Pakistan may become unbearably hot by end of the century

Published November 6, 2022
In this file photo, a volunteer showers a woman with water during a heatwave in Karachi. — AFP/File
In this file photo, a volunteer showers a woman with water during a heatwave in Karachi. — AFP/File

• New UNDP report on COP27 eve predicts number of ‘extremely hot days’ could rise to 179 by year 2099
• Meteorologists note spring has nearly vanished, extreme heatwaves becoming all too common

KARACHI: Even as the government prepares to make a case for climate justice at the UN climate conference (COP27) that starts today (Sunday), an alarming new United Nations report predicts that Pakistan’s average annual temperature will increase to 22.4 degrees Celsius within the next decade and a half, and would cross the 26oC threshold by the end of the century.

The fresh report also warns that on average, the number of hot days in a year — i.e. when the temperature remains above 35 Celsius — will be 124 by the end of 2030, and this number will rise to 179 by the year 2099.

At 35 Celsius, the human body struggles to cool down through perspiration alone — hence raising the risk of death from overheating.

The Human Climate Horizons platform, a collaboration between the United Nations Development Progra­mme (UNDP) and the Climate Impact Lab, provides insights into the direction and magnitude of changes in the climate, like the number of extremely hot days each year and the impact of those changes on human welfare.

According to a UNDP press release, the new data shows the need to act qui­ckly, not only to mitigate climate cha­nge but also to adapt to its consequences.

“For instance, in Faisalabad, Pakistan, even with moderate mitigation, additional deaths due to climate change would average 36 per 100,000 people each year between 2020-2039. Without substantially expanding adaptation efforts, Faisalabad could expect annual climate change-related death rates to nearly double, reaching 67 deaths per 100,000 by midcentury. An increment almost as deadly as strokes, currently Pakistan’s third leading cause of death,” the statement says.

The latest warnings corroborate findings and concerns that have been raised by local experts over the past several years, who have long been insisting that climate change is no longer an approaching challenge, rather it is “happening right now”.

“In the very recent past, the Pakistan Meteorological Depart­ment (PMD) conducted a thorough research for an international organization, which should also have set alarms bell ringing,” says Nadeem Faisal, former director of the Climate Data Processing Centre — a key unit within the PMD.

He referred to the findings of a previous study, which suggested that Pakistan has warmed considerably since the early 1960s, with more warming witnessed in daytime maximum temperatures than night-time minimum temperatures.

“An analysis of the data revealed that the annual mean temperature has risen for the country as a whole by 0.74°C over the last 58 years by 2019, which is quite alarming,” he said. “The recent changes in weather conditions very much manifest the authenticity of this finding.”

The change in the mean temperature has been accompanied by a large increase in extreme temperatures. Since 2011, the number of extreme heat records being set in Pakistan has increased significantly. The frequency of very warm months (May–August) has also increased manifold over the recent decade.

While high-temperature extremes have increased significantly, low-temperature extremes are less frequent, the report says. The observation supplements a warning in latest UN reports, which predict that Hyderabad in Sindh is likely to become the hottest city in the world by the year 2100, with its highest average temperature reaching 29.9°C to 32°C. It is expected to outrank Jacobabad, Bahawal­nagar and Bahawalpur by that time.

These revelations, coming on the eve of COP27, are not lost on decision-makers. Apparently cognisant of the gravity of the challenge facing the country, Climate Minister Sherry Rehman is expected to be will be pushing other world leaders to raise the “loss and damage” issue at Sharm el-Sheikh. This issue, she says, will be central to this year’s conference.

“The COP27 must capitalise an adaptation fund and introduce agility and speed in countries that need to build resilience,” Senator Rehman told Dawn.

Although it was the disastrous monsoon that put the climate challenges facing Pakistan in the spotlight this year, meteorologists believe there are several other elements which complicate the situation, not all of which can be blamed on large polluters in the West.

Former PMD director general Dr Ghulam Rasul thinks that the climatic phenomenon we are currently witnessing are actually part of a series of events that began some time ago. For instance, he said, spring in Pakistan has almost been eliminated. “We didn’t see a spring this year. After a very harsh winter, we jumped straight into a very severe summer, with one heat wave after the other hitting even rural areas.”

What exacerbates the situation is the growing population and fast-shrinking space for a better and environment-friendly ecosystem.

“The population is growing so fast that our agricultural land is being used for urban settlement and construction. You can gauge the severity of the issue from the fact that in the year 1951, 5,500 cubic metres of water was available in Pakistan for one person. That has now shrunk to 850 cubic metres,” he said.

Anwar Iqbal in Washington also contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, November 6th, 2022

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