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Climate warning

December 05, 2018


IT may sound alarmist, but coming from David Attenborough it might actually get the international community to take the warnings seriously. In a dramatic moment at the UN Climate Summit in Katowice, Poland, the nature expert and documentary filmmaker famous for series like Planet Earth and Blue Planet, told the delegates that civilisation now faces its “greatest threat in thousands of years: climate change”. The cost of inaction, he continued, will be “the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world”. This may sound like hyperbole, and in earlier times talk of this sort could be dismissed as just that — but not any longer.

Concentrations of all main greenhouse gases have now reached record levels, and there is no reversal in sight, with “the window of opportunity now almost closed”, according to a recent World Meteorological Organisation report. The gases in question include carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, and all stand at record levels today, far higher than what they were in the pre-industrial era. The last time carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere were as high as they are today was almost three million years ago, the report says, when temperatures were two to three degrees warmer and sea levels 10 to 20 metres higher. These temperatures and sea levels would wipe out many cities and much life around the world today. Luckily, as the UN conference was also told, action is under way, although it needs to be ramped up significantly. Green technologies like solar and wind power are proliferating and replacing unclean power. Almost 9,000 cities around the world are “taking action”, along with 240 states and regions in 40 countries, and over 6,000 businesses in 120 countries are also waking up to greater climate responsibility. These numbers may sound large, but they are, in fact, very small compared to the scale of the task that the planet faces. Given the stakes, and the rapidly growing threat, greater concerted action is urgently required. Here in Pakistan, too, the government, and especially the provincial administrations, need to wake up to their obligations to be part of the global shift towards greener technologies and greener cities. Unfortunately, our policy universe is at present far more focused on greener pastures instead of the climate threat. Provincial governments and city administrations have a big role to play in promoting green technology and lifestyles, and David Attenborough’s warning applies to them as well.

Published in Dawn, December 5th, 2018