Under siege

Published April 9, 2023
The writer is the chief executive of the Civil Society Coalition of Climate Change.
The writer is the chief executive of the Civil Society Coalition of Climate Change.

FROM geopolitical shifts to conflicts, and rising temperatures to spiralling prices, the planet is besieged by a polycrisis. A beleaguered economy, degrading ecosystems and disrupted supply chains are signs of a looming catastrophe.

The IPCC Sixth Assessment Synthesis Report has sounded the alarm bell of doom. It states unequivocally that without strengthening policies the range of global warming projected by 2100 will be between 2.2 degrees Celsius to 3.5ºC.

The findings should not be ignored or equated with previous crises. The world has witnessed periods of turmoil before and recovered. This time, however, the threats are multiple and the contributing actions are simultaneous. Political tensions are at an extreme high with the war in Ukraine and the stand-off between the US and China. Food and energy prices have soared as a result of conflict, and inflation has reached a record high. Global warming is wreaking havoc with floods in one place and droughts in another, with wildfires, hurricanes, heat islands and desertification thrown into the volatile mix, leaving a trail of losses and a tale of woes in its wake.

The Paris Agreement, under current emission trends will be unable to meet the target of keeping temperature increase below 2ºC by 2030. The global temperature has already increased by 1.09ºC since pre-industrial times — faster than at any point in the last 2,000 years. Carbon dioxide levels have increased by 47.3 per cent and reached an annual average of 410 parts per million. Methane is at 1,866 parts per billion, up by 157.8pc. Thanks to climate attribution science, we know that these are linked to human-induced climate change.

The window of opportunity for a liveable future is closing fast.

The impact of climate changes will increasingly occur at the same time, interacting with each other as well as other risks, leading to dangerous consequences. If temperature rise crosses 1.5ºC, entire ecosystems in the polar, coastal and mountain regions will be lost forever. Even at 1.5ºC of warming, 3pc to 14pc of all terrestrial species will face a very high risk of extinction, and further warming will make threats to biodiversity worse. Estimates based on historical data and climate models suggest that the world will reach the 1.5ºC limit by 2030-2035. It means that for a 50-50 chance the world can only afford to emit around 460 billion tons more of CO2, the equivalent of 11.5 years of annual emissions in 2020.

There are some technologies that can help get us to net-zero emission by 2050 but they are in the early stages of development. These are called carbon capture and storage (CCS) and carbon dioxide removal (CDR). However, such technologies require a significant amount of money and research. Although untested, the governments are treating these technologies like a licence to keep using fossil fuels, whereas the IPCC AR6 WG3 report states clearly that there is no room for new fossil fuels in a Paris-aligned world. The window of opportunity for a liveable future is closing fast.

In the backdrop of this high-risk scenario every action and every choice matters. Managing climate change requires political sagacity that recognises the symbiotic relationship between a country’s climate commitments and its development agenda. Progress takes place when pathways consolidate gains for both.

Political stability is critical for realising long-term resilience goals. The political discourse in Pakistan seems oblivious to the threat of climate change and is embroiled in a battle for power at the cost of human and national security.

It is not possible to divorce climate change from politics. Unfortunately, the new political trend has set the stage for conflict. Politics of hate are splitting society along extreme lines, inciting violence and promoting intolerance. With already weak democratic credentials, political disorder has given social legit­imacy for unlea­shing ire with no holds barred on eve­ry institution and agency. This bitterly contested space has become a free-for-all arena for a fight unto death. This is bad timing for political strife. Climate change will create scarcities, deepen poverty and widen the equity gap. Correlating undersupply with an indignant population, and political dysfunction with unchecked polarisation, will result in anarchy and institutional meltdown. This ill-timed political clash will cause great harm and take the country down long before climate change does.

Exogenous factors may be responsible for global warming but that does not absolve countries from maximising efforts for building resilience. Standing at the edge, Pakistan needs to reset its political agenda to free itself from the current imbroglio and re-engage constructively with national and regional stakeholders in the larger interest of peace and stability.

The writer is the chief executive of the Civil Society Coalition of Climate Change.

aisha@csccc.org.pk

Published in Dawn, April 9th, 2023

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