Impacts of Climate Change: Pakistan’s Response

World has confronted countless challenges in the history. The nature, sphere and impact of these challenges were never the same. In today’s world, climate change, which was an environmental issue once, has become a serious security challenge for the entire world. Climate change has been declared as a global and challenge for the world in 21st century as it has global impact regardless of the location or boundaries. Though Pakistan is not a major contributor to climate change but it’s among the countries which are most vulnerable towards climate change.[1]

Human activities especially the burning of coal and other fossil fuels are playing leading role in change of the climate across the global as these activities have, since industrial revolution, increased the concentration of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) by 40%. Greenhouse gases like CO2 absorb the heat and the increase in atmospheric concentrations of these gases traps more heat which fundamentally brings change in the global environment. Climate change affects the world in many ways especially it has detrimental impact on the oceans, weather, food sources and health.[2]

The ice sheets mainly in Antarctica, Artic circle and Greenland are melting, due to rise in temperature, which will cause significant rise in the sea level. In addition, the weather is also  becoming more extreme which causes intense floods, heavy snow falls, major storms and more importantly the longer and frequent droughts. The food production is badly affected by the change in climate as it brings unfavourable change in the environment for the growth of food. Moreover, it can affect the people’s physical health especially in urban areas. The warmer atmosphere creates an environment for smog which can cause heart disease, asthma and lunges cancer.

Every part of the globe is confronting the threats posed by the climate change. But, in Asia and Africa the scale of vulnerability is higher than the other regions. According to an estimate, the number of people, who will be facing scarcity of water, would be increased to 600 million by 2050, in Africa. More than a billion people, in Asia, will be affected by increasing floods by 2050 and production of agriculture will witness an alarming fall. Every year, Central Asia is losing area of 10,000 sq km to deserts and 12 million hectares land is lost globally.[3]

The climate change, a man-made disaster, has added new factors which are shaping the socio-political and security environment in the world. The effects of climate change such as scarcity of war resource, fall in food production and rise of sea level have become national security concerns as they precipitate intra-state and even inter-state conflicts. For example, Sahelian drought had a partial role in Darfur crisis and climate change was also considered as an important factor in Arab Spring, too.[4]

Greenhouse gases (GHG) are the main cause of climate change and Pakistan’s contribution to these gases is very little, only 0.8% of the total global emissions.[5] But, climate change has wide-ranging impact on the people and environment of Pakistan as it is among the countries which are most vulnerable towards the change in climate. Food security, Public Health, Water Security and Rise in Sea Level are considered as major challenges in Pakistan.

Himalayan and Karakorum glaciers are vulnerable to rise in temperature. It can increase the flow of water in Indus water system but it would not be good for longer period as it would result in run-off all the water at once and consequently Pakistan will face serious water crisis. In addition, the irregularities in water run-off can cause deadly floods which can destroy the crops and infrastructure. Pakistan has already faced such situation in the past. In 2010, the floods destroyed the crops in Pakistan which resulted into food insecurity for at least 7.8 million people and 16 billion USD losses to Pakistan’s economy.[6]

The rise of sea level causes sea intrusion which will affect the agricultural land. In fact, it has already made the 2.2 million acres of land useless for agriculture in Pakistan. Since 1952, 4544 hectares of agricultural land in Humbas Wali Creek and 0.5 million hectares of land in Thatta has been destroyed by saline water.[7] In addition, a report by National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) has declared that Karachi, Badin-Thatta and other coastal areas will be at high risk by 2050.[8]

The warmer atmosphere, especially in urban areas, provides a favourable environment for smog. In Pakistan, smog has been creating serious health problems such as asthma, heat diseases and lunges issues. The inefficient response by the government further aggravates the worsening situation. For example, in Lahore, the second most populous city of Pakistan, 1250 people are dying every year mainly due to hazardous weather conditions.[9]

In response to climate change, Pakistani governments have taken various initiatives especially the current government is taking the issue more seriously. For example, on 25th November 2019, Prime Minister Imran Khan launched an initiative, called as Clean Green Pakistan Index (CGPI), as part of government’s efforts to mitigate the pollution issues and effects of climate change in Pakistan.[10]

In addition to it, Billion Tree Tsunami project in Pakistan has been hailed by the international community. This project was completed, in 2017, by the current ruling party PTI in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa which is north-western province of Pakistan.[11] After making federal government in Pakistan, PTI has launched Ten Billion Tree Tsunami Project which aims to plant 10 billion trees within five years.[12] Prime Minister Imran Khan while commenting on this project stated that it is gigantic step to reduce the effects of climate change and conserve the environment.

Moreover, the government of Pakistan introduced Renewable Energy Policy in 2019. According to this new policy, 30% of total power generation will be generated by renewable resources by 2030 in Pakistan.[13] This will help the government to meet the growing demands of energy without contributing to Greenhouse gases. In addition, the government is promoting Solar Power Irrigation Systems. For example, the government of Punjab has announced that it would provide 80% subsidy for installation of solar panels.[14] This development in irrigation system will not only resolve the issue of water shortage but also help in conservation of water.

