Climate change does not need visas to cross borders

It’s time we start talking about climate change as a matter of life and death. Because it is.

Updated Sep 16, 2019 04:56pm

The heatwave sweeping Pakistan flows from a truth as uncomfortable as the weather: climate change is here, and it is taking no prisoners.

It’s simple. Greenhouse gases trap heat and make the planet warmer. The more greenhouse gases are emitted, the hotter the planet gets. The hotter the planet gets, the closer we come to our doom.

According to researchers at Carbon Brief, 68 per cent of all extreme weather events studied from 2011 to date were made more likely or more severe by human-caused climate change. Heatwaves account for 43pc of those events, droughts about 17pc and heavy rainfall and floods for 16pc.

That extreme heatwaves are now seasonal in Pakistan, categorisable by year, should terrify us all. The country’s cities are now setting records. In 2018, Nawabshah saw temperatures hit 50.2 degrees Celsius — the hottest day of April ever recorded anywhere in history. Last week, Jacobabad hit 51°C.

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Naked as the evidence has been for Pakistan, authorities are yet to act adequately on the connection between climate change, extreme weather and human survival. And make no mistake, the failure to act on the climate crisis is a violation of our human rights and the protections we are entitled to.

65 people died in the 2018 heatwave and approximately 1,200 in 2015. Around 1,600 people were killed by the 2010 summer floods. The well-heeled will be able to stave off the immediate danger, but will eventually succumb like the most marginalised amongst us.

When governments fail to reduce emissions to the scale and rapidity indicated by scientists, when they neglect the needs of the people most affected by extreme weather events or when they do not regulate labour conditions in heatwaves, they are failing to protect our rights.

Countries like Pakistan with limited means to adapt to the worst impacts of climate change are likely to be ground zero for the havoc that the climate crisis is going to wreak on the planet. Pakistan is slated to be the seventh most-affected country in the world, and yet it has contributed less than 1pc to global greenhouse gas emissions.

Farmers are now struggling to adjust to a reality where the same crops are no longer growing in the same months as they always have, where there is rain when there shouldn’t be and drought when they need water the most. They know something has changed.

Now read: A water policy for a Naya Pakistan

The choices of wealthier countries like the United States, Russia, China and most European states in crucial sectors such as energy, industry, agriculture and transport have endangered the very survival of millions in the Global South.

The wealth of industrialised countries, built on fossil fuels and unsustainable practices, has come at the cost of making the world we all occupy more unstable, and climate change does not need visas to cross borders.

To redress this injustice, Pakistan must speak up. It must call the failure to reduce emissions as the human rights violation that it is. At international forums, Pakistan can lead the calls from the Global South for climate justice. It has all the motivation to mount pressure on the Global North, with a climate-denier at the helm, to support the transfer of climate finance and green technologies to the countries that need it the most.

But credibility is necessary for such a movement and it cannot hope to inspire confidence if Pakistan does not fulfil its immediate obligation to reduce emissions to the full extent of its capacity — a task that has become especially feasible as the cost of renewable energy has reduced steadily each year and is now competitive with fossil fuels.

A shift in company portfolios towards human rights-consistent renewable energy is necessary, and failure to do so must result in heavy penalties. It’s only fair. Their actions punish all of us. There must be consequences for their enrichment at the cost of the planet’s decimation.

Equally important is that Pakistan must take all necessary steps to help everyone in the country to adapt to the foreseeable and unavoidable effects of climate change so that our rights, including to life, housing, health and sanitation, are upheld.

Up next: In Thar, who matters more? Coal companies or Tharis?

The Ministry of Climate Change — as one of the very few in the world that explicitly focuses on it — must be sufficiently empowered to follow through on Pakistan’s commendable international voting record on environmental conservation. Climate action must be institutionalised through meaningful political support and ownership.

Prime Minister Imran Khan is leaps and bounds ahead of many leaders’ conception of what climate change is and has made this known. During the Belt and Road Summit in Beijing in April, the first of five initiatives he proposed was to expressly mitigate the effects of climate change.

He must now set a good example by implementing ambitious and human rights-centred domestic policies to reduce emissions and protect the people of Pakistan from the effects of climate change, as well as becoming a real champion for climate justice in the international arena.

Everyday Pakistani conversations have often been about existential threats: terrorism, war with India, the economy — but never about the climate crisis, which is shaping up to be the biggest threat of all. It’s time we started talking about climate change as if it were a matter of life and death. Because, without any exaggeration, it is.

