Conversations on climate change

Various climate-modelling studies for Pakistan outline a trajectory of more frequent and extreme weather events.

Anyone who has spent time in the UK will know that a favoured topic of ‘light’ conversation for Brits revolves around what is happening with the weather. We love to discuss it; usually about rain. But as the effects of climate change begin to make themselves more keenly felt, ‘normal’ weather is becoming harder to understand and a topic of more serious concern. I have learnt from my first four months in Pakistan, that this is also the case here.

Earlier this month, I visited Gilgit-Baltistan, where abnormal weather was the most frequently raised topic of conversation. I gladly engaged. Conversation, after all, generates ideas; ideas generate plans; and plans provide outcomes. Nothing about what is happening globally with the weather is ‘normal’. Last year the UK recorded its highest-ever temperature of 40.3°C/104.54°F, with a heatwave tragically resulting in almost 3,000 excess deaths. This however pales in comparison with what occurred in Pakistan, when a lack of rain early in the year led to temperatures often exceeding 50°C/122°F across the country resulting in widespread crop failure, triggering food security concerns. This dire situation was rapidly followed by excessive monsoon rain, which submerged one third of the country, affecting 33 million people.

The future looks bleak. Various climate-modelling studies for Pakistan outline a trajectory of more frequent and extreme weather events. The International Food Policy Research Institute believes that by 2030, some 40 million Pakistanis will be pushed into food insecurity due to rising temperatures. Climate change effects have the potential to slow down Pakistan’s overall growth by as much as 18-20% per year by 2050, reducing the country’s ability to recover from crises. The warning lights everywhere are no longer blinking amber but are permanently on red.

The tragedy is that whilst Pakistan has done very little to contribute to the drivers of climate change, contributing less than 1% of the world’s annual emissions, it is the 8th most climate vulnerable country in the world. Pakistan can however do more to build its own climate resilience. By which I mean to increase the ability to recover from, or to mitigate vulnerability to, climate-related shocks. This is a major priority of the UK’s work in Pakistan, with the federal and provincial governments, and will be for the foreseeable future following a decision to more than double our investment in climate finance and climate resilience and adaptation.

Already we are expanding our climate focussed programmes and assistance and I am delighted to outline that we have just started phase two of our Climate Finance Accelerator Programme. This will see eight innovative Pakistan-based projects receive technical support to help them find private investment to tackle climate-related issues. The UK will also now be working with the Global System for Mobile Communications to expand on an AI-based ‘Early Warning Forest Fire Detection System’ to cover more forested areas of the Federal Capital Territory as well as Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa to minimise the risk of forest fires, safeguarding lives, livelihoods and Pakistan’s bio-diversity.

Alongside this climate resilience work, the UK will make its voice heard to influence international global environmental outcomes that will benefit Pakistan. In the UAE at COP28, the UK will be tirelessly advocating to ensure that this COP delivers an outcome that puts the world on track to keep the global temperature rise below 1.5°C, by halving global emissions by 2030. This will not be easy. Right now, with terrible conflicts occurring around the world, in the Middle East, to Ukraine and places such as Sudan and the Sahel in Africa, the international focus on climate change is being tested. Given the sheer scale of human suffering occurring this can only be expected.

However, with COP28 just round the corner, and with time not on our side, it is essential that conversations on climate change continue. This week the UK’s Pakistan Network (our offices in Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore) will be marking the 75th Birthday of His Majesty King Charles III — a lifelong advocate for environmental sustainability and conservation. We will be using the occasion to openly discuss some of the climate-related challenges that lie ahead, and how the UK and Pakistan can work together to tackle them. From how to build on Pakistan’s negotiating success at COP27, regarding the establishment of a ‘Loss and Damage fund’, and make it more substantive in responding for the most climate vulnerable countries. To Pakistan expanding coastal protection and safeguarding it’s marine economy worth $400 million a year in exports, by working more closely with the Commonwealth’s Blue Charter and joining the Sustainable Blue Economy Action Group.

As I mentioned at the start of this conversation; conversation generates ideas; ideas generate plans; plans provide outcomes. And Pakistan, the UK — and the world — urgently need positive climate outcomes.

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