Climate emergency

Published September 16, 2019
The writer is a member of the Pakistan Climate Change Council.
The writer is a member of the Pakistan Climate Change Council.

PRIME MINISTER Imran Khan is preparing to fly to New York to address the UN General Assembly where many heads of government will present their country’s plans to combat climate change during the Climate Action Summit this month. Countries will showcase the progress they have made since the 2016 Paris Agreement. It is an opportunity for the prime minister to share with the world his vision of how Pakistan will align with the global climate movement and address its own climate-induced vulnerabilities. Already, much of the population is struggling with poverty and malnutrition.

As the world falls behind on implementing the Paris Agreement and the Nationally Determined Contributions, the IPCC’s 2018 special report on Global Warming of 1.5°C has warned of huge consequences if global temperatures exceed this threshold by 2040. The UN says we could have just 11 years left to limit a catastrophe. The report’s findings have led to an unprecedented response both from national governments and citizens around the world.

The Extinction Rebellion (XR), spearheaded by a group of middle-class professionals, considers climate change an existential threat and uses nonviolent resistance to stage worldwide protests against i) climate change, ii) loss of biodiversity, iii) ecological collapse, and iv) the risk to human survival. XR demands that countries have in place, and enforce, legally binding policy measures to reduce carbon emissions and consumption. It wants national citizens’ assemblies to monitor the process.

An article in an international publication has described how, since April, climate activists have attempted to draw attention to the unfolding crisis — how they have emulated corpses in New York, blocked bridges in Germany, splashed fake blood near government offices in The Hague, and disrupted traffic in London. In the UK, their main aim was to put pressure on the government “to declare a climate emergency, reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2025, and form a Citizen’s Assembly on Climate and Ecological Justice”.

In fact, the British parliament was the first one in the world to declare a climate emergency. Led by Argentina, Austria, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, New Zealand, Spain and Switzerland, today parliaments and governments everywhere are following suit.

The demand to put resources in place to help reduce carbon emissions has also gained traction. While in office, Prime Minister Theresa May “changed the legally binding net-zero ­target from 80 per cent to 100pc by 2050”.

Here’s a chance for the PM to talk of our climate crisis.

Other cities and towns have come up with specific action plans and resources — 17 cities and towns in Australia; 384 in Canada; 49 in Germany; and eight in the US. More cities continue to declare a climate emergency, even if not all their statements include verifiable measures.

In fact, such an emergency, issued by, say, a city government can be a powerful catalyst for community-led actions. Cities and local governments are now being joined by higher education institutions — more than 7,000 have declared a climate emergency and agreed to undertake, through their work with students, a three-point plan to: i) become carbon-neutral by 2030 or 2050, ii) mobilise more resources for climate change research and skills creation, and iii) increase teaching and learning about environmental and sustainability education.

Mission Innovation, an initiative of 24 countries and the EU, has partnered with an alliance of over 10,000 cities to identify and pilot innovations and steer budgets towards clean energy. The present global wave of local governments declaring a climate emergency is providing an element of hope based on voluntary pathways.

While there is a growing trend to declare it as one, there is no single definition of climate emergency — there needn’t be one. Many institutions have set ambitious targets of becoming carbon-neutral by 2030. This would phase out subsidies on fossil fuels and coal-powered power plants and drive down renewable energy prices — and propel economic growth.

Pakistan is ranked as one of the most climate-vulnerable countries. Recent studies by the Met department indicate our limited capacity to cope with the impact of 1.5°C increase above pre-industrial levels. The cost of development will rise sharply and Pakistan will be unable to meet its SDG targets. A 2°C increase would put unbearable stress on our ecosystems and on food and water security. Few other countries have a greater stake in arresting the global temperature increase at 1.5°C and align with the global trend of declaring a climate emergency.

Mr Khan can encourage the provinces and cities to declare climate emergencies and explore twinning agreements with other countries. His upcoming UN address presents a historic opportunity to declare Pakistan’s resolve to align itself with climate emergencies being called around the world.

The writer is a member of the Pakistan Climate Change Council.

atauqeersheikh@gmail.com

Published in Dawn, September 16th, 2019

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