive to climate change than wheat, as evident from bigger yield reduction.
Published in Dawn, Economic & Business, October 13th, 2014