KARACHI: United States President Donald Trump is known to toss around the term ‘fake news’ in relation to many things, especially climate change. To challenge this, speakers at the Karachi International Water Conference explored, at a rather sensationally titled session ‘Trumping the Devil – Is Climate Change Fake News?’ various aspects of climate change and the impact it will and already has had on Pakistan.
Chairing the session, Rudolph Cleveringa, executive secretary of the Global Water Partnership, spoke about the link between water stress and migration, explaining that there were 184 peer-reviewed research articles proving this. Climate change and water stress lead to migration and many countries want to curb this and the influx of refugees, he said.
Speaking about climate change in the Pakistani context, he said the country has allocated only 8% of its public expenditure for water.
Environmentalist and author Zulfiqar Halepoto was the only speaker to touch upon the topic of the session and discussed the global and US reaction to Trump’s strong stance against the phenomenon of climate change. Illustrating his point with screenshots of tweets and video clips, Halepoto said many citizens and government officials in the US did not support their president’s view that climate change was fake. Since his election, he has refrained from openly disparaging the existence of climate change, according to the environmentalist’s presentation.
“The [effects of] climate may vary but it is very real,” said Dr Zaigham Habib, a consultant hydrologist. She discussed the confusion between natural climate variabilities and climate change, explaining that droughts and floods are natural occurrences but the frequency with which they have been occurring is alarming.
“Scientists need to separate what’s part of natural climate change and what is not,” she told participants of the session. Dr Habib cautioned that carbon dioxide levels have peaked in the last 60 years, illustrating her point with a graph tracing the carbon dioxide levels in the world for the past 400,000 years.
Pakistan is among 10 countries most vulnerable to climate change, she warned. Dr Habib also cautioned that the formation of large lakes was troubling. All these occurrences are cause to worry, she said. She pinpointed the impacts of climate change such as uncertainty in water availability, decrease in crop yields, loss of biodiversity and increase in health risks.
She linked climate change to the agriculture sector and the recent failed potato crop. “Some climate change impacts, like melting glaciers, cannot be reversed,” she said, urging people to forget Trump and instead accept that Asia has it worse in terms of climate change impacts.
Dr Lubna Ghazal, an assistant professor at Karachi University’s geography department, said the increasing population is leading to an increased demand for water. Pakistan is a country that suffers both floods and droughts.
“By 2025 one-third of the human population will be living in areas lacking fresh water and Pakistan will be among those areas,” she said, adding that water will become the new oil in the not-so-distant future.
According to the United Nations, the demand for water increases by 10% every year, she said. Dr Ghazal added that Pakistan claims to be an agro-based economy but most of its population is highly undernourished. What we need is monitoring, management and financial support, she urged.
Daanika Kamal, from The Asia Foundation, put a human rights spin on climate change, arguing that the issue was about protecting future generations. “Human rights are ‘human’ because humans both suffer and impose the [changes],” she said. “The blame game doesn’t work,” said Kamal, explaining that the situation worsens while countries try to pass the buck. By putting a human rights spin on the issue, she said that countries would be liable to impose limitations on non-state actors, and assist other countries reduce the effects of climate change in their territories. By doing so we would be taking care of all humans, she said, adding that another right to protect is the right to culture and heritage, which will be endangered by climate change-related migration.