It is baffling that a country most vulnerable to climate change is least prepared to deal with climate catastrophes. Considering the ongoing economic downturn in Pakistan, the country is one more 2022-flood-like catastrophe away from a severe economic crisis and social unrest.

It is irresponsible of relevant authorities and it manifests ignorance and apathy, to say the least. Considering that climate change vulnerability and resilience are the functions of good or bad governance, inaction is certainly not governance. Relevant government departments failed to formulate decisive concrete plans and ensure their implementation to mitigate the risk of climate change-driven natural disasters.

The Climate Change Ministry of Pakistan, for example, is an apex body in the country to deal with the subject of climate change in the country. The vision of the ministry is “to mainstream climate change in the economically and socially vulnerable sectors of the economy and to steer Pakistan towards climate resilient development”.

However, not much has been done so far except every now and then signing of some memorandum of understanding and babus attendance of the high power international meetings, workshops, and conferences. So, an apex body on climate change is busy doing ‘something relevant’ as if climate change is some peripheral subject and there is no urgency or there is nothing much to be done.

The pace of change is outstripping whatever little efforts are being made by relevant authorities to combat the problem

Notwithstanding Pakistan’s commitment to the United Nations in 2016 and available international support, national adaptation plans have not been developed so far. So, it is safe to say that the cost of climate change to Pakistan is not entirely because of unfavourable climatic changes, but it is also because of the inaction or a lack of concrete action of responsible departments and agencies, including those which are busy doing ‘something relevant’.

Thus far, the response to climate change-driven natural disasters from key government departments has always been short-term and reactionary instead of pre-emptive and anticipatory planning. Considering the inherent uncertainty and increased frequency and intensity of climate change-driven natural disasters, short-termism and ad-hoc planning is a highly risky and unreliable approach, and operating in this fashion is no longer an option.

Greater vulnerability demands greater responsibility, accountability, and action. However, quite the opposite, despite frequent climate change-driven natural disasters wreaking havoc in the country and pushing masses below the poverty line, climate change adaptation is yet to be mainstreamed in development planning.

Nevertheless, location-specific, low-cost, and carefully designed non-structural adaptive interventions could substantially reduce the risk of climate change-driven natural disasters. Interestingly, a lot of this could be achieved without always seeking international finances, but Pakistani policymakers are in the habit of getting technical and financial support from elsewhere, which has put them in the mode of doing ‘something relevant’ and waiting for help.

While climate change is a scientific problem, the solution lies in careful, meticulous, and climate-smart development planning. Consolidated efforts, the use of available research and empirical evidence, and well-designed interventions could enhance vulnerable communities’ preparedness to reduce exposure and improve resilience.

As for available research and empirical evidence, there is plenty of indigenous knowledge generated on climate change. However, it is waiting on research repositories to be used by policymakers and planners.

It is important to note that the pace of climate change seems to be outstripping whatever little efforts are being made by relevant authorities to combat the problem of climate change. This means that incremental changes would not suffice, and drastic measures would be needed.

That being so, policymakers need to understand that they must be ahead of the game to avert future losses from climate change-driven natural disasters and safeguard vulnerable communities from slipping into poverty and hunger.

The estimated cost of damages and losses from climate change to Pakistan is more than the projected economic growth rate, and it will increase further soon. Hence, efforts to improve economic growth would be futile without tackling the problem of climate change, which is only possible if serious efforts are made to integrate climate change into development planning, and concrete steps are taken to adapt to climate change.

Of course, this would require technical as well as financial support. However, climate change policy and actions generate economic co-benefits, compounding returns on climate-compatible development which is not possible without having national adaptation plans and mainstreaming climate change into development planning.

The 2022 flood-affected population is yet to recover from the losses and damages, and this year’s monsoon is around the corner. The question is, are we prepared enough to respond to this year’s monsoon? And, have we learned anything, if at all, from the last year’s catastrophic flood, which affected millions of people?

It is not climate change; it is the inaction that we should be worried about, as the responsible authorities are still doing ‘something relevant’ and waiting for a messiah.

The writer is an academic with a PhD in Economics and works as the Director of Research Programmes for the Social Protection Resource Centre in Islamabad

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, June 5th, 2023

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