Are we serious on climate change?
Climate change features low on the agenda in Pakistan but it is affecting our lives in a manner that is almost irreversible if not addressed soon. It has emerged as a premiere issue in the global agenda and it even figured in the Oscars ceremony earlier this year. In Pakistan recurring floods and other disasters whip up commentaries on our shortfalls but beyond rhetoric our policy makers fail to commit to meaningful adaptive strategies. Climate change instigated devastating impacts continue to unravel.
Sustained rains and flash floods during mid-March this year have paralysed life in most parts of the country. Experts attribute the deluge partly to the gradual waning of the El Nino weather phenomenon. National Disaster Management Authority confirms 62 deaths as of 17 March due to the collapsed houses and infrastructure. Erratic rainfall, recurring flooding and droughts, incidence of extreme heat waves and glacial lake outbursts (GLOF) are some of the harmful consequences of climate change. Global Climate Risk Index of 2015 includes Pakistan among the 10 most vulnerable countries. Its impacts go far beyond the occurrence of natural disasters.
Climate change triggered temperature rise and recurring floods seem to have a profound impact on food security and associated economic activity. A study by Pakistan Institute of Development Economics concluded that compared to the crop production levels of 2008, cumulative losses in the cotton production till 2030 is anticipated to be 13.29 % as a consequence of 1C rise in temperature, and an alarming 27.98% for 2C rise. For sugarcane, losses for the same period are even more profound: 13.56% for 1C rise and 40.09% for 2C rise. ADB Chief Werner Liepach indicates that Pakistan’s population is anticipated to reach 221 million by 2025 and it would require 50% more food. A daunting challenge given the impact of climate change and a grim water security situation.
Water insecurity is the key definer of climate change instigated doomsday scenarios. Increased glacier melt makes the Indus basin very vulnerable to water insecurity, being the source of approximately 45% of its inflow if not more. It is, therefore, not surprising that countries have accorded it the utmost priority in their adaptation strategies. International Water Management Institute informs that India has a storage capacity of 245 MAF against 750 MAF water reserves. Pakistan, on the other hand, is uniquely vulnerable with 12.35 MAF storage capacity, partly reduced due to sedimentation, against 145 MAF water reserves and we seem to be doing very little about it. Our water access per capita has gone down by almost 80% from 5,000 cubic meters in 1950 to 1,063 square meters in 2013, a notch above the global water scarcity threshold of 1000 square meters.
The water security investment priorities are sadly illustrative in the planning for China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). As per a Sustainable Development Policy Institute’s study, $15.2 billion are being invested in energy in the first phase of CPEC. Of which $8.8 billion (57.8%) are being spent on coal based 7560 MW power generation, and $4.2 billion (27%) on hydropower to generate 1590 MW. This investment in all probability will go in financing the first phase of the Dassu hydropower project; and $2.2 billion, or 14.4%, into renewable energy development. The Dassu project does not entail water storage and, therefore, there is, unfortunately, minimal contribution of this monumental development work in addressing our water insecurity. The upstream planned Diamir-Bhasha Dam whose construction is delayed, will add at some point 6 MAF to our storage capacity.
Our planners have chosen to overlook the fact that the coal fired power plants are environmentally disastrous and are, thus, being discarded globally. The planned 1200 MW coal fired plant in the district Sahiwal is being roundly condemned as it will dispense acid rain and leave debilitating environmental impacts across a region that constitutes our bread basket. Many more, unfortunately, are planned.
The poor state of water shed management and topsoil loss and the fact that only 5.2% of land area is under forest cover, tend to multiply the flooding risks. Our chronic vulnerabilities are being reinforced by incorrect governance priorities and policy choices which seem to reflect, in practice, very little concern for the scientific evidence reflecting the climate change’ detrimental consequences.
We are a recipient of what the developed countries have done to warm the planet through enhanced green-house gas emissions. The Climate Change Conference in Paris towards end of 2015 concluded with the 196 participating counties’ willingness to decrease to limit global temperature rise to a challenging 1.5 degree. It has yet to be ratified into a Treaty, which is to be followed by the alignment of the national legislations and rules of business.
In our case there is no dearth of well-meaning laws, policies and plans. We have a national climate change policy and an action plan whose impact so far can be gauged by the above described facts. Ambitious forestation programmes are routinely trotted out without the political and administrative will to implement them. Our vulnerabilities stem partly from the interplay of the climate change instigated harm, unsustainable development and consumptive practices.
We need to discard our insular approach to development that is oblivious of the harmful environment impacts. It causes degradation of the natural resource base and undermines social cohesion. Integrated, inclusive and sustainable approaches should guide our responses to the climate change instigated challenges. For example water resource and floods management must be located in a comprehensive ecosystem management framework that spans the catchment, watershed and the flood plains management and enforces matching land use. Such approaches, however, entail unique challenges as most of our natural ecosystems are being unsustainably exploited. Such strategies, nonetheless, deliver better through people centred approaches as opposed to top down dispensation.
Adapting to the climate change impacts requires a multi-sectoral total governance approach that is guided by a vision and matching political will. A public awareness campaign must mobilise and tap the wider potential of the society. For this to happen, the climate change debate must be brought to the common man as opposed to being trapped in an elitist vocation.
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The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.