FeaturedNationalVOLUME 16 ISSUE # 16

Towards a green Pakistan

Pakistan’s efforts for a green future are being recognised by international organisations. However, it is the beginning of a long journey to save marginalised groups, which are facing serious food insecurity and loss of livelihoods from climate change.

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. International studies point 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. 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.

It is feared that the aggregate impact of climatic parameters, such as changes in the 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 advancing. 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. 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 Science Advances journal 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 by 2018, with 33 of them considered hazardous and more than 7 million people at risk downstream, according to the UNDP.

Past governments in Pakistan ignored the issue but Prime Minister Imran Khan has launched initiatives to offset the effects of climate change. He plans to establish 15 national parks in different parts of the country under his “Green Stimulus” project aimed at covering an area of over 7, 300 sq km, stretching from the mountainous region in the north to the scrub forests in the plains and a marine protected area in the south. He has also launched a five-year campaign to plant 10 billion trees. The World Economic Forum (WEF) has also appreciated Pakistan’s environmental policies, climate action plan, and response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic in a video. It highlights the three ways in which Pakistan is moving ahead towards a greener future. “Pakistan has pledged to source 60pc of its energy from renewable sources by 2030,” it says. It also acknowledged Pakistan’s efforts for the creation of 15 new national parks. “As the pandemic devastates the globe, and climate change threatens our way of life, our relationship with nature demands us to rethink,” the video concludes.

In its February 2021 report, the WEF appreciated the Pakistan government’s green agenda. Over the past few months, while many countries grappled to come to terms with the pandemic, Pakistan was willing to think ahead and act out of the box – sensing a silver lining emerge around this black cloud of confusion and uncertainty. The government’s green agenda, built upon the successful implementation of the Billion Tree Tsunami (2014-18), had already accepted the premise that nature-based solutions not only protect and preserve nature but also have the potential to spur an alternate green economy. More importantly, it had effectively created the launch pad for a directional shift of the economy towards sustainable growth. Against this backdrop, the COVID-19 crisis provided an opportunity and Pakistan seized it to break out of the depression and reboot a stressed economy with a “Green Stimulus” focused on two objectives: protecting nature and creating green jobs. The focal areas for intervention included planting more trees, expanding and reviving protected areas and improving urban sanitation – all of which could generate quick employment while also allowing the country to come out of the crisis on a nature-positive pathway, it noted.

According to the WEF, Pakistan has carved out an opportunity amidst the crisis, through rebooting the economy with a green stimulus and putting its faith in four diverse nature based financial instruments – all premised on the belief that the economic framework of the 20th century will not get us through the 21th century. Nature is demanding a rethink and Pakistan has heeded the call. However, long and persistent efforts are needed to tackle the environment issue and all future governments will have to focus on it for desired results.