WITH 2016 being the warmest year on record, the international community is concerned more than ever about our environmental future. Global warming is seen as arguably the greatest threat facing the planet, with Pakistan and other countries in South Asia far from immune to its effects.

The last century saw global atmospheric temperatures rise by 0.5 degrees Celsius due to the increased concentration of greenhouse gases. Temperatures are likely to further jump to 6 degrees Celsius by the end of this century. Higher atmospheric temperatures because of global warming are triggering climate change, resulting in rising sea levels, disorder of the seasons and frequent weather disasters including floods, storms, heat waves, forest fires and droughts.

Research suggests that since 1900 these natural disasters have resulted in the loss of around eight million lives and economic loss to the tune of $7 trillion. Projections indicate that by 2060 over one billion people would be living in cities at risk of catastrophic flooding as a result of climate change. The more alarming dimension of global warming is its unpredictability in terms of the geographical distribution of the impact — different parts of the world will experience different types of problems.

Trump’s approach to climate change will make matters worse.

There is a consensus that global warming is the result of human activities especially the burning of fossil fuels, though some critics regard it as a natural phenomenon related to the cycle of the orbital variation of sun. The vast majority of the scientific and academic community, and policymakers, including the United Nations Intergovernmental Pan­el on Climate Change (IPCC) subscribe to the former view that global warming has its origins in human activity triggered by the industrial revolution during the 19th century.

The Paris Agreement in 2015 whereby 195 countries adopted the first-ever universal legally binding climate deal to mitigate the effects of climate change, and subsequently the COP 22 in Marrakech in 2016 show the ma­­­jor issue that this phenomenon has become.

There are, however, some alarming developments. US President Donald Trump has a different opinion — he regards global warming as a hoax. Immediately after he took of­­f­ice, his pre-election rhetoric on the issue sta­r­ted to materialise. On his first day in office, the White House website’s page on climate change was removed. He has appointed Scott Pruitt, a staunch critic of the Environmental Protection Agency, to actually head it.

Planning to roll back the excellent work done by the Obama administration such as the clean-water rule and renewable energy initiatives, within the first couple of days he signed an executive order to clear the way for two controversial oil pipelines considered disastrous for the environment.

This doesn’t bode well for the planet’s environmental future. The US is the largest polluter, as also depicted by former US vice president Al Gore who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his contribution towards highlighting the issue of climate change primarily through his documentary An Inconvenient Truth. With almost 6 per cent share of the world population it produces 30pc of the world’s total greenhouse gases. America’s role is thus critical in defining the global environmental future.

The international community is disturbed by the Trump administration’s initiatives. Professor Noam Chomsky has described this reckless attitude towards environment as “leading the way to disaster”. Prominent environmentalists, scientists and academics both from within the US and outside are positioning themselves to fight back.

South Asia, housing almost a quarter of the world population, is amongst the most threatened regions in the world. In the coming decades, a rise in sea levels and flooding is expected to displace tens of millions of people permanently. The fast-melting Himalayan glaciers would affect not only the ecological balance and weather patterns of the region but also severely damage freshwater supplies and agriculture.

It is high time South Asian countries wor­k­­ed together to mitigate the impact of the loo­m­ing environmental disaster. India being the largest country in the region and especially with its strategic advantage of having an upstream position on Himalayan freshwater resources needs to demonstrate much more responsibility in avoiding water conflicts with countries downstream especially Pakistan.

Prime Minister Modi’s threats to deprive Pakistan of its share of water under the Indus Waters Treaty are not helpful. In this age, such exploitation would not only harm Pakistan but also end up haunting India itself. While then UN secretary general Kofi Annan warned in 2001 that confrontations and fierce competition over freshwater resources would lead to wars, Professor Chomsky only a few weeks ago raised concerns that the water dispute between India and Pakistan may easily result in a nuclear war.

The writer is the author of Energy Crisis in Pakistan: Origins, Challenges and Sustainable Solutions.


Published in Dawn, February 12th, 2017



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