The Aftermath of Climate Change and Global Warming
The adverse effects of climate change and global warming, such as the rising temperatures, heatwaves, melting of glaciers, and devastating floods and landslides, have not only alarmed the international community and intergovernmental organizations to devise a global consensus against the environmental degradation, but also highlighted the dire need for developing countries like Pakistan to take drastic measures to mitigate the impact of climate change, which has become an existential threat for the survival of human life on the planet.
It goes without saying that life is unsustainable on earth without sufficient heat, which although is considered a positive phenomenon of global warming, but heat beyond one’s capacity is no less than hazardous for surviving on the planet Earth. It is true that millions of people are already suffering from the catastrophic effects of extreme weather disasters as a result of climate change. It includes a prolonged drought in Sub-Saharan Africa, devastating tropical storms in the Southeast Asia, Caribbean and the Pacific. Climate change is one of the most important global environmental challenges facing the humanity today. Since April 2022, South Asian nations including Pakistan, India and Bangladesh have been experiencing an unpredictable heatwave with some areas reaching record temperature of 50°C (104°F).
Climate change results in a long-term shift in temperature and weather patterns. The shifts may be natural or abrupt; however, since the 1800s, human activities have been the main driving force of climate change, primarily due to the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas. It has resulted in increased heat-trapping of greenhouse gas levels in the Earth’s atmosphere.
As of 2023, the increasing hot weather as a consequence of the climate change and global warming has sounded alarm bells. In South Asian states, particularly the developing countries like Pakistan, which mainly comprise dry or cold areas with low production potential, the climate change has severely affected food production, natural ecosystems and fresh water supply. The harmful impact of climate change has manifested around the world in the form of extreme weather conditions. Natural disasters like storms, cyclones, floods and droughts, are the glaring outcome of such menace.
High temperatures may shorten the span of Rabi crop cycle in Sindh and Punjab, which will ultimately affect the poor rural communities of the country.
Deplorably, Pakistan has been hit hard by the aftermath of climate change that has been accelerating at an alarming rate. Besides economic turmoil and population bomb, climate change is becoming an existential threat for a developing country like Pakistan. According to United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Climate Promise, Pakistan stands at 146th in Climate Vulnerability Index (CVI) ranking. It has been ranked in top ten among the countries that have been most affected by the climate change in the past two decades. Between 2000 and 2019, the Germany-based organization has ranked Pakistan as the 8th most affected country.
The scorching temperatures around the world, especially during the last five years period, i.e., 2018 to 2022, have caused deadly heatwaves which were record-breaking and impacted the daily lives of nearly a billion people. The affected countries include India, Croatia, Portugal, Spain, France, China and North Africa. The UK witnessed its hottest year on record in 2022 according to the national weather service. Its average annual temperature was 10.03 degrees Celsius last year, increasing by 10°C for the first time, the highest record since 1884. The 2022 average temperature was 0.89°C above the 1991 to 2020 averages, and 0.15°C above the previous hottest year, 2014.
Climate change is the major reason behind the onset of early summer. Furthermore, it will also have an impact on the country's environment and population. According to scientists, these heatwaves are linked with the climate crisis. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that the frequency of such severe heatwaves is likely to increase in the region in the near future. One of the most alarming effects of this torrid heatwave is the rapid melting of Pakistan’s glaciers in the north.
To raise awareness about the impact of climate change on Pakistan, International Conference on Climate Resilient Pakistan 2023 was held on January 9, 2023 in Geneva, Switzerland.
According to some studies, Pakistan’s 22.8 percent area and 49.6 percent population is at risk due to the impact of climate change. The floods of August, 2010, owing to the collapse of pocket of monsoon rains in Wazirastan and Northern Areas and the tormenting rains of 2022, have hit hard the economy and agriculture sector of Pakistan. As per National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), hundreds of kilometers of roads, railway lines, tubewells, crops, electricity transmitters, bridges, cattle, houses and schools have been damaged. In addition, more than 400 children went missing, while eight hundred thousand people remained stranded in the flood waters. Pakistan is vulnerable to the effects of climate change which has occurred due to the rapid industrialization with substantial geopolitical consequences. The country is at a crossroads for a much warmer world in the near future.
Moreover, the most serious threat from climate change in Asia is the lack of freshwater availability, which is to decline especially in the large river basins in the coming years. It will adversely affect more than a billion people by the year 2050. Pakistan receives around 80% of water from the Indus River system from the melting of glaciers and snow. The rise in temperature would also disturb the availability of flows. The Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA) stated that unlike the earlier periods, due to the adverse impact of climate change, melting volume of glaciers and snowfall will produce less water. The per capita surface water availability plunged from 5260 m3 per year in 1951 to just 1000 m3 in 2008. It is a bitter reality that a decrease in average river flows has created serious implications for the agricultural production, as 93% of freshwater is used for irrigating the agricultural lands.
It is true that Pakistan is an agrarian state. A large chunk of its economy solely depends on the agriculture sector. The country is more susceptible to the effects of changing climate because of its agrarian base and high dependency on the natural resources for livelihoods. As a result of weather changes, there would be an impact on crop production. High temperatures may shorten the span of Rabi crop cycle in Sindh and Punjab, which will ultimately affect the poor rural communities of the country.
The health sector is not excluded from the bad impact of climate change in Pakistan. Drastic climate change would result in the spread of many diseases such as malaria, dengue, cholera and other chronic health issues. These diseases are known to be sensitive to the climatic factors. The warmer weather facilitates a more favorable environment for mosquitoes and other disease carrying pests. An increase in the epidemic potential of 12-27 percent for malaria and 31-47 percent for dengue is anticipated as a consequence of climate change.
It is being considered that subsidy be given to the common man on purchasing eco-friendly solar panels for renewable energy consumption at the domestic level, besides shifting climate preference to ecological preservation.
For tackling and mitigating the adverse consequences of the heatwave due to the worst climate change in the 21st century, the Government of Pakistan has made headways such as ensuring the improvement in technological responses by using early warning systems; enhancing disaster preparedness in response to climate change resilience using information systems; and by improving forest management and biodiversity conservation; the Ten Billion Tree Tsunami Programme, with the project cost of Rs. 125.184 billion, resulted in planting ten billion trees across the country to revive the forest and wildlife resources and improve the overall conservation of the natural habitat of Pakistan. In addition to it, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) will introduce a two-tier approach to maintain and update the operational needs of climate information. To raise awareness about the impact of climate change on Pakistan, International Conference on Climate Resilient Pakistan 2023 was held on January 9, 2023 in Geneva, Switzerland.
In a nutshell, for getting rid of the rising heatwave as a result of the climate change, it is the need of the hour for Pakistan to take drastic measures in an efficient manner. The country must shift to 60% renewable energy, and 30% electric vehicles by 2030 and ban coal imports. It is being considered that subsidy be given to the common man on purchasing eco-friendly solar panels for renewable energy consumption at the domestic level, besides shifting climate preference to ecological preservation. It is the prime time to create an effective national energy policy for mitigating the impact of climate change by reducing the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions.
The leaders of the international community should devise a policy of worldwide collaboration in taking action on climate change. There is a dire need of promoting scientific research and technological development in key areas of climate change and global adaptation under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Population planning must be considered a priority in human development-related Millennium Development Goals to reduce the production of GHG emissions through human activities. In addition to it, extensive tree plantation should not be ignored at any cost in order to reduce the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere. It is high time for the developed countries to step up and help at the global level.
The writer is a Civil Servant serving in Shikarpur, Sindh.
E-mail: [email protected]
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