The global climate change and its impact on Pakistan

Human activities have increased carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, driving up temperatures. Extreme weather and melting polar ice are among the possible effects.

Though there have always been natural variations in the climate. But according to scientists temperatures are now rising at an alarming rate – and it’s caused by human being. The world is about 1.2°C warmer than before people started using oil, gas and coal to power factories and transport and heat homes. The greenhouse gases released by burning fossil fuels trap the Sun’s energy, pushing up temperatures.

Impact of Climate Change

Climate change will transform the way people live, causing water shortages and making it harder to produce food. Even some regions could become dangerously hot and others uninhabitable because of rising sea levels. Polar ice and glaciers are melting fast, contributing to rising seas. As permafrost – frozen ground – melts in Siberia and other regions, methane – another greenhouse gas – will be released into the atmosphere, worsening climate change. Extreme weather events – such as heat waves, downpours and storms – will become more frequent and intense, threatening lives and livelihoods. People in poorer countries, which are least able to adapt, will suffer most.

Some species will be able to move to new locations as their habitats change, but climate change is happening so rapidly many are likely to become extinct. For example, Polar bears are at risk of disappearing as the ice they rely on melts away. Similarly, Atlantic salmon could be devastated as the river waters in which they breed warm up. Carbon Di Oxide (CO2) levels in the atmosphere have risen by about 50% since the 19th Century and by 12% in the past two decades. Fossil fuels release particular types of carbon and the proportion of these has increased. Another source of greenhouse gases is deforestation.

More than 200 climate scientists just released a stark look at how fast the climate is warming, showing heat waves, extreme rain and intense droughts are on the rise. The evidence for warming is clear but the extent of future disasters will be determined by how fast governments can cut heat-trapping emissions.

Humans are causing rapid warming

Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has now reached the highest level in at least the past 2 million years. As a result, temperatures are warming quickly. Since 1970, global temperatures have increased faster than in any other 50-year period in the last 2,000 years. Some parts of the globe, like the poles, are warming even faster.

Rising of extreme weather

Heat waves are more frequent and intense. Storms are dumping more rainfall, causing floods. Droughts are getting hotter and drier. Scientists are finding these trends are directly linked to the human influence on the climate and they’re getting worse.

How to control?

Every cloud has a silver lining. Though the planet will continue warm in the near-term, scientists say there is still time to prevent catastrophic climate change. A rapid drop in emissions from power plants and cars over the next few decades will essentially halting the use of fossil fuels.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is a UN body set up in 1988 to assess the science around climate change. This UN group looked at more than 14, 000 scientific papers. It provides governments with scientific information they can use to develop policies on global heating. The first of its comprehensive Assessment Reports on climate change was released in 1992. The sixth in this series will be split into four volumes. A summary has been approved in a process involving scientists and representatives of 195 governments.

Pakistan’ Vulnerability

Environmentalists say Pakistan is particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, and government efforts addressing forests and greenhouse gas emissions do not go far enough.

Pakistan faces increases in average temperatures significantly above the global average with a potential rise of 1.3°C-4.9°C by the 2090s over the 1986-2005 baseline. Pakistan is facing some of the highest disaster risk levels in the world, ranked 18 out of 191 countries by the 2020.

Pakistan recognizes that improving and completing vulnerability assessments is only the first step in assisting countries in identifying and implementing appropriate adaptation options. As noted in Pakistan’s Initial National Communication, there is a strong need for improving information sharing, education and training, technical and scientific research in order to articulate an effective adaptation plan. There is a requirement for identifying appropriate technologies for adaptation well-suited to local conditions and builds on the indigenous knowledge of the area. Pakistan needs support in implementing the various adaptation measures identified in the Initial National Communication. Assistance is needed to undertake research to enhance local capacity and infrastructure for planning for integrated coastal management.

Pakistan’s Major Environmental Issues

Water pollution from raw sewage, industrial wastes, and agricultural runoff; limited natural fresh water resources; most of the population does not have access to potable water; deforestation; soil erosion; desertification. A. Adaptation Needs and Priorities

Pakistan’s climate change concerns include increased variability of monsoons, the likely impact of receding Himalayan glaciers on the Indus River system, decreased capacity of water reservoirs, reduced hydropower during drought years, and extreme events including floods and droughts. Other potential climate change induced impacts include severe water stress; food insecurity due to decreasing agricultural and livestock production; more prevalent pests and weeds; degradation of ecosystems; biodiversity loss; and northward shifting of some biomes. As well, higher temperatures may affect the composition, distribution and productivity of mangroves, while lower precipitation could contribute to salt stress.

