THERE is no doubt that climate change is affecting us. Even sceptics seem to have accepted the fact that the earth is now 1°C warmer than it was in the preindustrial times. Global organisations, such as the UN, are working to hold the temperature increase at 2°C in the near future, while simultaneously trying to halt the overall warming by 1.5°C by the year 2100.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the human-induced global heating is at the rate of 0.2°C per decade — an alarming rate to say the least.
Read: Climate emergency
Most European countries have taken the lead in devising ways to reduce carbon emissions and environmental pollution. These countries are combating the climate crisis by challenging themselves through targets set until the year 2030. For example, the UK has targeted to ban fuel-engine cars by 2040 and is investing in the research and development of electrical vehicles as an alternative.
Pakistan became the first country in the world to have set up a full-fledged National Ministry of Climate Change in 2012. This move was shortly followed by another commendable effort: the issuance of the National Policy on Climate Change. The policy identified key areas that needed attention and corrective measures to reduce the impacts of climate change, but it failed to set achievable targets.
The battle against climate change cannot be fought with ideas alone.
Since 2012, the climate change ministry has been downgraded and restored by successive governments, all of which have failed to develop the impetus needed to develop a broad-based strategy to deal with the effects of climate change.
Even though most people, both in the government and among the public, would agree that climate change is a dire issue that affects them in many ways, they are not sure what they can do in their capacity to control it. Hence, they end up doing nothing and simply continue with their environmentally harmful ways.
What is needed from the government is a multi-pronged strategy that will teach the masses about the dangers of climate change. Though the poor may have already had to endure the effects in the forms of displacement from flash floods created by rapidly melting glaciers or prolonged droughts, they might not associate these phenomena with climate change itself. It is imperative that awareness campaigns include information regarding the effects of climate change and what actions can be taken on a collective and individual level to reduce its impact.
The government can also benefit from entrepreneurial young minds. Many tech start-ups pair up with civic rights and human rights organisations for social projects. The government too can emulate this method by inviting young entrepreneurs and activists to take part in hackathons or boot camps to generate ideas, gather resources, and educate people about climate change and ways to slow down or counter the process in Pakistan.
However, the battle against climate change cannot be fought with ideas and targets alone. It also requires an attitudinal shift among the leadership and the public. While there needs to be a consensus on a robust and updated policy on climate change, it will eventually be the behaviour and habits of the people — across all economic groups — that will play a critical role in fighting to reverse the impacts of climate change. This responsibility towards the environment has been termed ‘eco-consciousness’ — behaviour or attitude showing concern for the environment.
This attitudinal shift can begin with schools. If the government makes climate change, its impact and the importance of conservation a part of the science curriculum, not only will it help reduce the burden of public awareness, it would also produce eco-conscious young men and women.
Individual efforts or actions by members of the public can include reducing meat consumption, which will help lower the carbon footprint and greenhouse gas emission involved in the upkeep of cattle. Another step that can be taken is making an effort to reduce plastic waste by cutting down on the use of plastic products, and recycling waste whenever possible. Simply carrying one’s own washable and reusable water bottle regularly can go a long way.
After a blanket ban on the use of plastic bags in the federal capital, the Punjab and Sindh governments also reiterated their commitments to earlier unimplemented bans they had put in place decades ago. Hopefully, this time, the ban will force the public to switch to more environment-friendly alternatives.
Even miniscule individual changes in our lifestyles can bring about a much larger collective impact. We as individuals should also try to learn more about our environment and what we can do to conserve it. Together, we can contribute towards reversing the harmful effects of climate change.
The writer is an environmentalist by profession and a Commonwealth Scholar from Durham University, UK.
Published in Dawn, September 18th, 2019