Ten billion trees and beyond
Climate change is about more than planting trees
‘We’ve been victims of climate change since we opened our eyes 14 years ago’, said a young cotton female picker during a field visit to a remote village in Dera Ghazi Khan, one of the climate hotspots in Pakistan.
Climate change is without a doubt, one of the major global challenges we’re facing today. We now have strong evidence about the potential extent of future changes in temperature, precipitation and global sea level rise. However, the availability of scientific data is not enough to gauge the impacts of climate change on people. For this we will have to communicate with communities directly impacted by climate change.
In Pakistan, for example, there are certain communities in Southern Punjab that have faced floods every year since 2008. Yes, EVERY SINGLE YEAR. The main source of livelihood for the villagers in these communities has historically been agriculture. However, this is now completely out of question as the village lies along the Indus river bank and even a minor increase in the flow of river inundates and damages their crops every single year. The majority of people only possess agricultural skills which could not be put to use other than livestock, but that too is a risky business in terms of floods and other climate risks. So, lack of alternative employment opportunities has caused the population to go further below the poverty line. While this is just one example, similar examples of communities gravely impacted by extreme climate events can be found across Pakistan, where heatwaves, extreme weather conditions and droughts are very much part of the new normal for people.
We don’t have any choice between avoiding severe climate impact or adapting to it. We will have to do both
On the policy front, climate change is a major concern of development practitioners today because it has the capacity to reverse development efforts carried out by diverting those funds to disaster management and post-crises responses, especially in developing countries. In other words, climate change is a particular threat to the implementation of Sustainable Development Goals. Pakistan has lost billions of dollars to climate change since 2000 and most of government spending on climate change went into rehabilitation activities.
Sadly, this will continue to happen unless we change our course of action, and particularly our policy focus. Policy focus of the current government is largely set on ‘Clean & Green Pakistan’ which, on the face of it, is an excellent initiative for mitigating climate impacts. It has also led to global recognition for Pakistan. However, our policy responses to climate change need to be cognisant of the complexities inherent to the debate and as such need to be ‘multi-dimensional’. This means focusing not just on tree plantation but also on measures that involve greenhouse gas limitation, finances for adaptation measures, capacity building of vulnerable communities and so on and so forth.
The current focus, unfortunately, is too much on mitigation and not on the elephant in the room– the need for effective plans and policies that address our adaptation needs. Let’s face it, mitigation, according to some experts, is relatively easier than adaptation (in terms of cost and scale of action) but we need to focus on the bigger picture and not the cherry-picked parts of it and wisely spend resources on mitigation and adaptation combined. It is already a well-established fact that the world is fast approaching a 2°C global warming threshold and some of the climate impacts are already locked in by past emissions, and hence mitigation is absolutely necessary to slow down the climate change process, but leaving adaptation out of question will do more damage than climate change itself.
On a more practical side, first, there needs to be a common understanding at the policy level that adaptation and mitigation go hand in hand and are not mutually exclusive and hence the broader focus of the climate policy should be on an ‘integrated portfolio’ of policies with equal emphasis on adaptation and mitigation.
Second, while it is generally recognised that adaptation is more expensive than mitigation, government should look into ways of approaching non-conventional stakeholders (such as private businesses) and incentivising them to invest in innovative technologies for addressing climate change.
Third, and more importantly, timeliness of adaptation action is a crucial factor determining the efficacy any particular action and it is high time policy the rationalisation process, involving a balanced focus on adaptation and mitigation, should speed up before things get messy.
We don’t have any choice between avoiding severe climate impact or adapting to it. We will have to do both. We will have to do away with fossil fuels and we will have to adapt to some environmental disruptions. The only choices we have are how we balance those two needs and how we do so fairly. At least for now, in Pakistan’s context, it’s simply about understanding that climate change or even global warming is not just about planting trees….it is much more than that.
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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.