The Covid-19 pandemic is a grim reminder of how global forces respect no sovereignty of states and highlights the perils of ignoring global problems as well as non-compliance with treaties. Similarly, environmental problems are transnational in nature, affecting states, regions and continents without regard for power status, religion etc.
Environmental activists have been trying to draw the attention of world leaders from high politics to such issues but without much success. Climate change has become a weapon which is more lethal than the atomic bomb. According to liberals, by taking collective measures, problems can be managed.
Barack Obama, former president of United States of America stated, “We are the first generation to feel the effects of climate change and the last generation who can do something about it”.
Unlike Covid-19, climate change will not only take lives but terminate the resources of the earth. The alteration in rain patterns, melting of historical glaciers and severity of seasons are clearly indicative of the next global threat.
Pakistan’s vulnerability to climate change impacts is well documented in many research papers and books. In the past decade, recurrent spells of extreme weather events have taken a heavy toll on life and property alike, and adversely affected economic growth. The super flood of 2010 took 1600 lives, inundated 38,600 sq km of land and resulted in a loss of $10 billion. Similarly, Karachi faced a heatwave in 2015 and engulfed 1200 lives. The recent heavy rains and floods in Pakistan, particularly the excessive urban flooding in Karachi and other parts of Sindh, proved that climate change is not a myth but reality.
In the last fifty years, the annual temperature in Pakistan has increased by roughly 0.5 C. The intensity of seasons and change the patterns of rainfall has put the masses on the verge of destruction. The number of days that a heat wave stays per year has increased nearly five-fold. In the last 30 years, annual precipitation has historically shown high variability but has slightly increased in the last 50 years. Many glaciers are expected to disappear in 2021.
The Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) for Asia notes that sensitivity to climate changes threats in agricultural economies arises from their distinctive geography, demographic trends, socioeconomic factors and lack of adaptive capacity that, when taken together, determine the vulnerability profile by perpetuating a vicious cycle of poverty.
The IPCC’s fifth assessment for the Asia region as a whole showed that, “Global warming is likely to be above the global mean and climate change will impact the glaciers, melting rate and precipitation patterns particularly affecting the time and strength of monsoon rainfall resulting floods, Droughts, water inflows and reducing the agriculture productivity and migration.”
According to a report, during the past ten years, 10% of the population of Pakistan was internally displaced in two provinces due to climate change problems. Pakistan is an agrarian state and this sector counts for almost 20% of our GDP. Additionally, almost 44% of our labour force is directly associated with agricultural production. Climate change has brought trouble to this sector, resulting in decrease in crops yield and engulfing of arable land by deserts.
Sea level rise for Pakistan was estimated at 1.1 mm per annum from 1856 to 2000, but along the Karachi coast. The rate has been increasing and is a marked threat for Karachi.
Pakistan adopted the climate change policy in 2012 to face all possible challenges but due to ineffective management and lack of cooperation among different institutions, it did not bear fruit. This is not just a Pakistani issue but a global one, and cooperation among states is of vital importance in coping with this concern. In addition to the governments, individuals need to be more active and support environment-friendly practices. Programs such as the 10 Billion Tree Tsunami should be encouraged. There is a dire need to change environmental policies and programs and adopt new agricultural technologies. The government must diversify the energy mix and make further investments in renewable energy projects. To avoid urban flooding, the government needs to renovate the drainage system.
This is time to take strict action to combat global warming. Otherwise, climate change can become many times more severe than Covid-19. Generally, people think that when it comes to the behaviour of states regarding climate change policies, leaders speak loudly but take no action at all.