Pakistan is among the leaders in climate change. Unfortunately, it is leading not in fighting climate change but as being one of the countries most affected by and at risk because of climate change.
That’s what Yale’s 2018 Environmental Performance Index revealed. The Index ranked 180 countries in terms of their environmental health and ecosystem vitality.
The five countries at the bottom of this list included neighbours India, Bangladesh and Nepal. It should be of little solace to Pakistan, however, that it was not one of these countries because it ranked 169 out of 180.
On the environmental health dimension of the Index ranked even lower at 177 out of 180. The reasons for this dismal rating were poor air quality: the condition of drinking water; a lack of sanitation facilities; and, lead exposure due to heavy metals.
Other organizations such as the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) also raise serious concerns regarding the future impact climate change will have on Pakistan and its people. According to the UNDP, climate change could cause: monsoons to be more variable; the receding of Himalayan glaciers effecting the Indus river system; decreases in reservoirs’ water supply; reduced hydropower during drought years; and, extreme events such as floods and droughts. The ADB’s climate change profile projects that Pakistan’s sea level will rise by an additional 60 centimeters by the end of the century.
These reports forecast a gloomy picture for Pakistan. But, like most reports they are primarily invisible to the public in general and for the most part tend to sit on shelves gathering dust. As a result, they do not precipitate action.
What is not invisible, however, is changing weather conditions. Unfortunately, over the past decade, Pakistan has had more than its fair share of weather-related problems.
Recurrent spells of extreme weather events such as floods, droughts, glacial lake outbursts, cyclones, and heat waves have taken a heavy toll on both life and property and adversely affected the country’s economic growth. The super flood of 2010 killed 1,600 people, inundated an area of 38,600 square kilometers and caused damage of around $10 billion. Similarly, the Karachi heat wave in June 2015 led to the death of more than 1,200 people.
On April 30, 2018, the temperature in the Nawab shah city of Sindh province rose to50.2 degrees Celsius, making it the hottest day on earth ever recorded in April as per the World Meteorological Organization. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan reports that Baluchistan and Sindh, and other parts of the country are currently experiencing drought- like conditions.
Pakistan is not among the world biggest polluters or contributors to climate change. But it is one of the nations facing the most serious consequences of global climate change
This visible element of the climate change conundrum has not gone unnoticed. There are several initiatives underway to combat the negative conditions being created in Pakistan by climate change. They include:
Prime Minister Imran Khan announcing his government’s intention to plant over 10 billion trees across the country during the next five years.
A massive donation campaign launched with the help of the country’s Supreme Court to collect funds for building dams for water conservation purposes.
A major renewable energy power project titled Quaid-e-Azam solar park with the capacity of 1000 megawatts launched in Punjab province.
The federal and provincial governments spending more than eight percent of their budgets on climate change-related interventions and projects.
These are important and essential initiatives. They are beginnings. But, in and of themselves, they will be insufficient for Pakistan to win the climate change war. To do that Pakistan needs to put the proper framework in place and develop a climate change master plan.
Pakistan’s Ministry of Climate Change must lead the development of the master plan. In September of 2018, the Ministry informed a Senate panel that steps are being taken to set up a climate change council, authority and fund to prepare and supervise climate related polices and actions. Due to the urgency of this situation, these steps need to be fully executed with all deliberate speed.
They federal government cannot confront climate change by itself or in isolation. It will need the involvement of political, civic and community leaders in the planning and implementation of a master plan.
More importantly, the government will need the understanding and buy-in of all Pakistan citizens whose behaviour impacts the climate. They need to take the individual actions that will be required to make the plan work. Fortunately, the countrywide Clean Green Pakistan drive announced by Prime Minister Khan in October of last year is building awareness that addressing climate change is everyone’s problem to solve.
The master plan itself must be comprehensive, coordinated and capacity building. The plan developers should specify the areas to be addressed based upon careful analysis. At a minimum, the plan must detail the necessary actions to be taken to ensure food security, water security, energy security, and environmental security.
In conclusion, Pakistan is not among the world biggest polluters or contributors to climate change. But it is one of the nations facing the most serious consequences of global climate change.
Developing a comprehensive, coordinated and capacity-building climate change master plan will provide the basis for Pakistan to avoid those consequences. Implementing that plan successfully will require the collective will, energy and effort of all Pakistanis. They must be up to this challenge because the future of the country and its citizens depends on winning the climate change war.