Pakistan 7th most vulnerable country to climate change, says Germanwatch

Updated November 09, 2017

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World Map of the Global Climate Risk Index 1997–2016. Source: Germanwatch and Munich Re NatCatSERVICE
World Map of the Global Climate Risk Index 1997–2016. Source: Germanwatch and Munich Re NatCatSERVICE

Germanwatch, a German think-tank advocating for the prevention of dangerous climate change, has just launched its latest Global Climate Risk Index 2018 report on the sidelines of COP23 in Bonn, Germany today.

World leaders, civil society members, investors, corporates, indigenous communities and media have gathered to boost climate action which will help limit global warming below 2 degrees Celsius and ideally to 1.5 degrees Celsius, as promised in the Paris Agreement.

This year's 13th edition of the analysis further confirms the fact that less developed nations are more vulnerable to the phenomenon. "The Climate Risk Index may serve as a red flag for already existing vulnerability that may further increase in regions, where extreme events will become more frequent or more severe due to climate change," reveals the report.

See: Combating climate change: why it matters

The Global Climate Risk Index 2018 analyzes to what extent countries have been affected by the impacts of weather-related loss events, i.e. storms, floods, heat waves etc., while referring to the available data of 2016 and from 1997 to 2016.

According to the Climate Risk Index for 2016: the 10 most affected countries of the report, the countries most affected in 2016 are Haiti, Zimbabwe and Fiji, which were previously not in the list — thus showing how unpredictable climate change is. Pakistan is ranked 40th in the list, suffering 566 casualties, losing US $47.313 million — equivalent to 0.0048 per cent of the GDP.

Nine out of ten countries who made it to the list of top ten climate affected nations in 2016 were not ranked in last year’s index, which shows how the human-induced climate change is bound to affect everyone regardless of race, colour and religion. Surprisingly, the United States of America is in the list on the 10th spot and it suffered 267 casualties, losing the highest amount of financial losses of more than US $47 billion — equivalent to 0.255 per cent of its GDP.

Countries most affected in the Long-Term Climate Risk Index

Whereas in the Long-Term Climate Risk Index (CRI): the 10 countries most affected from 1997 to 2016 (annual average) of the report, Honduras, Haiti and Myanmar top the list. The top three countries in the long-run (1997-2016) have been due to Hurricane Mitch in Honduras in 1998, Hurricane Sandy in Haiti in 2012 and Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar in 2008.

Also read: Cities, climate change and Pakistan’s extended urbanisation

Pakistan is ranked on 7th position, with a death toll of 523.1 lives per year i.e. 10,462 lives lost in 20 years and economic losses worth US $ 3.8 billion — equivalent to 0.605 per cent of the GDP in the 20 year period. During this time, Pakistan had suffered from 141 extreme weather events — let it be cyclones, storms, floods, Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOFs) and heatwaves, etc. In last year’s long-term index (1996 to 2015 average), Pakistan held the same 7th position.

Most of the countries affected in the long-term from 1997 to 2016 hold the same position as of last year’s long-term index (1996 to 2015), such as Honduras, Nicaragua, Philippines, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Vietnam are on 1, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 positions, respectively. Furthermore, of the ten most affected countries (1997–2016), nine were developing ones in the low income or lower-middle income country group.

'Pakistan frequently affected from heavy monsoons'

David Eckstein, one of the main authors of the study said that over the past many years, Pakistan has been one of the most affected countries vulnerable to climate change. He said, "Pakistan because of its geographic location has been frequently affected from heavy monsoons in the past. Over the past 20 years, if we look at the extreme weather events in Pakistan, heavy rainfalls and flooding has severely affected the lives and livelihoods of people. Floods have badly affected the agriculture sector which has compromised the GDP targets too. In the past, heatwaves and possible cold waves have also posed a threat to the people."

Speaking on Pakistan’s love for coal, David shared his worst fears that the perception is common in under-developed and developing countries that since the western world has progressed using coal, it is made an excuse to develop coal power plants in third-world countries — such decisions can entail dangerous consequences.

David also said, "Pakistan should think of reducing its emissions, which can help to reduce the risk of extreme weather events in its country. Emission reduction is a responsibility not only of developed countries but also of under-developed and developing ones, as it’s in their own benefits, and it offers a lot of co-benefits too."

Lives lost due to climate change

The Germanwatch report has further stated that more than 524,000 people have died as a direct result of over 11,000 extreme weather events and losses between the time period of 1997 to 2016, amounting to around US $3.16 trillion (in Purchasing Power Parities).

This year’s COP presidency is held by the Republic of Fiji, which along with other Small Island Developing States (SIDS) is severely affected by climatic shocks and also ranked in the short and long-term index of Germanwatch.

Dr Tariq Banuri a senior environmental expert, has recently joined Global Change Impact Studies Centre (GCISC) as the Executive Director. Dr Tariq was also the Coordinating Lead Author of the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

While commenting upon the report Dr Tariq Banuri said, "Between 1997 and 2016, Pakistan lost an average of 523.1 lives per year i.e. 10,462 lives in 20 years, which comes to 3.27 lives per million population. As such Pakistan was ranked 4th in terms of property damage and the largest contribution to these damage numbers came from the 2010 floods. Besides this, the country has suffered from prolonged droughts (1998-2002, 2014-17), heat waves (2011, 2014), the 2014 cyclone Nilofar, and GLOF events".

Dr Banuri also cautioned of the ominous long-term threat to the country’s water resources. According to him, "The high rate of population growth has reduced per capita water availability from an ample 5,200 cubic meters per person per day to less than 1,000. Future projected population growth will reduce this to less than 500 by mid-century, which will make the country dependent on others for its food security. Climate change may reduce the water resources even further and this will affect lives, livelihoods and civic peace."

'Need to act in the face of clear and present danger'

Pakistan is getting recurrently affected from extreme weather events both in the short-term and long-term index. The super floods of 2010 placed Pakistan on the top slot among the countries most affected by climate change as it lost US $25.3 billion and 5.4 per cent of the GDP, according to Germanwatch.

Dr Adil Najam, Dean, Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies, Boston University, rightly says that Pakistan doesn’t need any such reports to tell that it faces serious climate challenges. "The problem is that we continue to refuse to act in the face of clear and present danger. Another report. Another list. Another ranking. Another seminar. Another talk. That will not help as much as action will," he said.

"Unfortunately, our politics and our media is too caught in immediate trivialities – tamashas, really – to pay heed to things that could actually imperil their own and their children’s future. More than anything in this report, this is the saddest finding of all," concluded Najam.

COP23, scheduled to end on November 17, 2017, is a good opportunity for Pakistan to showcase its high climate vulnerability and successful stories of adaptation to the world, so that its case is effectively portrayed, along with building pressure on the developed countries to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.


Syed Muhammad Abubakar is an international award-winning environmental writer with an interest in climate change, deforestation, food security and sustainable development. He tweets @SyedMAbubakar and can be reached via s.m.abubakar@hotmail.com