Dozens of deaths caused by extreme weather in Pakistan in January this year remind the country and the world about their inadequate efforts to tackle the global warming crisis. Experts warn winter and summer conditions will continue to become harsher in Pakistan, which is the fifth most vulnerable country to the effects of climate change despite producing less than 1pc of the total greenhouse gas emissions.
At least 83 people died while dozens of others injured in different parts of Pakistan due to heavy rains and snow that caused avalanches in January. At least 62 people died in Azad Kashmir, 39 of them in two avalanches. In Balochistan, at least 20 people died due to heavy rains. Some parts of Pakistan remained colder than most Western countries. Skardu shivered at -21°C for almost the whole month. The cold wave broke a 25-year-old record in the country. Lahore recorded temperatures as low as 2°C, which was last recorded 35 years ago.
Experts have warned socioeconomic risks could increase significantly for those living in urban areas of Pakistan and India by 2050 as heat waves push up against the limits of human endurance and survivability. McKinsey Global Institute said 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, the consultancy’s research arm. The report warned that hot and humid countries like Pakistan are expected to become significantly hotter and more humid by 2050. This 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. Reliance on outdoor work could also be severely affected because of heat waves, as well as increasingly hot and humid climate. Pakistan’s projected GDP of 4 percent could be at risk annually with rising temperatures, forcing people already at their physical threshold to cut the number of working hours.
Agriculture, an outdoor sector, has a significant share in the economy. It contributes 18.5 percent to Pakistan’s GDP, providing employment to 38.5 percent of the national labour force, but it remains a backward sector of the economy. The government already recognises high performing agriculture as key for economic growth and poverty alleviation. The report suggests sectoral shifts in national economy could reduce the impacts of outdoor work on the GDP, especially in countries like Pakistan. “The pace of sectoral shifts in national economies will strongly influence GDP outcomes and drive the range in the GDP at risk,” the report noted.
The report aims to help inform decision makers around the world so they can better assess, adapt to, and mitigate the physical risks of climate change. 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. “Under an RCP 8.5 scenario, urban areas in parts of India and Pakistan could be the first places in the world to experience heat waves 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.
According to the Geremenwatch 2020 report, more than 526,000 people have died all over the world and $3.3 trillion losses were incurred from 1998 to 2018. In this period, Pakistan’s share was 9,989 deaths and $3.8 billion in losses due to more than 300 extreme weather events. Pakistan is already fifth on the Global Climate Risk Index 2020; the list of nations most affected by climate change. The ranking shows Pakistan downgrading in terms of environmental security as the 2018 report had put Pakistan as the eighth most vulnerable country. The situation is worsening in Pakistan as the UNEP Adaptation Gap Report of 2016 predicts “increasing impacts and resulting increases in global adaptation costs by 2030 or 2050 that will likely be much higher than currently expected: two-to-three times higher than current global estimates by 2030, and potentially four-to-five times higher by 2050”.
For the past several years, the country has been facing unusual weather patterns. It experiences baking heat in the summer, excessive rainfalls or droughts and prolonged spells of cold wave in the winter. The current winter started unusually in November even in Karachi where the weather remains moderate in November and December.
Experts consider the extreme winter in Pakistan a fallout of the global warming crisis. It is pity that Pakistan is one the most vulnerable countries to the effects of climate change despite producing less than 1pc of the total greenhouse gas emissions. It is paying the price for the greed of the developed world. Pakistan was devastated by floods a decade ago, which caused approximately 2,000 deaths, while millions of others were displaced from their homes. Recently, it has witnessed droughts in its southern parts, which have suffered from severe water shortages.
The PTI government has launched an ambitious “10-billion-tree tsunami” project to tackle the climate crisis. It needs large-scale measures to reverse the damage already done. It should expedite its efforts to minimise the effects of global change. Challenges are enormous but it has no option to lose the fight. It will determine its future.