Recent years have seen frequently-occurring climate catastrophes, the frequency and intensity of which are unprecedented in the history of this country. Notable organisations like the IPCC, the World Bank, the UN, the WWF and the GCISC, among others, working on climate issues, have been warning about the possible consequences that climate change may unravel upon Pakistan, for the last few decades now. We now have a new deadly episode of calamity every year, ruling out the space for climate scepticism.
Interestingly, a recent study by the Lancet/UCL commission on health and climate change revealed that Pakistan, despite being at the top of the climate hit list, is also one of the countries least aware of climate change in the South Asian region. Only 15 per cent of the population is said to be concerned about climate change whereas 40 per cent simply deny it exists. Of course, one can question the validity of the sample, but a person aware of some interesting facts about this country wouldn’t dare to do so.
First, not only is Pakistan a country with huge data deficiencies, it also lacks a culture where evidence is based on data. In simple words, we don’t consider evidence because we don’t care about it. Any example? Back-to-back floods in 2010, 2011 and 2012 followed by a drought last year, is a clear confirmation of the changing climate. Some of these extreme events were predicted, but these predictions fell on deaf ears.
Second, climate change never was, nor is a priority. The Ministry of Climate Change, which was reinstated in January 2015, was not even in the picture for two years from 2013 to 2015. The climate change ministry’s budget was slashed by 50 per cent, from Rs135 million in 2012 to Rs58.8 million in 2013. This year, 21 projects of the Ministry of Environment were rejected to divert funds to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, out of which seven were primarily related to climate change.
Third, we are unwilling to accept climate change because accepting it would create responsibilities and we’re not ready to take on any responsibilities yet. We look for scapegoats, and while doing so, we let the situation worsen. A very recent example of this is of the heatwave in Karachi, where the blame game went to the highest level. Some authorities even went to the extent of blaming the victims for not taking precautions. (If only they had known what precautions to take!) There was also the absurd statement indicating the linkage of Indian coal plants in triggering this event.
This year’s story is about the heatwave, another addition to the evidence that climate change is an inevitable threat for Pakistan. Last year, it was the Tharparkar drought. Each year some event or the other resulting from climate change will continue taking lives of the innocent and uninformed. Despite this, we choose to remain silent.
We not only need to put our strengths together to combat fast-unravelling climate threats, we also need to synchronise our opinion, at least on the point that climate change is real and it will affect each and every one of us, if not today, then tomorrow. The least we can do is take timely action for the future.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 10th, 2015.