Coronavirus or climate crisis, worldwide concerted efforts are inevitable against global challenges. President Joe Biden’s virtual Climate Conference (April 22-23) with leaders of 40 countries is an important initiative. Nonetheless, the spread, depth and urgency of the climate crisis stipulate a larger cadre of leaders. Leaving out key leaders from such events would not help.
This is a crucial year to check the pace of climate change. The world has a rare chance to correct actions in the 26th UN Conference on Climate Change (COP26), scheduled for November 1-12, in Glasgow. This would be the most important climate conference after the Paris Agreement of 2015.
Earlier in April, John Kerry, the United States Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, visited Asia to pave the way for Biden’s conference. While traveling to the UAE, Bangladesh, India and China, Kerry flew over Pakistan — the eighth most impacted country in the world from climate change. It has suffered economic losses worth $3.8 billion and faced 173 extreme weather events from 2000 to 2019. Lives and livelihoods of millions of people have suffered in a country that is least responsible for causing this climate crisis.
Based on historical facts, the responsibility of the crisis is attributed to the industrialised countries after the industrial revolution and subsequent industrial growth. The fossil fuel based industrial growth led to the emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) that caused global warming. Despite its little input in the crisis, Pakistan is contributing in the fight against this global crisis and the leadership of Prime Minister Imran Khan is a major driving force.
Sequestering GHGs curtails the pace of the climate crisis. For ease of understanding, sequestration can be termed as the process of cleaning the GHGs such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide emitted in the last 200 years.
Of the total global carbon dioxide emission, Pakistan accounts for only 0.65%. Its biodiversity on land and sea is a crucial source of carbon sequestration. The 4.5 million hectares of forest area of Pakistan is an important source of cleaning carbon dioxide along with the pleatlands and marshy areas. Mangroves, seaweeds, seagrass and salt marshes sequester more carbon than terrestrial forests and the carbon stored through these sea-based ecosystems is known as blue carbon.
In addition to the above natural sources of carbon storage, Imran Khan has added an impetus against climate change. His vision yielded the Billion Tree Tsunami Program in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) that has attracted acclamation from the World Economic Forum (WEF) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the NGO in charge of administering the Bonn Challenge, described it as “a true conservation success story.”
After taking over as prime minister in 2018, Imran Khan amplified his vision towards the 10 Billion Tree Tsunami Program, Clean Green Cities Index, National Electric Vehicle Policy and others.
A mature tree cleans nearly 22 kilograms of carbon annually from the atmosphere. Hence, the billion trees of K-P would clean up around 22 million tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This figure would jump to almost 220 million tonnes after the completion of 10 Billion Tree Tsunami Program. Beside carbon storage, these trees have numerous other benefits for the people and ecology. Given the size of the economy and the financial constraints of Pakistan, this is a huge contribution towards the global climate crisis and Imran Khan’s climate leadership can inspire many global leaders.
The grandeur of the tree programme is comparable with a Nobel Prize-winning initiative. Wangari Maathai of Kenya had received the Nobel Prize in 2004 for her Green Belt Movement that motivated ecological thinking in Africa for tree plantation.
Even so, Pakistan needs to further various aspects of climate work such as; diversification of trees in the tsunami programme, raising awareness in all walks of life, integration of climatic challenges and opportunities with all sectors of economy, building relevant capacities in the government and private sectors, climate adaptation plans that connects national and local levels considering poverty, food security, health, agriculture, livestock, disaster risk reduction and urban planning.
Adaptation to climate change means taking action to prepare for and adjust to both the current effects of climate change and the predicted impacts in the future. Adaptation leads to resilience in the system, institution and the people. The Asian Development Bank highlights that Pakistan needs financial resources of $7-14 billion per year for climate adaptation.
Like Pakistan, all developing and underdeveloped countries need financial and technical support to face the climate change crisis. Malik Amin Aslam, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister, attended the US climate conference and rightly reminded global leaders to allocate $100 billion annually for developing countries for this effort.
Adaptation and mitigation are the fundamental strategies against the climate crisis. Adaptation is important to build resilience against the crisis while mitigation is essential to stop the crisis by ceasing the emission of GHGs. The latter is a major responsibility of countries with a large share of historic and current emissions.
This was the foremost agenda of Biden’s climate conference. In the conference, the US committed to reduce emission by 50% and Canada by 40-45% until 2030. China offered to put strict limitation on coal consumption by 2025, phasing it down by 2030 along with net zero GHGs emissions by 2060. The UK committed to cut down emission by 68% and the EU by 55%, while India offered to expand renewable energy projects.
The challenges, however, remain after Biden’s conference. The crisis demands a shift from commitments to actually stopping emissions and to deliver the promised support to countries facing the worst impact of climate crisis. The COP26 would be a decisive conference to save the future of the Earth. There is no other option. “There is no Plan B as there is no Planet B.”
The writer is an international expert on poverty, climate change and food security and a Chevening Scholar with a Development Management degree from the UK. He tweets @aftabalamkan
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