Illustration by Rajaa Moini

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Rimmel Mohydin is the South Asia Campaigner for Amnesty International. Previously, she was the Head of Communications at Justice Project Pakistan. She tweets @Rimmel_Mohydin.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (16) Closed

Jun 11, 2019 03:20pm
Climate change must become a political conversation before it becomes an everyday conversation. In this regard, the PTI govt is doing a better job than previous govts but more needs to be done. Significantly more. This must start from actually treating sewage in Pakistani cities. Untreated sewage is going into our soil, rivers etc. A quick win with lasting benefits. Also, the govt must invest in solar power for schools and hospitals. Another quick win with lasting benefits.
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Jun 11, 2019 03:42pm
Stop eating cattle and grow more trees. Don’t stop with pork alive include beef in the food category that needs to be stopped for consumption
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Jun 11, 2019 04:18pm
The author's argument that developed countries should give away green technologies to third world countries is altruistic and unlikely to gain support in the west. There has to be a substantial spike in investment on sustainable growth policies including energy, public services & civil administration apart from plugging all 'crony-capitalist' policies. Instead of burning stubble, it can be used to reclaim desertified regions in Sindh & South Punjab as China has done in Inner Mongolia. Instead of kiln-fired bricks, Electric furnaces could be used. Sewage could be treated and the resultant methane byproduct could be used as fuel in rural households while the sludge could be used as night soil. But unless the ruling political class resolves to tackle these issues, notwithstanding the green choices available, climate change would decimate communities across Asia.
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Jun 11, 2019 07:31pm
Guys, forget small issues and come forward to save our next generations from burning heat.. Use Electric stoves to Electric car's, use solar panels to create pollution free environment..
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Jun 11, 2019 07:56pm
Countries like the USA must join this serious movement on green gases. They could be visited by severe climate change and no border petrol can stop this 'no visas' visitors.
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Jun 11, 2019 08:41pm
@Tamilselvan , There's not enough land to grow vegetables for 8 billion people.
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Jawed Saleem
Jun 11, 2019 09:30pm
Ongoing heatwave is due to cyclone Vayu which is about 700 km south of Karachi. Winds blow from high to low pressure to fill the differential. The low pressure system is causing winds to blow from Pakistan towards north to south (towards cyclone). Northerly winds blowing over desert being dry and hot. Causing temperatures to shoot up - heatwave No relevance to globalwarming here - which is a reality.
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Jun 11, 2019 09:33pm
Very well-written I have to add that the population growth rate does not make things any easier. Sustainability needs important action on a global level at several fronts.
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Rehmat Ali
Jun 12, 2019 12:28am
Thanks for highlighting very crucial issue as our government sleeping.Current pace of govt towards climate change seems no will improve.
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Zack Abdi
Jun 12, 2019 01:26am
Changing lifestyle of anyone is difficult task. Before asking for change the alternative to change can help the change process. With ever increasing population and industrial growth environmental impact is happening and will increase. There's no shortage of organic food waste (Pre-cooking and Post cooking), fruit and vegetable etc. that are causing Methane gas that's more lethal than CO2 footprint. Why not recycle food waste using dehydration process. Use 100% Pathogens Free water for agricultural purposes. Use food remnant that can be used as organic Soil Amendments and fish and chicken feed. Similarly, MSHW e.g. aerosol cans, why not recycle? This way HFC gas emission is captured to address Global Warming effects and metals recycled. Why ask/beg developed countries when it can be achieved with in. Stand to protect our future generations. Happy to share Best Practices. #sustainabilityisnecessity #innovationisnecessity
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Jun 12, 2019 09:49am
If we move above politics we can solve the problem,the issue in south asia is that the people who are running government are serious about their own wealth,rather think about farmer,issues concern.The moment they realize that mother nature and our people are important,they would move to different angle.
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Jun 12, 2019 11:35am
@ahmad, you have no idea how innovation and technology has revamped agricultural sector. This is the problem with desi thinking! Just take a look how Israel revolutionized desert and dry land into green pastures. More land isn't necessary to get vegetables! Every other household in Europe grows some of its vegetables indoors. It's the human greed that is the problem and not limited Earth. Wake up please!
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Jun 12, 2019 12:21pm
The same goes for locust swarms which can enter or exit any country without requiring any passports and visas. With the advent of such swarms found in Dalbandin, it is time to take all actions required to quell this invasion in its infirmity. Any delays could only be disastrous specially due to anticipated shortages in crops in the coming times.
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Jun 12, 2019 02:43pm
Pakistan is highly suitable to be self-sufficient on clean solar energy and even export green electricity. The near-constant sunshine exposure of Sindh and other areas + flat roofs are perfect for this. A family can get sufficient power for their household from installing a low-cost, low-maintenance solar panel on their roof instead of buying from the outside. The government and science should definitely invest in this technology. Roaring energy consumption due to ACs etc from dirty sources like coal is a huge factor in climate change
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Jun 12, 2019 02:54pm
The call for global climate justice is heard by the European youth. Climate change was the dominating theme in the recent election of the European parliament with a huge gain for environmentalist parties. e.g. in Germany, the Green Party received by far the most votes from the young generation. Several cities are taken over by green governments. There is still a long way to go in changing national and international policies. But there is some hope
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Mujibur Rahman
Jun 12, 2019 04:46pm
People died in heatwave in Pakistan because Ramadan was in summer and the poor, who need to work outside were denied water. This had nothing to do with climate change.
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