Sep 21 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan) – Amidst all the turmoil, climate change is rapidly surfacing as an issue that eclipses all others in terms of its severity and sheer scale of impact. As part of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change to reduce global warming, Pakistan was among 175 nations that resolved to mitigate the effects of climate change by becoming signatory to the historic Paris Agreement in April this year.
While the Earth Day signing represents a universal action plan to reduce global warming to below two degrees Celsius worldwide, countermeasures to achieve that goal need to be developed based on region-specific climatic challenges.
Pakistan’s contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions is relatively minuscule as compared to India’s and the manufacturing behemoth, China. As science would have it, unfortunately, toxicity expelled into the atmosphere by a single large-scale industrial nation disrupts conventional weather patterns of countries located in the vicinity that may not be directly responsible for those emissions — therefore worsening their own war with weather.
As a result of Chinese industries spilling their toxic guts into the atmosphere, a Nature study, conducted in 2010, analysed the constituents of the smog that engulfed major metropolises of China and identified it as the same hazardous smog that wafted over to Pakistan via springtime winds, spreading as far as western US. This cross-border spillage, coupled with our own rapidly increasing dependency on fossil fuels, alarming rate of deforestation and unmonitored carbon emissions have impacted our regional climate to the point that an unprecedented ecological disaster is imminent if effective measures are not taken.
The country is particularly vulnerable to climate change.
In spite of environmentalists’ concerns since the early 1990s, it was only after the destruction of lives and infrastructure in the 2005 earthquake that the government began to recognise that climate change may not simply be a surface-level issue — experts say that shifting water levels may also lead to seismic shifts. The 2010 super floods followed, ravaging lands, killing hundreds and displacing millions. At its height, the sheer scale of the floods could be observed from space, with the Indus stretching as far as 30 kilometres apart at certain points. These events combined claimed over 100,000 lives and caused billions of dollars’ worth of infrastructure damage to a country already struggling to keep its economy afloat. In only five years, climate change anomalies shook a nation — that braves terrorism almost daily — to its core.
In the aftermath of the calamities’ disastrous footprint, advocacy group Germanwatch ranked Pakistan eighth in 2015 in the Global Climate Risk Index of countries most susceptible to climate change. Our climate change problem is an intricate one; several anomalies tie into each other to create climate volatility in our region.
Pakistan’s known glacial count, for instance, is 7,253 — the highest in the world — with 543 in the picturesque valley of Chitral alone. Central to our nation’s otherworldly beauty, our glaciers are melting at an exponential rate due to yearly soaring temperatures — every summer since 2010 has been the hottest in the country’s recorded history — thus disrupting volumetric flow in several important rivers.
As a result, the UN has predicted low-latitude glaciers in the Himalayan range to completely vanish by 2035, a small time frame in the global warming landscape. The colossal melting of ice will cause our rivers (primary source of 75pc of our water supply) to flood — at first causing an overabundance of water, and then receding at an even greater pace with no source left to replenish them, leaving famine in their wake.
Similarly, the illustrious real estate and timber industries have jointly claimed an astonishing 151,000 acres of forests in the country since its inception; making great progress, but reducing our forest cover to a paltry 1.9pc in the process — not to mention wiping away the essential first line of defence against floodwaters and carbon emissions. The same paradox applies to the influx of foreign investments in the country that requires the development of new infrastructure. While vital for our country’s economy to thrive, it is essential for the political machinery to take all necessary measures to contain the resulting air pollution that claims the lives of 30,000 children each year.
These causes and effects transform global warming from a simple case of malfunctioning weather to an all-encompassing problem that, if left unchecked, can inadvertently influence Pakistan’s existing social framework. The chain reaction could aggravate social inequalities such as resource consumption and food security, possibly leading to deadly conflict and further instability in water-scarce provinces like Balochistan.
Unless the establishment makes exploration of renewable energy sources a part of its prime directive, weather-related catastrophes will continue to mount. Sporadic afforestation initiatives must evolve into a nation-wide movement that accounts for life, land and livelihood — else our country runs the risk of being at Mother Nature’s mercy.
The writer is a researcher. His Twitter handle is @fahadamalik
Published in Dawn, September 21st, 2016
This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan