Global consensus concerning the dangers of climate change is growing. Moreover, the pace of climate change is faster than earlier expected, and the magnitude of the risks and costs associated with climate-related disasters is also graver. The richer industrialised countries around the world have contributed most to the increasing concentration of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. While emerging economies like China have also become major polluters, the adverse impacts of climate change are being felt in poorer countries as well, even though they have not significantly contributed to this global problem. Small island countries, sub-Saharan Africa, and also Pakistan have already begun experiencing the brunt of climate change over the past decade.
Pakistan has already witnessed major human casualties, besides infrastructure damage, and loss of livestock and livelihoods due to recurrent, severe flooding. In the last five years, Pakistan has sustained over $14.5 billion losses due to floods and other natural disasters, according to official statistics. This past summer, over a thousand people died due to a severe heatwave in Karachi. The severity and frequency of droughts is also increasing. The poor are hit the hardest by these climate-instigated disasters. Yet, they often have the least resilience to cope with disasters, and are also bypassed by relief efforts.
A World Bank report estimates that in a high-impact scenario, climate change could reduce the income of the bottom 40 per cent of the population by more than eight per cent over the next 15 years. Nearly 62 million more people in South Asia alone could fall into extreme poverty by 2030. Such a scenario would wreak havoc on the lives of the already deprived masses within countries like our own. Increased food prices and crop losses would worsen the existing levels of malnutrition. More infrastructure damage would worsen already dismal health and literacy outcomes, and further reduce scant livelihood opportunities, and make economic growth even more sluggish.
Given this situation, there is a need to prepare more comprehensive plans of action to deal with climate change. Despite the latest carnage in Paris, France is to go ahead with its plans to host a global climate change summit later this month. This summit is very important since it expects countries to submit Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) to address climate change, besides securing increased pledges of international financial support to help developing countries build low-carbon and climate-resilient societies. According to a draft of the INDCs prepared by the Ministry of Climate Change some months ago, Pakistan was supposed to commit to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by five per cent on its own, and aim for a further five per cent reduction financed through external support. However, more recent developments suggest that Pakistan may backtrack on this resolve and instead reiterate a generic commitment to the global cause of combating climate change, based on international financial and technological assistance.
It is true that Pakistan has certainly not reached a point of peak carbon omissions, given that our current share of global carbon output is estimated to be only 0.8 per cent. However, we are ranked amongst 10 countries worst-affected by climate change. Instead of relying on international assistance to address climate change, we need to take a more assertive stance, particularly to build the resilience of the already vulnerable segments of society.
The list of things we need to do differently in order to ensure that our poor citizenry is able to better cope with the varied implications of climate change is long. We should aim to curb the rampant environmental degradation and pollution within our midst, which may not be a significant contributor to global warming, but which is causing more misery in the lives of people who do not have the luxury of drinking bottled water, or living in areas not surrounded by hazardous wastes. Instead of patronising large landowners and the corporate farming of cash crops, we need to focus on supporting smaller farmers and providing them with the knowhow and support to grow climate-resilient crops. Social safety nets must become more effective, and more must be invested in addressing the basic needs of the poor.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 21th, 2015.