FeaturedNationalVOLUME 15 ISSUE # 22

In the eye of the storm

Pakistan is ranked among top 10 countries of the world, which were most affected by climate change in the past 20 years. It has lost 0.53pc per unit GDP, suffered economic losses worth $3.8 billion and witnessed 152 extreme weather events from 1999 to 2018. According to international estimates, it needs between $7 billion and $14 billion per year for climate adaptation.

The Economic Survey of Pakistan 2020 also paints a dismal picture of the situation in Pakistan. Quoting international studies, it points out that losses from climate change are compounding with the passage of time. Pakistan is likely to become the most adversely affected country in the South Asian region, a study by the World Climate Research Programme and the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology says. In the next 60 to 80 years, the temperature in the northern areas of Pakistan is expected to increase by six degrees, according to the report. The high temperatures will have an immediate impact on glaciers. The ice will melt rapidly causing floods not only in villages but also in big cities. This may also lead to extreme climatic conditions such as heavy rainfalls and massive droughts, the study warned.

It is feared that the aggregate impact of climatic parameters, such as changes in temperature and rainfall, exerted an overall negative impact on cereal crop yields, given that the management practices and use of technology remain unchanged. Modeling of climate change scenarios for Pakistan shows that if agriculture and water management in the Indus River Basin continue in a business as usual mode, increasing temperatures and changes in precipitation will pose serious threats to the future livelihoods of farmers and to the Pakistani agricultural sector, the Economic Survey of Pakistan noted. In the Karakoram region, which contains the major proportion of Pakistani glaciers, there is evidence that most of the glaciers are either advancing. ”Recently, the Khurdopin glacier and Shisper glacier surged down the hill at extremely fast rates, causing a blockade to a flowing stream, forming a temporary lake with an outburst risk. On the other hand, some areas, especially in the Hindukush mountain range (Chitral and western Gilgit), the Chitaboo glacier in Chitral retreated rapidly in recent years due to global warming,” it noted. With more than 7,000, Pakistan has more glaciers than anywhere except the polar regions. But climate change is “eating away Himalayan glaciers at a dramatic rate,” a study published in the journal Science Advances noted. As glacier ice melts, it can collect in large glacial lakes, which are at risk of bursting their banks and creating deadly flash floods downstream in places like Hassanabad. More than 3,000 of those lakes had formed as of 2018, with 33 of them considered hazardous and more than 7 million people at risk downstream, according to the UNDP.

The survey says Pakistan has been consistently ranked as one of the most affected countries by climate change and the population is facing natural hazard challenges, like floods, droughts and cyclones. According to the survey, studies were undertaken using the Agricultural Production Systems Simulator (APSIM) model that showed that wheat production in the arid areas of Pakistan was likely to suffer to the tune of 17pc.

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) has also warned of food shortages in the country due to climate change in its recent reports. Recently, Pakistan has faced shortages of vegetables, flour and sugar.

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. 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 levels, 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.

Experts say environmental degradation now affects our lives in ways that are becoming impossible to ignore, from food to jobs to security. 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 and quickly to save the planet and ourselves.