A few ways to combat climate change in Pakistan

It is time to shun passivity and take an active part in climate advocacy.
Published October 18, 2019
Students at the climate march in Karachi. — Photo by Kamran Nafees
Students at the climate march in Karachi. — Photo by Kamran Nafees

Dealing with climate change news can be exhausting, especially when each subsequent news story seems to be worse than the last.

We may choose to block out the apocalyptic news but let’s not forget that scientists have given us a tight deadline of around 11 years to quite literally save the planet, and ourselves.

Pakistan has been continuously ranked among the most affected countries by climate change. Our people in different parts of the country are already getting adversely affected by climate impacts, which include flash floods due to glacial melt, increased heatwaves, water scarcity, rising sea levels, food shortages and displacement. The worst part is that these impacts are only going to get worse.

In such a scenario, we may want to help but may not know where to start. Here, I suggest some tips for the government as well as for individuals, based on my travels across Pakistan in search of climate stories.

What the government should do

  • Undertake urgent reforestation and afforestation programmes on mountain slopes. Northern areas have suffered severe deforestation due to a lack of access to electricity and natural gas. The Billion-tree Tsunami campaign is a good start but needs to be scaled up in the long-term. The communities and the general public also need to be engaged in mass plantation drives across the country.

  • Build dams in Thar to store rainwater. Let me also stress here how important local consultation is. During our travels, we came across a dam in Nagarparkar being used as a cricket pitch because the government did not consult people and disregarded their knowledge of where to best build it. Sometimes, the solution is as simple as asking the people. They live there and have a pretty good idea of what solutions would work in their context.

  • Devise and implement a waste management strategy for mountainous areas. Since mountain communities have nowhere to dispose of their waste, they end up either throwing it in the rivers, burning the waste in open air (which contributes to black carbon deposition on glaciers and accelerates their melting) or burying it underground (which resurfaces in the event of a natural disaster and adds to existing risks). Proper waste disposal systems and awareness (especially for tourists) can help mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution and disaster risk.

  • Ban diesel vehicles in the mountains. An increasing number of tourists visiting the scenic mountains in the north opt for using diesel (the most inefficient fuel) in their four-wheelers. The particulate matter emitted by the incomplete burning of fuels at such high altitudes directly contributes to the rapid melting of glaciers, thereby accelerating climate change and worsening the health of people.

  • Switch to renewable energy sources. We have massive potential for solar energy in Thar and hydropower in the north which can provide clean, cost-effective and uninterrupted energy.

  • Acknowledge that Pakistan faces diverse climate challenges in different geographical and cultural contexts. For example, the climate impacts in Chitral will be vastly different from the impacts faced by Sindh. Therefore, there is a need to ideate solutions keeping in mind the context and diversity.

  • Deploy a proactive approach rather than a reactionary one. We usually react to a disaster once it has happened, instead of preparing ourselves beforehand. The proactive approach of preparedness and foresightedness will save much time, money and lives.

  • Make climate change a priority in the development and political agenda. Climate change will influence every area of human and economic development and needs to be taken into account at every level.

These efforts are urgently required, but it is also important to recognise that the onus for change is not completely on the government. We, as aware citizens, need to demand action on these issues and work closely with governmental and non-governmental institutions to ensure that these measures get implemented. It is time to shun passivity and take an active part in climate advocacy.

What can you do?

We, each in our own capacity and community, have the power to take climate action. Here are some starting ideas:

  • Just talk about climate change. We don’t change what we never discuss. You can form local climate discussion groups to start the conversation, reach out, help and support vulnerable people and take collective action.

  • We need activism, not pessimism. It takes courage to focus on a positive and action-oriented approach. Go work for or volunteer with a local organisation working on climate change issues.

  • Please reconsider piling your plates with excess food the next time you’re at a wedding or party. Currently, 40% of the food in Pakistan goes to waste while 43% of our population is considered food insecure. What most people don’t realise is that food waste is also a big contributor to climate change. Methane (a powerful greenhouse gas) is emitted from rotting food in landfills. You can also help by donating excess food to a charity or initiatives like the Robinhood Army and ‘Rizq that help redistribute it to the needy.

  • Reiterating a cliché here but it’s important: save energy. In a country like ours, where electricity supply is intermittent and already a luxury, we must be extra mindful and turn off lights and appliances when not in use. This can be as simple as unplugging your charger when your phone/laptop is fully charged. Plugged devices still consume phantom power and add to your bill and the greenhouse gas emissions.

  • Write about and share your ideas and work. Every climate story (whether of suffering or success) matters. It gives other people permission to share theirs.

The list of recommendations shared here is in no way complete; it only serves as a reminder that climate action can be initiated at different scales. Taking action can also help with eco-anxiety (a new type of psychological condition where you feel extremely worried about the worsening state of our planet and climate).

Feeling anxious about the environmental crisis may not be a bad thing in small doses, if it motivates you to avoid the catastrophic future. Remember that a series of small steps implemented by many leads to a large impact and change. At this point, we need everyone doing their part to deal with a problem as complex and imminent as climate change.

Are you working on climate change? Share stories with us at prism@dawn.com