Climate emergency

Updated September 22, 2019

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IT is an irony that while it contributes little to the world’s carbon footprint, Pakistan is eighth on the list of countries most affected by climate change.

Until now, the conversation around climate change had been limited at best. However, the public march held on Friday in as many as 30 Pakistani cities, reflected that maybe we too have hit our own ‘climate swerve’.

In 2012, Pakistan was the first country to set up a climate change ministry. This was followed by the release of the National Climate Change Policy. But unfortunately, as usually happens here, nothing more was done to empower the ministry, nor was there any adherence by the government to its own policy.

Climate change is a much deeper and broader issue than policymakers realise.

According to a 2012 report of the World Wildlife Fund, due to Pakistan’s geographical location, the overall temperature increase in the country is much faster and greater than the global average. This has become evident with the mercury rising to record-breaking temperatures with every heatwave that strikes various parts of the country; prolonged droughts; erratic rain patterns and perennial flooding; frequent glacial lake outbursts and depleting water resources. These extreme weather events also pose a threat to the country’s existing oil, gas and power infrastructure, while the loss of homes, agricultural land and livelihoods force people to move to larger cities, putting further strain on our already overstretched resources.

The impact of climate change has multiple aspects. These include the immediate loss of lives incurred by extreme weather events and worsening water and food insecurity as droughts becomes more frequent and floods destroy farmland.

Meanwhile, people and governments struggle to cope with the economic damage of recurring climatic events.

The Global Climate Index Report, 2018, states that more than 10,000 people have perished in Pakistan during the past 20 years due to approximately 140 extreme weather events that incurred losses of almost $4bn. The crisis has reached a stage where it will take all-out efforts by both the government and the public to minimise the damage caused by extreme weather events. Alarm bells are ringing and the climate march is a cry for help from experts, civil society, and the public to take action. The ban on single-use plastic by the federal, Punjab and Sindh governments can prove to be the first step, only if enforced properly.

We need to act fast, for time and tide are against us.

Published in Dawn, September 22nd, 2019