Pakistan has seen unprecedented flooding, glacial lake outbursts and several other climate-related disasters in the past decade. The country ranks 135th in terms of global emissions but is counted among the countries most susceptible to climate change.
These views were expressed by panellists at a session, at the 12th Karachi Literature Festival, titled, ‘The Air We Breathe: Pakistan’s Vulnerability to Climate Change’.
The panellists, award-winning journalist, Rina Saeed Khan, and a geographer focused on water and climate politics, Tabitha Spence, noted that though the current government is inclined towards mitigating the effects of climate change, a major reason that work lags in this sector is that officials of the Ministry of Climate Change are frequently transferred from one project to another. As the session began, Khan, who is a frequent participant of the United Nations Climate Change Conference - the Conference of the Parties (COP), elaborated on Pakistan’s efforts towards countering the impacts of climate change at the global level.
Pakistan sends a delegation led by the minister of climate change each year as its part of the country’s foreign policy, she said. However, members of the delegation are frequently transferred to work on other projects, noted Khan. She believes that the ministry should have more trained and focused individuals and a stronger delegation to represent Pakistan at the international forum.
It is also a part of the Group of 77 (G77) developing countries at the United Nations but it only follows the other countries when it comes to climate change negotiations, said Khan. “[The country] is not a big influencer [when it comes to] climate change but it is surely influenced by it.”
She observed that though the country ranked 135th with regards to its global emissions its vulnerability to the effects of environmental degradation was much higher.
Prone to climatic disaster
The country has seen frequent glacial lake outbursts, floods and other climate-related disasters since 2010, she said. These climatic disasters leave devastation in their wake in villages up in mountainous areas, and on those living in the vicinity of the Indus Delta, which is impacted by the rise in sea level.
Bringing members of the communities most exposed to the impacts of climate change in Pakistan to the COPs would help bring the country’s climate concerns to the forefront, according to her. Similarly, Spence pointed out that regular locust storms were destroying croplands in Sindh and Punjab. Moreover, floods, heat waves and melting glaciers were the most immediate signs of the climate crisis in the country, she said.
The geographer predicted that these effects would only get worse over time and recommended that timely goals be set to limit harm. These goals should enable our communities to safeguard their resources and commodities, she stressed.
A pressing matter
As the discussion progressed, Khan observed that climate change is covered widely in the media. The younger journalists have seen what happens to farmers and are aware of the scale of its devastation globally and its effects in Pakistan, she remarked.
While appreciating the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government’s inclinations towards dealing with climate change, she dubbed the 10 billion tree project and the premier’s announcement to generate 60 per cent of the country’s energy from renewable resources by 2030 as ambitious. Meanwhile, Spence drew attention towards the fact that global emissions have continued to rise and surpassed their pre-pandemic levels despite lockdowns across the globe. This proves that our policies never did change, she opined.
Khan and Spence were joined by the United States acting Consul-General in Karachi, Jack Hillmeyer while Amy Christianson, the public affairs officer at the US consulate in Karachi moderated the session.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 29th, 2021.