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Climate change: The perfect storm

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A clean and pristine valley
A clean and pristine valley

Once again, Pakistan is on the list of most affected countries from climate change. Verisk Maplecroft, a UK-based global risk consulting firm, has ranked Pakistan 22nd in the Climate Change Vulnerability Index 2016 (CCVI); three of its cities are among the 69 considered most at risk from climate change including Lahore (on 7th place), Faisalabad (22nd) and Karachi (25th).

While Pakistan was one of more than 170 countries that ratified the Paris Climate Agreement on April 22, which aims to limit temperature increase to 2oC, and to strive to limit temperature increase further to 1.5oC above pre-industrial levels, much more needs to be done by governments and citizens to mitigate the effects of climate change.

What can we expect?

Adil Najam, dean at Boston University’s Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies, has no doubt that climate change will continue to be one of the biggest threats faced by Pakistan, unless we act to increase resilience. “For Pakistan, the biggest climate challenges are food production, agricultural productivity; disasters, such as floods and heat waves; livelihood loss and most of all, water and energy. The solution is sustainable development which is less polluting than the alternatives,” he says.


Three of Pakistan’s industrial cities are at great environmental risk but government policy doesn’t reflect any urgency or understanding of the situation


He also highlighted the immediate steps to be taken. “It’s important to recognise that there are a lot of things to be done for climate, which includes mitigation, as well as adaptation. For example, improved energy conservation will not only be good for climate, but even better for Pakistan’s energy and load-shedding woes. Preparations for adaptation in agriculture and water sectors should be made in order to protect these from the impacts of climate change.”

Ali Tauqeer Sheikh, the CEO of Leadership for Environment and Development (LEAD) Pakistan, also views climate change in the same context.

“One of the challenges is to convince the policymakers and opinion leaders to deal with climate change as a development issue rather than a scientific issue.”

“Dams and reservoirs must be built to fulfill the larger water needs for agriculture and hydropower, while keeping an eye on ecological requirements. Also, the government should evaluate the magnitude of disaster prone areas with hazard mapping and develop land use planning accordingly along with the implementation of early warning and emergency management plans for heat waves and natural hazards i.e. flash floods, GLOFs [glacial lake outburst floods], landslides and avalanches in the mountain areas,” says Dr Daniele Bocchiola, assistant professor at Politecnico di Milano, Italy. “In lowland cities,” he explained further, “A surge in monsoonal storms, floods and intense winter can affect people as well as agriculture and food security.”

Intense de-glaciation, and the forming of new glacial lakes, can lead to GLOFs, and affect mountain ecosystems, with potential risk of avalanches and landslides. Also, permafrost (permanent frozen soil) may melt, causing problems in mountain areas.

Preparation is essential

Najam believes that a getting out of the ‘disasters’ mindset is needed, as too many climatic impacts are not about disasters. “Communities have to focus on local response and early response, knowing which issues are the most precarious for them, whereas the role of the individual is to become better educated and more careful in terms of waste, as well as awareness of immediate environment.”

Agreeing that increased water demand for agriculture and acceleration of desertification in many (mostly northern) areas, puts food security at stake, both Bocchiola and Najam emphasised on the importance of early-warning and pre-disaster preparation. “Hotspot areas with heavily increased climate-related risks should be highlighted and interventions be made to reduce vulnerability,” Bocchiola added.

Najam believes that managing water resources, developing sustainable agriculture to warrant food security; controlling deforestation; developing use of renewables; controlling air pollution and discouraging use of fossils; forecasting and managing extreme events, including floods, are all issues that require government support.

Everyone needs to help out

“The government needs to work closely with experts and think tanks, while local governments and civil society organisations need to get down to the community level to develop low cost, feasible and sustainable strategies to make them resilient to climate change,” suggests Tauqir.

“At the community level, there should be a choice of best strategies for local healthcare management during heat waves, especially for elders and children in the hottest cities,” Bocchiola points out. “An exchange of knowledge and ideas between local policymakers and local scientific institutes could lead to development of scientifically based strategies.”

“Communities should opt for lifestyle choices that decrease their vulnerability to local climatic hazards, for example, adjusting routines and schedules to avoid exposure to extreme temperature and precipitation, and changing construction practices to become climate resilient,” Tauqir agreed.

Brocchiola proposed that each one of us should use water and energy wisely, deal smartly with solid waste and conscientiously consume reasonably low amounts of meat; use public transport or bicycles to limit traffic emission; and limiting burning of fossil fuels for heating, whenever possible.

“We need to invest in climate-resilient infrastructure and lift the poor above the poverty line by providing livelihood options and increasing income levels,” added Tauqir.

Pakistan’s contribution to global emissions may be low, but this does not absolve it of the responsibility to contribute to the global challenge of reducing climate change. Scientists have given their verdict: human activity is causing climate change. The experts have spoken: we need to have adaptation and mitigation at the heart of our development agendas. The rest is up to us.

Syed Muhammad Abubakar is an environmental writer and tweets @SyedMAbubakar. He can be reached via email at s.m.abubakar@hotmail.com

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, July 3rd, 2016