Pakistan’s Initial National Communication to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) reports on climate projections generated using the Model for Assessment of Greenhouse Gas Induced Climate Change software. The National Communication notes that the impact of climate change on Pakistan’s water supply is likely to be significant, which would also have an impact on the country’s energy supply; 34 per cent of Pakistan’s electricity generation is based on hydropower (MOE, 2003). Climate change is also anticipated to have a considerable impact on the country’s agricultural system, with possible impacts including vulnerability to heat stress, shifts in the spatial boundaries of crops, changes in productivity, and changes in water availability and use (MOE, 2003). Climate change may also impact forestry through changes in forest area, productivity changes, and changes in species composition and distribution. As well as Pakistan’s coastal zones, particularly the city of Karachi, could be affected by coastal erosion and inundation through sea level rise. The country’s National Communication also notes the potential impact of climate change on the livestock sector and biodiversity, as well as socioeconomic impacts on health and food security.

Pakistan is also likely to experience frequent occurrence of severe cyclones and storm surges due to rising atmospheric and sea temperatures. These events, accompanied by rising sea levels, could threaten coastal cities such as Karachi, Thatta and Badin. Combined with decreased river flow and sediments dispersal, sea level rise would mean a landward penetration of the salt water wedge within the groundwater column. This process of salt water intrusion would significantly influence access to water resources in Pakistan’s coastal communities. As well, coastal infrastructure will be especially affected. Key assets like Gwadar Port and the Coastal Highway could need extra protection.

Given these concerns, Pakistan outlined a number of possible adaptation options by key socioeconomic category in its Initial National Communication; additional recommendations were put forward in 2010 by Pakistan’s Task Force on Climate Change.

National Strategy on Climate Change

Over the past several years, Pakistan has undertaken several policy and planning initiatives with respect to climate change and is preparing formal climate change strategy.  In 2003, it submitted its National Communication to the UNFCCC and in 2005 it established the Prime Minister’s Committee on Climate Change, an overarching body that meets annually to monitor climate change trends and provide policy guidance. In addition, in October 2008, the Planning Commission—the body responsible for preparing the National Plans for the country’s main economic sectors—established a Task Force on Climate Change that was given responsibility for preparing the country’s climate change policy. The Task Force released its Final Report in 2010, which outlines the country’s current approach to addressing climate change from both a mitigation and adaptation perspective, including key recommended adaptation measures in priority socioeconomic areas (GOP, 2010). In addition, various sectoral strategies,  including the National Conservation Strategy, National Environmental Policy, National Water Policy, and National Forest Policy (draft), also make mention of the potential impacts of climate change.

National Climate Change Policy

The National Climate Change Policy (NCCP) of 2012, framed by the Government of Pakistan as the guiding policy document for the country on climate change, acknowledges the growing risk of future extreme natural hazards due to climate change. It further provides a picture of the vulnerabilities faced by individual sectors, ecological regions and socioeconomic classes. The major climate change threats identified in the report include:

  1. Considerable increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events.
  2. Increased siltation of major dams caused by more frequent and intense floods;
  3. Rising temperatures resulting in enhanced heat and water-stressed conditions, particularly in arid and semi-arid regions, leading to reduced agricultural productivity;
  4. Further decrease in the already scanty forest cover, from too rapid change in climatic conditions to allow natural migration of adversely affected plant species;
  5. Increased intrusion of saline water in the Indus delta, adversely affecting coastal agriculture, mangroves and the breeding grounds of fish;
  6. Threat to coastal areas due to projected sea level rise and increased cyclonic activity due to higher sea surface temperatures;
  7. Increased stress between upper riparian and lower riparian regions in relation to sharing of water resources;
  8. Increased health risks and climate change induced migration.
At international Arena

Pakistan has endorsed all of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation’s declarations on climate change, including the 2010 Thimphu Declaration. As well, it is possible that the 2010 floods in Pakistan (the most severe in its history) have prompted the Pakistani policy makers to accelerate the process of drafting a national policy and action plan on climate change. Pakistan has already stepped up its effort to claim its due share of support from global sources, particularly from those available through the United Nations. For example, at the September 2010 General Assembly of the UN, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister remarked, “Climate change, with all its severity and unpredictability, has become a reality for 170 million Pakistanis. The present situation in Pakistan reconfirms our extreme vulnerability to the adverse impacts of climate change.” Pakistan is lobbying to clarify and broaden understanding of the phrase “particularly vulnerable developing countries” in future UN agreements (Khan, 2010).

What next – The Action Plan

The number of adaption focused projects and programs underway in Pakistan is moderate in comparison to other South Asian countries. The majority of these projects involve countries in Asia, the Pacific, Africa and/or Latin America and the Caribbean.  Water is the sector most represented in Pakistan’s current adaptation initiatives, followed by risk reduction, policy formulation, agriculture, energy, forestry, coastal zones, and nature. Donors of these projects include the  Adaptation Fund,  Asian Development Bank (ADB), the Department for International Development (DFID), the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Italy, the Netherlands and World Bank with implementation organizations including the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and United Nations Environment Programme. The Special Climate Change Fund (SCCF) is currently considering funding two regional projects in Pakistan and other Asian countries, both of which focus on agriculture and water considerations.

The author, Nazir Ahmed Shaikh, is a freelance columnist. He is an academician by profession and writes articles on diversified topics. Mr. Shaikh could be reached at [email protected]

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