Furthermore, the government of Pakistan successfully launched Pakistan’s Ecosystem Restoration Fund (ESRF) on 12th December 2019 in Madrid. The ESRF will act as an independent mechanism which will help Pakistan to develop as climate compatible. Promotion of ecotourism, electric vehicles, afforestation, biodiversity conservation and marine conservation are included in ESRF initiatives.[15]

In addition, first-ever policy on electric vehicles was introduced by Pakistan on 6th November 2019. This policy is also part of Pakistan’s efforts to tackle the challenges of climate change. According to Electric Vehicle (EV) Policy, 30% of total vehicles such as rickshaws and cars would be converted into EVs in the first phase.[16] The government of Pakistan is also aiming to establish special units for manufacturing of EVs in Special Economic Zones (SEZs).

Pakistan is facing severe problems due to “climate injustice” as Pakistan is not a major contributor to bring drastic changes in the climate but it is among the countries which are most vulnerable to climate change. To mitigate the challenges emerging from climate change, the current government of Pakistan has taken steps in the right direction but it still needs to work more rigorously. The start of construction of Diamer-Bhasha Dam is appreciable, but Akhori, Munda and Kalabagh dams are also important to manage the floods and droughts. In addition, Solar Power Irrigation Systems should be promoted across the country and media should highlight the threats emerging due to climate change. The challenge of climate change needs response from national to local level. Pakistan needs to enhance cooperation with international organizations which are focused on the issues of climate change and should also take pre-emptive measures to minimize the damage.

Reference:

[1] Afifa Kiran and Qurat ul Ain, “Climate Change: Implications for Pakistan and Way Forward,” ISSRA, 2017. https://www.ndu.edu.pk/issra/issra_pub/articles/issra-paper/ISSRA_Papers_2nd-Half-2017/08.Climate-change-and-implications-for-National-Security-11-Dec-2017.pdf

[2] Tariq Banuri and Hans Opschoor, “Climate Change and Sustainable Development,” ESA, October 2007. https://www.un.org/en/file/71329/download?token=c3imdfIz

[3] Kiran and Qurat ul Ain, “Climate Change: Implications for Pakistan,” ISSRA, 2017.

[4] Ines Perez, “Climate Change and Rising Food Prices Heightened Arab Spring”, Scientific American online journal, 4 March 2013. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=climate-change-and-risingfoodprices-heightened-arab-spring

[5] Mahnoor Chaudhry, “A change for the worse,” The News, 22 December 2019. https://www.thenews.com.pk/tns/detail/586624-a-change-for-the-worse

[6] Ibid.

[7] “Population and Land Degradation,” Report by United Nations Population Division (DESIPA), 1995.  http://www.un.org/popin/fao/land/land.htm

[8] Riazul Haq, “Climate change: Karachi could submerge by 2060, Senate panel told,” The Express Tribune, 09 February 2015. https://tribune.com.pk/story/835814/climate-change-karachi-could-submerge-by-2060-senate-panel-told

[9] Ali Akbar, “Theorizing the Effect of Smog on Public Health in Lahore, Pakistan,” Canadian Center of Science and Education, 28 September 2020.  http://www.ccsenet.org/journal/index.php/ep/article/download/0/0/43826/46063

[10] “PM launches Clean Green Pakistan Index, urges masses to participate to curb pollution,” DAWN, 25 November 2019. https://www.dawn.com/news/1518776

[11] Rosamond Hutt, “Pakistan has planted over a billion trees,” World Economic Forum, 02 July 2018. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/07/pakistan-s-billion-tree-tsunami-is-astonishing/

[12] Ayaz Gul, Pakistan Plants 500 Million New Trees in Drive Against Climate Change,” VOA, 06 October 2020. https://www.voanews.com/south-central-asia/pakistan-plants-500-million-new-trees-drive-against-climate-change

[13] “Pakistan to Set 30% plus 30% Renewable Energy Target by 2030,” WWEA, 2 April 2019. https://wwindea.org/pakistan-to-set-30-plus-30-renewable-energy-target-by-2030/

[14] “Punjab to provide 80 percent subsidy on installing solar panels,” Business Recorder, 26 September 2018. https://fp.brecorder.com/2018/09/20180926410441/

[15] Rina Saeed Khan, “Pakistan Ecosystem Restoration Fund launched at UN climate summit,” The Express Tribune, 12 December 2019. https://tribune.com.pk/story/2116603/pakistan-ecosystem-restoration-fund-launched-un-climate-summit

[16] Sana Jamal, “Pakistan approves first electric vehicles policy,” Gulf News, 06 November 2019. https://gulfnews.com/world/asia/pakistan/pakistan-approves-first-electric-vehicles-policy-1.67646114

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About Zeeshan Shoukat 8 Articles
The author is a Geopolitical and Strategic Analyst. He writes on Indo-Pak Ties, Geopolitics of Indian Ocean, Evolving Dynamics in the Middle East, and Global Power Politics. He tweets at @_IamZeeshan