NationalVOLUME 18 ISSUE # 05

Dwindling reserves stress swift action on climate change front

Pakistan’s current foreign exchange reserves stood at $6.72 billion during the week ending on Dec 2, 2022, the lowest in the last four years, as reported by the central bank. Net foreign reserves held by commercial banks stood at $5.867bn, meaning the country’s total liquid foreign reserves were $12.58bn.

On the other hand, a study conducted by international climate experts, and published by Carbon Brief, said that the recent flooding in the country caused an estimated $30bn in financial losses, with further economic disruption, expected in the months to come. Carbon Brief is a UK-based website covering the latest developments in climate science, climate policy and energy policy.

Keeping in view both facts, a crucial question arises: Shouldn’t Pakistan plan effectively today to cope with the future challenges posed by global warming to save its coming generations? What’s global warming? Its simple answer is: ‘Global warming is the long-term warming of the planet’s overall temperature. Though this warming trend has been going on for a long time, its pace has significantly increased in the last hundred years due to the burning of fossil fuels. As the human population has increased, so has the volume of fossil fuels burnt. Though Pakistan contributes less than 1% of the world’s greenhouse gases blamed for causing global warming, yet its 200 million people are among the world’s most vulnerable victims of the growing consequences of climate change. Around 1.7m houses and 18,000 schools were destroyed, while more than 1,460 health facilities were impacted. Meanwhile, almost 800,000 livestock were killed and 2m hectares of crops and orchards were affected – with around $2.3bn of food crops destroyed.

According to the 2018 Global Climate Risk Index, released by the public policy group Germanwatch, Pakistan is among 10 countries affected most by climate change. The Carbon Brief study said the record-breaking monsoon rainfall that led to severe flooding in the country was “likely increased” by climate change. Over June-August 2022, Pakistan received nearly 190% more rain than its 30-year average, affecting more than 33 million people, destroying 1.7m homes, and leading to nearly 1,400 deaths. The study authors concluded that a five-day period of rainfall that hit the southern provinces of Sindh and Balochistan in late August is now about 75% more intense than it would have been had the climate not warmed by 1.2C.

Dr Urwa Elahi, Pakistan Businesses Forum’s (PBF’s) additional secretary general for the case studies and research unit, believes a multi-pronged approach must be devised to tackle the devastations and overcome the exposed fault-lines for the future. In a talk with the writer, she cited the findings of a World Bank report, titled ‘Country Climate and Development’, issued in November 2022, suggesting that at least US$16.3 billion were required for the post-floods rehabilitation and reconstruction process. And that did not include the much-needed new investments required to support Pakistan’s adaptation to climate change and build resilience to protect the country from future climate shocks.

Quoting the study findings, she said that as a direct consequence of the floods, the national poverty rate was projected to increase by 3.7 to 4%, pushing an additional 8.4 to 9.1 million people below the poverty line. Dr. Urwa warns that climate change and its consequences have placed Pakistan at a crossroads. The country faces the challenge of encompassing the third biggest ice mass in the world and simultaneously, confronting temperatures that are surging sharply as a result of global warming.

And what should be done in Pakistan to deal with global warming, Amber Ajani, a master’s in environmental science from the American University, has some suggestions. She urges Pakistani authorities to undertake reforestation and afforestation programmes on mountain slopes on an urgent basis. Northern areas have suffered severe deforestation due to a lack of access to electricity and natural gas. The communities and the general public need to be engaged in mass plantation drives across the country.

The ‘Project Lead for Climate Stories Pakistan’ stresses building dams in Thar to store rainwater. The authorities concerned must devise and implement a waste management strategy for mountainous areas. Since mountain communities have nowhere to dispose of their waste, they end up either throwing it in the rivers, burning the waste in open air (which contributes to black carbon deposition on glaciers and accelerates their melting) or burying it underground (which resurfaces in the event of a natural disaster and adds to existing risks). Proper waste disposal systems and awareness (especially for tourists) can help mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution and disaster risk.

Amber Ajani, a UN Fellow, National Geographic Explorer and a Fulbright alumna, calls for banning diesel vehicles in the mountains. An increasing number of tourists visiting the scenic mountains in the north opt for using diesel (the most inefficient fuel) in their four-wheelers. The particulate matter emitted by the incomplete burning of fuels at such high altitudes directly contributes to the rapid melting of glaciers, thereby accelerating climate change and worsening the health of people.

She stresses switching to renewable energy sources. “We have massive potential for solar energy in Thar and hydropower in the north, which can provide clean, cost-effective and uninterrupted energy,” she explains.

She demands the authorities concerned acknowledge that Pakistan faces diverse climate challenges in different geographical and cultural contexts. For example, the climate impacts in Chitral will be vastly different from the impacts faced by Sindh. Therefore, there is a need to ideate solutions, keeping in mind the context and diversity.

And lastly, she urges making climate change a priority in the development and political agenda. She says that climate change is influencing every area of human and economic development, and it should be taken into account at every level.