NationalVOLUME 15 ISSUE # 23

The climate challenge

The global crisis of environmental degradation has left the economy of the world and Pakistan vulnerable to threats. The way it has started affecting the population and wildlife, it could 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. The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) has also warned of food shortages in the country due to climate change.

Pakistan is among the top 10 countries most affected by climate change in the past 20 years owing to its geographical location. The socioeconomic costs of environmental degradation were considerable with climate adaptation needs ranging between $7 billion and $14 billion per year. Pakistan has lost 0.53pc per unit GDP, suffered economic losses worth $3.8 billion and witnessed 152 extreme weather events from 1999 to 2018. The situation calls for urgent measures to stem the tide of climate change.

The government of Pakistan has felt the need to improve the situation but its efforts are too little to bring about a meaningful change. It needs the help of the world to address the crisis, which was created by advanced countries, but most of its victims are poor countries, like Pakistan. Land degradation, wildlife exploitation, intensive farming and climate change are driving the rise in diseases, United Nations experts have warned. The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) jointly identified seven trends responsible for zoonotic diseases, calling on governments to take steps to stop future pandemics. These are: rising demand for animal protein, extraction of natural resources and urbanization, intensive and unsustainable farming, exploitation of wildlife, increased travel and transportation, food supply changes and climate change.

“The science is clear that if we keep exploiting wildlife and destroying our ecosystems, then we can expect to see a steady stream of these diseases jumping from animals to humans in the years ahead,” said UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen. “Pandemics are devastating to our lives and our economies, and as we have seen over the past months, it is the poorest and the most vulnerable who suffer the most. To prevent future outbreaks, we must become much more deliberate about protecting our natural environment.” About 60pc of known infectious diseases in humans and 75pc of all emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic, she said, largely due to the increased interaction between humans, animals and the environment.

The coronavirus, which is most likely to have originated in bats, has infected more than 11 million people and killed over half a million people globally, according to the Johns Hopkins University. But it is just one in a growing number of diseases including Ebola, MERS, West Nile fever, Zika, SARS and Rift Valley fever that have jumped from animal hosts into the human population in recent years, said the report. Around two million people, mostly in developing nations, die from neglected zoonotic diseases every year. These outbreaks not only cause severe illness and deaths, but also result in major economic losses for some of the world’s poorest. In the last two decades alone, zoonotic diseases have caused economic losses of more than $100 billion. This does not include the cost of the pandemic, which is expected to reach $9 trillion over the next few years. Most efforts to control zoonotic diseases have been reactive rather than proactive, say experts. They want governments to invest in public health, farm sustainability, end over-exploitation of wildlife and reduce climate change.

Africa — home to a large portion of the worlds remaining intact rainforests as well as fast-growing human population — is at high risk of the increased emergence of zoonotic diseases – but could also provide solutions, said experts. “The situation on the continent today is ripe for intensifying existing zoonotic diseases and facilitating the emergence and spread of new ones,” said ILRI Director General Jimmy Smith. “But with their experiences with Ebola and other emerging diseases, African countries are demonstrating proactive ways to manage disease outbreaks.” He said some African nations had adopted a “One Health” approach – uniting public health, veterinary and environmental expertise which can help to identify and treat outbreaks in animals before they pass to humans. The experts urged governments to provide incentives for sustainable land use and animal husbandry and to develop strategies for producing food that do not rely on the destruction of habitats and biodiversity. A new study shows that at least a decade would pass before the world begins to cool down as a result of measures to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases. Depending on the level of emissions reduction, we may have to wait until 2046 to see global temperatures drop.

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 Economic Survey of Pakistan warns of serious climate threats to the Pakistan economy. However, the survey said the government was cognizant of the situation and taking measures at policy, management and operational levels to mitigate the adverse effects of climate change in the country.

Prime Minister Imran Khan has announced setting up 15 national parks across the country under the “Protective Area Initiative” to protect and enhance the forest cover, create green jobs and address the threat of climate change. The initiative, a part of his 10 billion trees plantation programme, could prove to be a game-changer for Pakistan’s environment and economy.