ISLAMABAD, Jan 13: Pakistan is among the countries which will be hit hardest by effects of climate change even though it contributes only a fraction to global warming.

This and other worrying findings were revealed at the ‘Regional conference on climate change: challenges and opportunities for South Asia’ here on Tuesday.

Addressing the conference, Dr Rajendra Kumar Pachauri, chairman of the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), said Pakistan was witnessing severe pressures on natural resources and environment.

He said: “Climatic changes are likely to exacerbate this trend. Water supply, already a serious concern in many parts of the country, will decline dramatically, affecting food production. Export industries such as fisheries will also be affected, while coastal areas risk being inundated, flooding the homes of millions of people living in low-lying areas.”

The two-day conference has brought together experts from the South Asia region to share knowledge and explore measures to combat the threat posed by the climate change.

The conference has been organised by the Ministry of Environment and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Pakistan, and supported by the UK Department for International Development and the Norwegian Embassy.

Droughts in 1999 and 2000 are one example that caused sharp declines in water tables and dried up wetlands, severely degrading ecosystems.

Although Pakistan contributes least to global warming—one 35th of the world’s average of carbon dioxide emissions—temperatures in the country’s coastal areas have risen since the early 1900s from 0.6 to 1 degree centigrade.

Precipitation has decreased 10 to 15 per cent in the coastal belt and hyper arid plains over the last 40 years while there is an increase in summer and winter rains in northern Pakistan.

Although Pakistan produces minimal chlorofluorocarbons and a little sulphur dioxide emissions, thus making a negligible contribution to ozone depletion and acid rain, it will suffer disproportionately from climate change and other global environmental problems.

“The fact that global warming was unequivocal and there is no scope for scientific questioning, Pakistan faces potential environmental catastrophe,” said Dr Pachauri, who has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (on behalf of the IPCC) along with former US vice-president Al Gore.

Describing the effects of climate change in many parts of the world, Dr Pachauri, discussed the impact such changes were likely to have on a country like Pakistan and on the lives of its people.

He said that health of millions would also be affected with diarrhoeal diseases associated with floods and drought becoming more prevalent.

Intensifying rural poverty is likely to increase internal migration as well as migration to other countries. Given the enormity of the impact, adaptation and mitigation measures are critically important.

“Although most societies have a long history of adapting to the impacts of weather and climate, climate change as we are experiencing it today poses new risks that will require new investments in adaptive responses,” Dr Pachauri warned. Alarmed by a recent report that described Pakistan as the 12th most vulnerable country, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, who attended the Tuesday’s session of the conference as chief guest, appeared disturbed by the fact that environmental degradation would cost five per cent of the GDP every year.

“Climate change is an economic and developmental problem as well as environmental. The government will make concerted efforts to achieve desired outcome to mitigate climate change,” the prime minister said.