NationalVOLUME 18 ISSUE # 52

Climate change: Proposals for urgent action

The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) saw a marginal weekly increase of $4 million in its foreign exchange reserves, reaching $7.51 billion as of November 3. The country’s total liquid foreign reserves amounted to $12.61 billion. In contrast, a study conducted by international climate experts and published by the UK-based website Carbon Brief revealed that the recent floods in Pakistan caused an estimated $30 billion in financial losses, with ongoing economic disruptions anticipated in the coming months.

Considering both scenarios, a crucial question arises: Shouldn’t Pakistan proactively plan today to address the future challenges posed by global warming in order to safeguard its future generations? Global warming, in simple terms, refers to the long-term increase in the planet’s overall temperature. While this warming trend has been ongoing for an extended period, its acceleration in the last century is primarily attributed to the burning of fossil fuels. Despite Pakistan contributing less than 1% of the world’s greenhouse gases responsible for global warming, its 200 million people are among the most vulnerable to the growing impacts of climate change.

The consequences of climate change in Pakistan are stark, as evidenced by the destruction of 1.7 million houses, 18,000 schools, and the impact on over 1,460 health facilities. Nearly 800,000 livestock were lost, and around 2 million hectares of crops and orchards were affected, resulting in approximately $2.3 billion in destroyed food crops.

According to the 2018 Global Climate Risk Index by Germanwatch, Pakistan is one of the ten countries most affected by climate change. The Carbon Brief study attributes the unprecedented monsoon rainfall and severe flooding in 2022 to climate change, estimating that a five-day period of rainfall in late August was 75% more intense due to a 1.2°C warming.

Dr. Urwa Elahi, Additional Secretary General for the Case Studies and Research Unit at the Pakistan Businesses Forum (PBF), emphasizes the need for a comprehensive approach to address the devastations and vulnerabilities exposed by climate change. Referring to a World Bank report, she notes that a minimum of $16.3 billion is required for post-flood rehabilitation and reconstruction. This amount does not cover the essential new investments needed to support Pakistan’s adaptation to climate change and enhance resilience against future climate shocks.

Citing the study’s findings, Dr. Urwa highlights that the floods are projected to increase the national poverty rate by 3.7 to 4%, pushing an additional 8.4 to 9.1 million people below the poverty line. She warns that Pakistan is at a critical juncture, grappling with the challenges of hosting the world’s third-largest ice mass while simultaneously facing rising temperatures due to global warming.

Amber Ajani, a master’s graduate in environmental science from the American University, proposes several measures for Pakistan to address the challenges of global warming. Urging immediate action, she emphasizes the need for reforestation and afforestation programs on mountain slopes, particularly in the Northern areas, which have suffered severe deforestation due to a lack of access to electricity and natural gas. Mass plantation drives involving communities and the general public are essential to restore green cover across the country.

As the ‘Project Lead for Climate Stories Pakistan,’ Ajani advocates for the construction of dams in Thar to store rainwater and stresses the importance of developing a waste management strategy for mountainous areas. Inadequate waste disposal in these regions, whether thrown into rivers, burned in the open air (contributing to black carbon deposition on glaciers), or buried underground, poses significant environmental risks. Implementing proper waste disposal systems and raising awareness, especially among tourists, can help mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution, and disaster risks.

Ajani, a UN Fellow, National Geographic Explorer, and Fulbright alumna, calls for the banning of diesel vehicles in mountainous regions. She highlights the negative impact of particulate matter emitted by incomplete fuel burning at high altitudes, contributing to glacier melting and adversely affecting both climate change and public health.

Furthermore, Ajani advocates for a shift to renewable energy sources, noting the substantial potential for solar energy in Thar and hydropower in the north. These sources can offer clean, cost-effective, and uninterrupted energy, contributing to sustainable development.

Recognizing the diverse climate challenges in different geographical and cultural contexts within Pakistan, Ajani emphasizes the need for tailored solutions. For instance, the climate impacts in Chitral will differ significantly from those faced by Sindh. Therefore, she calls for ideating solutions that consider the specific context and diversity of each region.

Finally, Ajani urges authorities to prioritize climate change in both development and political agendas, emphasizing its pervasive influence on every aspect of human and economic development. She argues that considering climate change at every level is crucial for a sustainable and resilient future.