Before the flood

Rising sea levels, intensifying droughts and unprecedented increase in wildfires

Eric Shahzar September 29, 2019
The writer is a lecturer and an environmentalist

Rising sea levels, intensifying droughts and unprecedented increase in wildfires — all are clear indications of accelerated climate change. Climate scientists have long argued that human activities are unquestionably the main source of climate change. In the early 1900s, burning fossil fuels produced about 2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide. Today, the number is nearly 20 times greater. With a growing population and economies the level of carbon emissions is also rising.

Every year, the planet is warming at startling rates. According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), July 2019 was recorded as the hottest-ever month in human history. Global heatwaves caused severe droughts and a drastic increase in wildfires. The fire in the Amazonas is one example. Despite the 2015 Paris Agreement — where commitments were made to limit the average global temperature this century to below 2 degrees Celsius — global carbon emissions increased by 2.7% in 2018. What is extremely shocking is that global efforts are underway to limit global warming; however statistics have only worsened. The future trends look even more disastrous.

Recent nationwide events organised by civil society clearly show Pakistan’s willingness to curb the effects of accelerated climate change. The recent Climate Action March, which simultaneously took place in almost 30 cities, attracted large audiences. People from all walks of life participated in these powerful demonstrations. The irrevocable damage caused by climate change is now well-acknowledged by the civil society. The good news is that we are seeing a whopping increase in the number of climate activists. These are constructive developments.

In a bid to restrain global carbon emissions, many countries have shifted to renewable energy. Take China for example. The country was once regarded as the world leader in emitting carbon into the atmosphere. However, today, China has taken a lead in renewable energy and is now the world’s biggest producer, exporter and installer of solar panels and wind turbines. The Chinese are still relying on fossil fuels but they seem to be transitioning to renewables much faster than anyone anticipated. The underlying question however is: can less developed countries make the same transition?

Have we ever wondered how much carbon dioxide is emitted by our own vehicles? A standard passenger vehicle releases almost 4.6 metric tons of carbon in a year. Traffic flow in metropolitan cities has only been augmenting. Sindh government with the collaboration of Sindh Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) has recently launched a commendable initiative to address this issue. Vehicles emitting smoke and harming the environment will now be fined by authorities. Moreover, vehicles clearing this test would be given a green sticker. We need this initiative to be followed in the rest of the provinces as well.

Even though we have long had alternatives to fossil fuels, we recently discovered how to extract carbon out of our deteriorating atmosphere. It gives us a glimmer of hope for reversing climate disruption. Climeworks in Switzerland has become the first company to capture an estimated 900 tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, annually. The captured gas can be used in greenhouses for boosting plant growth. Investing in such initiatives has now become more important than ever. We must introduce creative strategies like these for reducing carbon emissions from the atmosphere.

The effects of climate change are undoubtedly global in scope and unprecedented in scale. The world is suffering from severe natural disasters that are progressively becoming more destructible and unpredictable. All of this is happening way before scientific projections. The rise in carbon dioxide and other gases will only intensify climate disruption and cause havoc around the world. From Pakistan’s perspective, South Asia remains one of the most vulnerable regions to climate change hence reversing it must be Pakistan’s chief priority.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 29th, 2019.

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