The climate threat – 08 Sep 2022
The writer studied International Journalism at the University of Sussex.
For many of the country’s Generation Z, they have never seen anything as devastating and horrendous as the ongoing floods. At the time of writing this piece, one-third of Pakistan is practically under water with 33 million people most adversely affected.
Some statistics are in order, though they may not portray the full scale of disaster: more than 1300 people including 400 children are dead; 1.1 million cattle-heads have perished and crops standing on hundreds of thousands of acres have been washed away.
The last time Pakistan suffered anything similar was in 2010. Our losses from the super floods of the time ran into about $10 billion then, as per the World Bank’s damage needs assessment survey. Now the situation appears to be much grimmer and scarier than before.
This time, going by the discussions in policy circles, the economic damage runs into anything close to $15 billion, if not more. This devastation has come at the peak of an economic crisis of epic proportions.
There is only one explanation for the flood disaster: climate change. The monsoon events are clearly induced by climate hazards. Pakistan’s shift from winter into the summer was swift and sudden with virtually no spring. The summer effect was augmented by a four-fold increase in the temperature in the months of March, April and May this year. There was news of forest fires and experts predicted droughts and dry weather.
Pakistan’s share in greenhouse gas emissions is less than one percent but we rank at the eighth position exposed to the dangers of climate change. We are bearing the brunt of the actions of economically powerful countries for no fault of ours.
As the UN secretary-general recently put it in his message at the launch of the UN flash appeal, Pakistan is “awash in suffering” and the monsoon our people are facing has been on “steroids”. He was spot on when he said, “Today it is Pakistan, tomorrow it could be your country.” His visit to the flood-hit areas of Pakistan will serve to globally spotlight the predicaments and massive ordeal people are facing in Sindh, Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and elsewhere.
Pakistan is located at one of the geographical hotspots that is 15 times more likely to suffer from climate impacts. As the recent floods have established, we are ground zero of the fast-approaching climate catastrophe. Pakistan is also located at a place on the globe which bears the brunt of two major weather systems. One is responsible for causing high temperatures and drought, and the other brings monsoon rains.
While the role of climate change in increasing the intensity and changing the pattern of monsoon rains is well documented, Pakistan faces another uphill challenge in the form of immense glaciers, which makes the country even more vulnerable to the deadly impacts of climate change.
Pakistan’s northern region, namely KP and Gilgit-Baltistan, are home to 7200 glaciers, often referred to as the ‘third pole. The increase in temperature, an offshoot of global warming, resulted in melting of glacial ice, creating 33 lakes that experts say face the risk of sudden bursting. If this happens, it will endanger the lives of the millions of the people living in these areas.
A threat of droughts and intense monsoon rains is the work of climate change. It is time for the developing world, particularly Pakistan, to call a spade a spade. We need to question the large global polluters for their climate-threatening actions. The Global South should not allow itself to be left at the mercy of the Global North.
If developing countries like Pakistan suffer the consequences of the actions and policies of the developed world, the damage would not stay with us. It will come to haunt the world in numerous other ways.
The whole idea of maddening material development needs a revision. The development model should be a win-win for all, not a win-lose matrix as it is at the moment. The world needs to explore the moral basis of development.
What the world agreed to at the Conference of Parties (COP26) in Glasgow last year falls way short of the challenge that has come our way. It is important that serious discussions take place on finding ways and means to provide much needed climate finance to the vulnerable countries.
The developed countries should come good on their commitment to set up a ‘damage and loss fund’ to support countries that face climate threats. Before COP27 takes place in Egypt later this year, it is equally important to include the idea of a ‘climate stock take’ as a regular feature to ensure accountability and transparency to determine the level of compliance with the NDCs.
Developing countries such as Pakistan need support not just in climate mitigation but more significantly in climate adaptation. We need capacity building to respond to the emergent nature of the climate threats.
The ideas of ‘climate justice’ and ‘climate equality’ should become the building block for a new framework of cooperation between the Global North and Global South. At COP27, Pakistan as the chair of a group of 77 developing countries plus China should push these ideas as a solution to the predicaments posed by climate change.
It needs to be understood that climate change is much more than floods, forest fires and droughts. Pakistan’s climate vulnerability is directly linked with poverty, as both reinforce each other. Climate-induced catastrophe means not just the loss of lives and livelihoods but also billions of dollars lost in infrastructure damage, more inequality, and increase in commodity prices.
Climate change has come to be identified as one of the principal variables shaping the national security paradigm. The country’s ability to achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) has been undermined by the unfolding tragedy. COP27 offers an opportunity to the world to revisit the climate threat perception and improvise policies to fight it. The threats and dangers that used to be highlighted in seminars and drawing discussions are playing out in the real world.
Pakistan should embark on ‘climate diplomacy’ to evolve consensus for a global prompt action to fight the hazards. The following is instructive in this regard: Pakistan needs a robust global financial mechanism. The world should go beyond pledges to offer financial assistance. COP27 should decide on the funding arrangements.
The calls of the developing world in general and Pakistan in particular for loss and development (L&D) funds need to be heeded. The Climate Dialogue held in Petersburg in July 2022 also made a clarion call for practical steps aimed at translating the commitments and pledges into concrete contributions.
COP27 should show seriousness of purpose by accelerating actions as well as joint finance implementation goals of $100 billion. A fair share of at least $10 billion should be allocated for Pakistan because of its being frontline state in the climate catastrophe.
The ongoing floods in Pakistan need to be understood as ‘extreme climate events’ and taken up as a standing agenda point during COP27.
Climate finance should be commensurate with the infrastructure losses, to be arranged through the issuance of catastrophe bonds, blue bonds, and other such workable initiatives.
Pakistan should demand to be included in the Climate Vulnerable Forum & Vulnerable Twenty Group (V20).
The IPCC should initiate thorough assessment of loss and damage and climate vulnerability of Pakistan.
Debt relief for Pakistan is urgently needed to enable the country to invest in the strategic areas of rehabilitation of flood-hit populations including restoration of health, education, sustainable energy, and climate-resilient infrastructure.
Shaken by what Pakistan is facing right now, the world should wake up to the need for urgent action. Pakistan should be treated as a case study followed by the announcement of a comprehensive package to fight climate change.