Global warming, the biggest challenge

The global crisis of environmental degradation has left the world economy vulnerable to threats. The way it has started affecting the world population and wildlife, it will become the biggest challenge ever faced by humans in few decades.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has warned that the world economy is increasingly vulnerable to the impact of the climate emergency as it downgraded its forecasts for 2020 and 2021, even before Covid-19 had struck. Urging governments to make greater strides to reduce carbon emissions and build green infrastructure, the IMF said one of the main risks to its forecasts came from the growing costs of the climate crisis and the harm caused by protectionist trade policies. The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) had also warned of food shortages in the country due to climate change in its 2019 third quarter report. In recent times, Pakistan has faced shortages of vegetables, flour and sugar.

Global heating puts pressure on resources, as extreme weather, including heatwaves, droughts, floods and fiercer storms, grows more frequent and devastating. Climate breakdown and the global crisis of environmental degradation are increasing violence against women and girls, while gender-based exploitation is in turn hampering our ability to tackle the crises, a major report has concluded. Wildlife is also at risk due to big gaps in environmental protections. Attempts to repair environmental degradation and adapt to climate breakdown, particularly in poorer countries, are failing, and resources are being wasted because they do not take gender inequality and the effects on women and girls into account. Campaigners called for governments and institutions to take note, saying that the impacts on women and girls must be at the heart of any viable strategies on the climate and ecology.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) carried out what is understood to be the biggest and most comprehensive study yet of the issue, taking two years and involving more than 1,000 sources of research. “We found gender-based violence to be pervasive, and there is enough clear evidence to suggest that climate change is increasing gender-based violence,” said Cate Owren, a lead author of the report. As environmental degradation and stress on ecosystems increases, that in turn creates scarcity and stress for people, and the evidence shows that, where environmental pressures increase, gender-based violence increases. Six in 10 respondents to a survey by IUCN, with more than 300 responses from organizations around the world, said they had observed gender-based violence among female environmental rights defenders, environmental migrants and refugees, and in areas where environmental crimes and environmental degradation were taking place. More than 80 case studies clearly showing such links were uncovered as part of the research.

Gender-based violence includes domestic violence, assault and rape, forced prostitution, forced marriage and child marriage, as well as other forms of the exploitation of women. The report found human trafficking rises in areas where the natural environment is under stress, and links between gender-based violence and environmental crimes such as wildlife poaching and illegal resource extraction. Globally, about 12 million more young girls are thought to have been married off after increasing natural disasters, and weather-related disasters have been shown to increase trafficking by 20-30 percent.

Socioeconomic risks could increase significantly for those living in urban areas of Pakistan and India by 2050 as heatwaves push up against the limits of human endurance and survivability, the McKinsey Global Institute warned in its report. Countries with lower per capita gross domestic product (GDP) rely more on outdoor work and natural capital, and thus have less financial means to adapt quickly. Also, hot and humid countries, like Pakistan, are expected to become significantly hotter and more humid by 2050. It would impact workability in urban settings, and the report expects an average ten-percentage-point loss in annual share of effective outdoor working hours in heat-exposed regions between today and 2050. “Poorer regions often have climates that are closer to physical thresholds,” the report said, adding that as heat gets worse, productivity could tumble.

It points to the risks in workability and liveability both, as Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan, with lower per capita GDP level were the most affected countries under the Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP) 8.5 scenario. Under RCP 8.5, the world’s average temperature would rise by 4.9 degrees Celsius, or nearly 9 degrees Fahrenheit. “Under an RCP 8.5 scenario, urban areas in parts of India and Pakistan could be the first places in the world to experience heatwaves that exceed the survivability threshold for a healthy human being, with small regions projected to experience a more than 60 percent annual chance of such a heat wave by 2050,” the report noted.

Farms in Kunri, Sindh province, the red chilli capital of Asia, are also losing their livelihood to climate change. The area, responsible for 85 percent of all red chilli production in Pakistan and contributing 1.5 percent of the country’s GDP, has been devastated by extreme heat. The overall production of red chillies has gone down from 125,000 ton in 2018 to only 70 to 80,000 ton in 2019 and its rates have doubled. Farmers would normally sow chilli seeds in January, but the weather cycle in the region is changing and they have to wait for suitable conditions to grow their crops. Buyers have stopped importing chillies from Pakistan after expensive prices. Hundreds of workers may lose their livelihood.

Experts say environmental degradation now affects our lives in ways that are becoming impossible to ignore, from food to jobs to security. The irony is that most countries, which are worst affected by climate change, like Pakistan, have not contributed to the problem. They are paying the price for the greed and reckless policies of the advanced countries. The world’s leading climate scientists have warned that our current actions are not enough for us to meet our target of 1.5C of warming. We need to do more to save the planet and ourselves.