FeaturedNationalVolume 13 Issue # 21

The challenge of climate change

Climate change is no longer a political slogan or media hype.. As the rising heat wave in Karachi and other parts of the country and freak snowfall in parts of northern Punjab and KP  show, climate change is now an ugly reality staring us in the face.

Germanwatch, a German think-tank, recently launched its latest Global Climate Risk Index 2018 report In which it says that less developed nations are more vulnerable to the phenomenon: “The Climate Risk Index may serve as a red flag for already existing vulnerability that may further increase in regions, where extreme events will become more frequent or more severe due to climate change.”

Global Climate Risk Index 2018 analyzes as to what extent various countries have been affected by the impacts of weather-related events, i.e. storms, floods, heat waves, etc., while referring to the available data of 2016 and from 1997 to 2016. According to the Climate Risk Index for 2016, the 10 most affected countries were Haiti, Zimbabwe and Fiji, which were previously not in the list — thus showing how unpredictable climate change is.

The Germanwatch report has further stated that more than 524,000 people have died as a direct result of over 11,000 extreme weather events and losses between the time period of 1997 to 2016, amounting to around US $3.16 trillion (in purchasing power parities).

Pakistan is ranked 40th in the list, suffering 566 casualties, losing US $47.313 million — equivalent to 0.0048 per cent of the GDP. Nine out of ten countries who made it to the list of top ten climate affected nations in 2016 were not ranked in last year’s index, which shows how the human-induced climate change is bound to affect everyone regardless of race, colour and religion. The United States of America is in the list on the 10th spot and it suffered 267 casualties, losing the highest amount of financial losses of more than US $47 billion — equivalent to 0.255 per cent of its GDP.

In the Long-Term Climate Risk Index (CRI), the 10 countries most affected from 1997 to 2016, Honduras, Haiti and Myanmar top the list. The top three countries in the long-run (1997-2016) have been due to Hurricane Mitch in Honduras in 1998, Hurricane Sandy in Haiti in 2012 and Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar in 2008.

Pakistan is ranked  7th, with a death toll of 523 lives per year i.e. 10,462 lives lost in 20 years and economic losses worth US $ 3.8 billion — equivalent to 0.605 per cent of the GDP in the 20-year period. During this time, Pakistan had suffered from 141 extreme weather events, including cyclones, storms, floods, Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOFs), heat waves, etc. In last year’s long-term index (1996 to 2015 average), Pakistan held the same 7th position.

The study emphasises that over the past many years, Pakistan has been one of the most affected countries vulnerable to climate change. According to the report, “Pakistan because of its geographic location has been frequently affected by heavy monsoons in the past. Over the past 20 years, if we look at the extreme weather events in Pakistan, heavy rainfall and flooding has severely affected the lives and livelihoods of its people. Floods have badly affected the agriculture sector which has compromised the GDP targets too. In the past, heat waves and possible cold waves have also posed a a serious threat to the people.”

According to the report,  the perception is common in under-developed and developing countries that since the Western world has progressed using coal, it is necessary to develop coal power plants. In the context of wayward climate changes such an approach can entail dangerous consequences for Third World countries.

The German report recommends that Pakistan should think of reducing its emissions, which can help to minimise the risk of extreme weather events. Even otherwise, emission reduction is the responsibility not only of developed countries but also of under-developed and developing ones..

Dr. Tariq Banuri, a senior environmental expert, was the Executive Director of Global Change Impact Studies Centre (GCISC). He was also the Coordinating Lead Author of the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). While commenting on the report he said: “Between 1997 and 2016, Pakistan lost an average of 523 lives per year i.e. 10,462 lives in 20 years, which comes to 3.27 lives per million of population. As such, Pakistan was ranked 4th in terms of property damage and the largest contribution to these damage numbers came from the 2010 floods. Besides this, the country has suffered from prolonged droughts (1998-2002, 2014-17), heat waves (2011, 2014, 2016, 2017 ), the 2014 cyclone Nilofar, and GLOF events”.

According to him, the high rate of population growth has reduced per capita water availability from an ample 5,200 cubic meters per person per day to less than 1,000. Future projected population growth will reduce this to less than 500 by mid-century, which will make the country dependent on others for its food security. Climate change may reduce the water resources even further and this will affect lives, livelihoods and civic peace.

Despite tell-tale signs of climate disaster looming on the horizon, the government of Pakistan has not yet addressed the issue with the seriousness it deserves. As we can see, the weather patterns and cycles are changing fast. Summers are hotter than before, while frequent bouts of freezing cold mark the winters. These are danger signals indicating that worse lies ahead. It is time the government woke up and got its act together to meet the challenge of climate change. To start with, we must review the policy of setting up coal-fired power plants to solve our energy problems. There is also need for a comprehensive environmental policy to cushion the impact of climate change.