Global warming resulting from excessive emission of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide being the most important) in the earth’s atmosphere due to anthropogenic activity is... Climate Change in The Context of Pakistan

Global warming resulting from excessive emission of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide being the most important) in the earth’s atmosphere due to anthropogenic activity is presenting itself in the form of erratic and extreme climatic patterns. Rising sea levels, melting glaciers, warmer temperatures, and heavier rainfall are not only altering the natural environmental balance but also affecting social and economic well-being of communities across the globe. The atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide in 2005 exceeds by far the natural range over the last 650,000 years (180 to 300 ppm) as determined from ice cores.

Rapid industrialization in the last century and high levels of consumerism are putting immense strain on ecosystems around the world and adversely affecting our climate system in many ways. Once a textbook discussion, now quickly turning into a harsh reality; climate change is affecting the lives of various communities around the world. Developing nations in particular are bearing the brunt of the implications of global warming. Marginalized communities dwelling in natural disaster prone and coastal areas are greatly suffering due to their inability to adapt and cope with the far-reaching ramifications of extreme climatic episodes. The double-whammy of poverty eradication and climate change mitigation is a huge challenge for the developing nations, particularly South Asian states that are still transitioning from agrarian to industrial economies. The rural poor that thrive on the local natural resource-base are threatened by the uncertainty of their environment which directly impacts their livelihoods.

Climate Change and Pakistan

Flooding in Pakistan

Photo Courtesy: DFID

In 2006, the World Bank reported in ‘Pakistan: Strategic Country Environmental Assessment’ that ecological degradation costs Pakistan Rs. 365bn a year, equivalent to six per cent of the GDP. A number of environmental issues are plaguing the country, inter alia, pollution, energy, water, waste management, irrigation, and general deterioration. These looming issues compound the existing development challenges of deforestation, rapid urbanization, industrialization, power crisis, population growth, and poverty, sedimentation of rivers and dams, and lack of effective waste management. Sedimentation, for instance, has severely compromised the storage capacity of Tarbela and Manga Dams.

The impact of environment degradation as a result of climate change creates a domino effect for the vulnerable communities in Pakistan. Ecosystems that are being compromised as a result, directly affect the social and economic well-being of dependent communities. Pakistan’s rural poor thrive on natural resource bases which in turn support major industries such as agriculture fisheries, livestock and forestry. Agriculture has taken a massive blow due to the onslaught of climatic variations such as changing and unpredictable precipitation patterns, salinity and water logging, result of sea-level rise (SLR), deforestation, irrational use of water and pesticides. These consequences are further exacerbated by the lack of integrated development and climate change policies.

Pakistan is a victim rather than a contributor of climate change as a result of anthropogenic GHG emissions. The country has one of the worst rates of deforestation resulting in soil erosion creating further complications in the mineral balances of the affected areas. Growing population and rapid urbanization is taking over agricultural real estate.

A combination of adaptation and mitigation instruments need to be carefully engineered which address both rural and urban challenges related to climate change. The participation of all relevant stakeholders such as Scientists, NGOs, Civil Society, Public and Private sectors, rural governments and last but not least related communities is instrumental for synergistic results for policy-making.

Most international agendas spearheaded by the UNFCCC and developed nations of the world in the form of the Kyoto Protocol and conferences focus on mitigation strategies which are primarily skewed towards the developed nations. The instruments proposed by such forums are too sophisticated to address the impending needs of developing nations such as Pakistan.

A string of effective adaptation instruments are the first and foremost requirement of Pakistan to counter the repercussions of climate change. A combination of soft and hard implementation measures need to be put into place to weather the effects of current and future effects of global warming. The milieu of these tools should be in the form of various programs based around community awareness, finance and funding, effective policy-making and advocacy  campaigns, technology implementation related to renewable energy sources, ecologically friendly practices pertaining to farming, fisheries, forestry and livestock amongst others.


Existing International Agreements on Climate Change

Adopted in 1992, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), was the first multilateral agreement on climate change to set a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Under the UNFCCC, Annex I lists developed countries and countries undergoing the process of transition to a market economy. These countries have been called upon to undertake certain measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Kyoto Protocol, which was not ratified by all Parties who had signed the UNFCCC (including the US), lists this category of countries in its Annex B, and indicates their quantified emission limitation or reduction commitment.[1]

It is stated in the Article 2 of the Convention that stabilization of greenhouse gas emissions that interfere with the climate must be achieved such that it does not hamper the process of sustainable development.[2] This stipulation emphasizes the fact that any initiative undertaken as a strategy to mitigate the impact of climate change must not interfere with the ongoing economic and social development in countries.

This was followed by the Kyoto Protocol which set binding commitments to reduce emissions and was adopted in 1997. Negotiations that took place under both the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol were meant to be concluded at the summit held in Copenhagen in December 2009. The summit culminated in the singing of an accord that endorses the continuation of the Kyoto Protocol but is not legally binding itself, which is the biggest criticism of the accord. Developing countries contend that these agreements are unfair and lopsided and recognize the need the latest Copenhagen Accord is a mere dilution of the previous agreement that already lacked in environmental justice.

Adaptation and Mitigation Instruments

An optimum combination of adaptation and mitigation instruments needs to be put into practice to tackle the cause and effects of climate change. Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) provides an effective framework for developing countries to institute the implementation of carbon trading and environmentally compliant projects through the use of certified emission reductions (CERs) or carbon credits. The Kyoto Protocol outlines various strategies to achieve the global challenge of climate change; however, it does so in the favour of developed and industrialized states. Mitigation seems to be the heart of the recent Copenhagen Conference overlooking the immediate requirement of adaptation to the adverse conditions arising from climate change in developing nations. Furthermore, most mitigation instruments that focus on carbon sequestration and reducing GHG emissions are perhaps quite sophisticated for the rural poor of developing nations, where education and poverty are mainstream features.

In the areas, minimizing the effects of climate change induced damage needs to be managed and coped with so for social and economic balancing.

Vulnerable communities within the developing countries are hit first and the hardest. Women and children in particular have to bear the brunt of the erratic shifts in the local environment due to global warming. Although a lot of research has been conducted on what measures should be taken to adapt to the effects of climate change, there has been little discussion on how those measures should be put in place.

Ending Note

In a nutshell climate change could hamper the achievement of many of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), including those on poverty eradication, child mortality, malaria, and other diseases, and environmental sustainability. For developing countries like Pakistan, much of this damage would come in the form of severe economic shocks. In addition, the impacts of climate change will exacerbate existing social and environmental problems and triggering displacement and livelihood issues.

Although Pakistan’s contribution to global warming is negligible as compared to the developed and some of the developing economies, however there is evidence that it will suffer disproportionately from climate change and other global environmental problems.

One of the biggest of the repercussions of climate change for Pakistan is severe water scarcity in the future. Water supply is already a serious concern in many parts of the country, and further paucity in the future will affect food production and hence food security. Export industries such as, agriculture, textile products and fisheries will also be affected, while coastal areas risk being inundated, flooding the homes of millions of people living in low-lying areas.

Initial research on the subject suggests that international agreements such as the UNFCC, Kyoto protocol and the latest Copenhagen Accord do not promise much to developing countries. For adaptation strategies in particular, Pakistan needs to develop its own framework and action plan, such that it is in line with the local needs and hence sustainable in the years to follow.