Pakistan Reader# 212, 24 September 2021
On 20 September, Prime Minister Imran Khan addressed a meeting of 35 heads of state, on climate change, and called on the developed countries to abide by their commitment to the Paris Agreement. Khan opined that when developed countries fulfill their financial pledges, a debt-for-nature swap model would assist developing countries in implementing climate actions. Calling on the rich countries to keep a check on their emissions. Previously, on 5 June, the World Environment Day, Khan had conveyed the same message, reasoning that despite minimal contribution to climate change - less than one per cent - Pakistan was among the most vulnerable countries. He said due to their significant contribution to climate change, rich countries should take up greater responsibility.
Various instances of climate change in Pakistan
Climate change can be characterised by increasing heat, heavy rainfall or severe drought, and rising sea level and Pakistan has been undergoing a few of these issues, thereby validating Khan’s concerns on Pakistan’s vulnerability.
First, the rising heat. On 19 September, Dawn had reported on the effects of climate change in Sindh's Jacobabad; the news referred to a story by The Telegraph which said Jacobabad was only second to UAE’s Ras al Khaimah, to have recorded temperatures that surpassed the heat a human body can survive. In 2019 and 2020, Jacobabad recorded 51 degrees Celsius as the highest temperature and in 2021, 50 degrees Celsius. This kind of extremity has led to people temporarily moving to other cities; however, this is not an option for everyone. The news refers to a 2019 Time magazine article which outlined that Jacobabad is on its way to become “uninhabitable” soon.
Second, frequent floods. On 23 September, Karachi was hit by torrential rains and the city was flooded within a few hours. While, urban planning and development or the lack thereof characterises the frequent flooding, there is a larger pattern of climate change behind this. Previously, in August 2020, over a 100 people had died and several thousand displaced in Karachi due to floods after the city received the highest rainfall in at least 90 years at 484mm, according to the Pakistan Meteorology Department. This is a drastic increase from one mm rain recorded in Sindh in 2018, to 323 mm in 2019, and above 400mm in 2020.
Third, the risk of glacial melt. Recently, PM Khan outlined that climate change has been affecting Pakistan’s glacial system which reportedly supplies 80 per cent of the country’s rivers. Indeed, Pakistan has 7,253 known glaciers, only second to the world’s polar regions. Glacial melt is estimated to place around seven million people at risk. In 2018, the UN had classified 33 of over 3000 glacial lakes in Pakistan, Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, and Gilgit-Baltistan, as hazardous. Meanwhile, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had previously outlined that a n increase in global warming by two degrees would cause some of the above scenarios.
A former Director of Energy at Islamic Development Bank listed out the following as other probable outcome of climate change in Pakistan. First, the disruption of urban and agricultural life due to periodic flooding; second, a change in agricultural yields and cropping patterns; third, depletion of fish due to vanishing corals; fourth; freshwater depletion; lastly, a combined impact on the health system as people will be subject to heat strokes and related diseases. The impact is greater on Pakistan due to its heavy dependence on sectors which rely on agriculture and natural resources.
What the experts say
Currently, Pakistan ranks fifth among the countries most vulnerable to climate change according to the Global Climate Risk Index for 2020. In May, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and World Bank (WB) jointly released the Climate Risk Country Profile and outlined that Pakistan is facing economic losses worth USD 3.8 billion due to climate change. The report delved into the above-mentioned risks and said Pakistan has a three per cent risk of experiencing heat waves as the country records some of the highest temperatures from across the globe. Referring to 2015 heatwave where more than 65,000 were hospitalised due to heatstroke, the report says the number of people exposed to this risk is therefore huge. Similarly, the report ranks Pakistan on the 8th position among countries with high exposure to flooding, looking at riverine, flash, and coastal, floods.
All is not lost
Pakistan is gradually accepting that climate change is an inevitable reality and needs to be countered at the earliest. While previous governments have also focused on climate, as is evident by the launch of the National Climate Change Policy (NCCP) in 2013, proactive measures have become a standard just over the recent years.
In fact, in July 2020, Pakistan met United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 13 - 10 years ahead of the 2030 deadline - which outlines the need for immediate measures to battle climate change. Some of the measures undertaken by Pakistan include the 10 Billion Tree Tsunami Programme, Clean Green Pakistan Index and Clean Green Pakistan Initiative. Similarly, in March 2021, the formation of a National Adaptation Plan to enhance resilience to climate change was introduced.
However, criticism against these measures include that they do not focus on the root cause of the problem, like industrial emissions, thereby contributing to the debate that they are reactionary rather than preventive. Therefore, Pakistan needs to strike a balance between its developmental goals and climate actions.
Anwar Iqbal, “PM Imran highlights Pakistan’s vulnerabilities at climate moot,” Dawn, 21 September 2021
“PM calls on developed world to support countries vulnerable to climate change,” Dawn, 5 June 2021
Mohammad Hussain Khan, “Environment: Is Jacobabad ready for climate change?,” Dawn, 19 September 2021
S Khan, “Pakistan: Climate change, environmental problems put government in a bind,” Deutsche Welle, 8 September 2020
Khaliq Kiani, “‘Climate change to cost Pakistan $3.8bn yearly’,” Dawn, 19 May 2021
Farrukh Mahmood Mian, Preparing for a climate emergency,” Dawn, 2 August 2021
“Millions at risk as melting Pakistan glaciers raise flood fears,” Al Jazeera, 9 June 2020
Jamila Achakzai, “Pakistan meets UN climate change goal a decade ahead of deadline,” The News International, 13 July 2020
“Prioritising climate change,” The News International, 30 July 2021
“Challenges of climate change,” Daily Times, 12 August 2021
“Climate change concerns,” Dawn, 31 August 2021