Climate change is a hot topic in international politics these days. It is a frequent theme at most major summits, workshops and conferences. Climate change is now an unavoidable reality whose impact is being increasingly felt in developing countries like Pakistan. Yet the relative priority of this challenge remains low on the agendas of these countries. It is still largely viewed as a first world problem, created by the enormous greenhouse gas emissions of developed countries. Ironically though, the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change are those that live in the Global South.
South Asia is one of the most vulnerable regions in the world to the adverse impacts of climate change. Pakistan has been consistently ranked high in the global climate risk index. This has been witnessed in recent years in the odd and extreme weather patterns, the frequent floods which have become an annual recurrence, the spread of vector-borne diseases such as dengue fever, and in water scarcity and the desertification of vast tracts of land. Millions have already been displaced because of climate change.
The two broad responses to climate change are mitigation and adaptation. Mitigation refers to actions that can reduce the intensity of climate change and possibly reverse it. Adaptations are ways of learning to live with the impact of climate change. In a country like Pakistan, the urgent task at hand is to start adapting to climate change so that the poor and vulnerable can be protected from its harsh effects. Mitigation is necessary alongside to pave a development model that is sustainable in the long run.
I recently attended a two-day regional workshop in Colombo, Sri Lanka on Climate Change Adaptation in the South Asian context, with representatives from across the region. It was organised by the Climate Action Network South Asia in conjunction with the Asia-Pacific Global Adaptation Network and the Sustainable Development Policy Institute Pakistan as a local partner. Individual countries are now working on their National Adaptions Plans. It was interesting to note that Sri Lanka and Nepal have already started integrating climate change into their educational curriculum to increase awareness. Overall, the feeling I walked out with was that a lot more collective political ownership is required in the region to make progress on this front.
We need to demystify climate change for our people and explain it in terms of how it affects their daily lives. That way we can bring climate change higher up on the political agenda since it will be seen as one of our primary challenges, which I would argue it is. It was heartening to see the prime minister speak at length about climate change at the UN last year. Following that speech, the Climate Change Ministry has been restored which is a positive step since a nationally coordinated focus is required; simply clubbing it with environment at the provincial level would not do. However, due to the magnitude of the challenge, a lot more financial resources and technical expertise is required in order to start meeting our adaptation needs.
Climate change is now not just an environmental challenge, but a developmental challenge too, and that is the context in which we must approach it. The recently formed Sustainable Development Goals Parliamentary Standing Committee at the National Assembly, of which I am a member, is taking a closer look at climate change in the context of other development challenges, building parliamentarians’ capacity on these issues and helping define ways forward.
As a representative of a rural constituency in Punjab, I see it necessary for districts to prepare local adaptation plans which take into account the hazard-mapping of their areas. A preventive approach will save millions in relief efforts which usually come after the damage has been done. Public representatives from hazard-prone areas in particular must take a lead in mobilising interest and resources for these strategic plans.
Finally, since climate change does not recognise borders, South Asia as a region must work together to plan ways that can protect the vulnerable millions who live here. A more amplified and unified voice of parliamentarians from across the region on this issue would be a good first step in the right direction.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 5th, 2015.