In 2013, the UN’s global panel of scientists told us that global warming is the result of human activities (95 per cent confidence), effectively putting an end to the debate over whether mankind is responsible for rising temperatures or if we are undergoing yet another cyclical movement of warming caused by natural factors. Science is now telling us that extreme weather events are to become the new normal; that climate change will mean more intense storms, droughts and flooding and sea level rise. Super Typhoon Haiyan, which devastated the Philippines this year, was described as the strongest typhoon that has ever made landfall in the course of recorded human history.
Today, the impacts of climate change are more than apparent — sea level rise is already threatening the small islands of the Pacific, Caribbean and Indian Ocean; in the mountains of the Himalayas and Andes, communities now have to deal with glacial floods. In the savannahs of Africa, food and water have become scarce due to drought and in the Arctic, the polar ice cap is visibly melting. Massive hurricanes have already started hitting the Gulf of Mexico and the eastern seaboard of North America. While scientists continue to warn us and reality proves they are right, there is still little or no action at the international level when it comes to reducing carbon emissions, with the UN’s climate change negotiations currently deadlocked.
According to a statement made by Greenpeace Executive Director Kumi Naidoo, “Too many governments, North and South, continue to block progress towards a new global climate agreement while serving their coal and oil lobbies, rather than their people.” The walkout was about “sending a clear statement that our leaders need to wake up … they need to actually act with the urgency that both science and extreme weather events are actually saying that we need to.” Civil society organisations, like the WWF, Greenpeace and Oxfam, now want to chalk up a new course of action. “We are committing ourselves to mobilise the largest number of people in every single country in the world to say to every parent, ‘your child and your grandchildren’s future is at stake. You need to stand up now and take action’.”
Pakistan, too, is acutely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change; we are facing erratic monsoon rains, rising temperatures leading to reduced agricultural productivity, increasing intrusion of saline water into the Indus delta, glacial flooding and extreme weather events, particularly flooding and droughts.
The major response so far has been the launch of the National Climate Change Policy earlier this year. The policy identifies vulnerabilities in the sectors of water resources, agriculture, forests, coastal areas, biodiversity and vulnerable ecosystems and puts forward appropriate measures relating to disaster preparedness, capacity building, institutional strengthening, technology transfer and international cooperation. Unfortunately, it has been shelved for now; in June 2013, the new finance minister announced in his budget speech a cut of over 62 per cent in the annual spending for Pakistan’s ministry of climate change — which has been downgraded from a ministry to a division. Pakistani NGOs need to wake up as well and take the fight to the people, urging them to put pressure on our politicians. Instead of rising to the challenge of climate change, Pakistan is running away, but as the scientists assure us, there will be no escape.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 1st, 2014.
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