Planet Earth has now been warmer by 1.2 Celsius since pre-industrial levels. Scientists tell us that with every degree rise in temperature, the moisture holding capacity of the atmosphere goes up by 7%. Consider it as a balloon that holds increased moisture — when it bursts, more rain falls with more impact. This is what happened over southern Pakistan this monsoon season — and more wet spells are expected later this month.
The torrential rainfall in Sindh and Balochistan, where no infrastructure exists to cope with heavy rains and where run-off from bare mountains caused hill torrents, have caused devastating floods, bigger than the ‘super floods’ of 2010. This is known as an ‘extreme event’ and climate scientists have been warning us about them for years. As the planet continues to warm, these events will become even more intense and more erratic.
In 2022 alone, Pakistan has been hit by heatwaves, forest fires, melting glaciers and now massive floods. Scientists say the intense heatwave that hit Pakistan and India in March-April this year was made 30 times more likely by climate change. The prolonged heat this summer meant that forests had longer to become drier, increasing the risk of wildfire.
According to Pakistan’s Ministry of Climate Change, around 17,000 hectares of forest cover were burnt by severe wildfires this season. The country also faced 17 Glacier Lake Outburst Floods this summer as compared to the 5 or 6 last year. Now ‘monster monsoon floods’ have washed away 45% of the country’s cropland, mainly in Sindh and incurred damages of $10 billion (initial assessment) with 33 million people affected.
Global scientists through the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) have been ringing alarm bells for decades now — no country or region will be spared. Currently, Europe faces a historic drought with major rivers drying up and California experiences a heatwave in September.
Unfortunately, the UN Climate Change Conferences have so far failed to deliver urgent action. The Glasgow Summit in 2021 was expected to be the most important climate meet since 2015, when the Paris Agreement was signed — every country was due to raise its ambitions in cutting carbon emissions to meet the 1.5C goal. Scientists say warming above 1.5C can lead to catastrophic, run away climate change.
China and Russia did not even bother to attend COP26 as it was called and with its weak outcome, we are still facing more years of dependence on fossil fuels. The world is still nowhere near its goals on limiting global temperature rise. The world is in fact heading for 2.4C of warming, far more than the 1.5C limit nations have committed to. The IPCC has warned us that if warming continues at its current rate, temperatures will reach 1.5C between 2030 and 2052, leading us all to disaster.
COP26 agreed to keep the 1.5C goal only just alive. The poorer countries of the world left Glasgow upset that they did not get an agreement on Loss and Damage (compensation for poor countries reeling from the impacts of climate change, which they did not cause). They are determined to push through an agreement on a Loss and Damage finance facility in this year’s COP, which is to be held in Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt in November. Pakistan, which currently chairs the G-77 group of developing countries plus China, will be pushing hard for the Loss and Damage finance facility to be established and become operational.
Developing countries will also be urging rich countries to agree to 45% cuts in carbon emissions by 2030 that scientists say is needed to cap global temperature rise at 1.5C. At Glasgow in the final hours, nations did agree to return next year to revise their national targets (for cuts in emissions) in line with the 1.5C goal so there is hope.
Many experts agree that while there is no alternative to the long, drawn-out UN climate negotiations (which is a consensual process), the clock is now ticking and the world is running out of time. This has to be the decade for de-carbonisation and a new contract with nature.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 13th, 2022.
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