Climate security

Published October 30, 2015

THE prime ministers of Pakistan and India are earning praise for their commitment to phase down the greenhouse gases known as hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, under the Montreal Protocol. This will provide what may be the single biggest and fastest climate mitigation available to the world in the near term, stopping the equivalent of 200 billion tons of carbon dioxide from polluting the atmosphere by 2050, and avoiding up to 0.5°C of warming by 2100.

But the real praise will be due when India and Pakistan have ensured the final approval for the HFC amendment at the meeting of the parties next week in Dubai.

As former senior military officers in Pakistan and India, we consider climate change and its accelerating impacts to present an imminent threat to global peace and security that requires immediate action. To this end, we are principal participants in the Global Military Advisory Council for Climate Change (GMACCC), a group comprised largely of former senior military officers dedicated to understanding and reducing the security threat presented by climate change, which has escalated from a ‘threat multiplier’ that exacerbates security threats, to a direct cause of resource conflicts in countries with weak capacities and governance challenges.

Climate change is a direct cause of resource conflicts.

The security threats are driven by record heatwaves, droughts, floods, extreme storms, and rising sea levels, as well as shifting monsoons. Warming in the Himalaya-Hindu Kush-Karakorum region, the origin of all our important rivers, threatens to destroy the snow and ice fields that store water for delivery year-round, magnifying the already severe water shortages.

The cumulative impacts on food and water security are already eroding social stability, leading to internal displacements. A growing stream of climate refugees will dwarf the current crisis and place additional burdens on our national security systems.

Fast action is needed to cut HFCs to counter the double-barrelled assault of self-amplifying climate feedbacks, starting with mitigating the melting Arctic sea ice. The shrinking ice shield is reflecting less heat back into space, and causing more to be absorbed by the exposed ocean. This has added a quarter as much global warming since 1979 as carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas causing at least half of all warming.

Prof V. Ramanathan at the University of California, San Diego, calculates that cutting HFCs and other short-lived climate pollutants, including black carbon soot, tropospheric ozone, and methane, can slow warming by 0.6°C by 2050, compared to cuts to carbon dioxide, which also must be done, but which would slow warming by only 0.1°C.

Ramanathan and colleagues also calculate that reducing short-lived climate pollutants can slow warming by 1.5°C by the end of the century, compared to cutting carbon dioxide, which slows warming by 1.1°C. While these numbers may seem small, the goal is to limit warming to no more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels. We note with growing concern that major polluters in the past have already added enough emissions to warm the world by almost half that much, so there’s little room left to manoeuvre.

It is important to recall that in 1990 at the London meeting of the Montreal parties, Southeast Asia led the effort to ensure that developed countries would cover the incremental costs for all developing countries during their transition to environmentally-fri­endly refrigerants. The resulting multi­lateral fund has since provided more than $3 billion in funding.

The parties agreed in 2007 to provide a further 25pc bonus above the incremental costs to promote additional environmental benefits, inclu­ding energy efficiency of air conditioners and other equipment and appliances using refrigerants. Impro­ving the efficiency of room air conditioners by a relatively modest 30pc, for example, can double the climate benefits of the HFC amendment.

This would save enough electricity to avoid building up to 2,500 medium-sized power plants worldwide by 2050, including up to 500 power plants in India and up to 40 in Pakistan. Consumers would benefit by paying lower electricity bills and avoiding the daily indignities of rolling blackouts and load-shedding that impact business, everyday activities, and quality of life. However, for these benefits to accrue quickly, more needs to be done to lower any upfront costs of substitution, including monopoly on technology availability and resources.

We urge our leaders, and negotiators and technocrats who have made the Montreal Pro­tocol the most successful of the world’s environmental treaties, to continue their leadership and conclude the HFC amendment to mut­ual satisfaction when the parties meet next month. The leaders can then bring this success to the Paris negotiations for a new UN climate treaty in December, as a model of multilateral success that is possible when an agreement is fair, equitable and just for all parties.

Retired Lt-Gen Tariq Waseem Ghazi is a former defence secretary of Pakistan. Retired Air Marshal A.K. Singh is former C.-in-C. of the Indian Air Force. They are GMACCC members.

Published in Dawn, October 30th, 2015

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