- A last window of opportunity for climate adaptation
Climate change refers to long-term shifts in temperatures and weather patterns either due to nature or due to human activities (one of the main drivers of climate change, primarily due to the burning of fossil fuels, increasing heat-trapping greenhouse gas levels in the Earth’s atmosphere, deforestation, poor urban planning, illegal constructions and increase in greenhouse gas emissions from human activities as it acts like a blanket wrapped around the earth, trapping the sun’s heat and raising temperatures where a change in temperature is only the beginning of the story. Because the Earth is a system, where everything is connected, changes in one area often influence changes in all others. The consequences of climate change now include:
- Intense Droughts
- Water Scarcity
- Severe Fires
- Rising Sea Levels (Danger of Tsunami)
- Melting Polar Ice and much more.
People all across the globe are now the victims of this climate change in diverse ways. It affects our health, ability to grow food, housing, safety, and work. Some of us are already more vulnerable to climate impacts, such as people living on small islands. Conditions like sea-level rise and saltwater intrusion have advanced to the point where whole communities have had to relocate. In the future, the number of “climate refugees” is expected to rise dramatically so, there is a dire need to view this climate crisis not only as a physical and environmental crisis but as a human crisis. The crisis in the midst of the situation itself, our experience is one of powerlessness that is not being able really to make a difference.
One year back, the UK hosted countries from across the world for climate talks at the United Nations Climate Change Conference. At that time, the summit coincided with the flooding that occurred in Islamabad, and our Federal Minister equated the planning disaster as a climatic vulnerability but in my opinion, it is the issue of bad governance. According to the Global Climate Risk Index, our country lost roughly 10,000 people to climate-related disasters between 1998 and 2018.
If we go through the current statistics of flooding, 2022, then we realize the fact that the cataclysmic floods in Pakistan have caused economic damages to the country’s teetering economy by wiping out more than 8 million acres of crops and displacing more than 33 million people. Record monsoon rains and melting glaciers in northern mountains brought floods that have killed thousands of people. The rapid assessment cost of projected economic losses following Pakistan’s worst food floods as calculated by the government and endorsed by the provinces has gone up further to the tune of around USD 18 billion. The losses further swelled because agricultural crops have been destroyed across 8.25 million acres as compared to an initial assessment of 4.2 million acres. Cotton, rice, and minor crops have been damaged severely and if de-watering is not done properly, it can cause serious issues for wheat sowing representing the worst outcome of not taking care of our environment.
According to analysts, climate migrants in Pakistan were projected to be 30 million approximately in the last decade. Excessive urbanization and population density alter the natural dynamics and further complicate the issue of urban flooding. Every year, monsoon rainfalls prove tragic for a major chunk, and the preparedness of the government and the relevant institutions is abysmal like the present year 2022. Satellite images of 2002 – 2008, 2010 – 2012, and 2022 demonstrates the straightening of stormwater drain whilst creating a bottleneck due to the structuring of a housing authority that approve the layout plan nearly a decade ago but proceeded with plot sales and construction without getting the required no-objection certificate. Unfortunately and unsurprisingly, this lapse is not new and results from allowing the development of housing authorities without instituting a framework for either its planning or regulation where, not placing the crisis under the banner of bad governance, the leaders can create an unrealistic imaginary by blurring the line between the methods of governance and climate-induced crisis.
This is not the end of the story which is restricted to rural areas but like many years in the past and the present metropolitan city of Karachi and many other cities (almost every province) experienced worse monsoon flooding, which left thousands of people homeless, causing immense wreckage to the infrastructure, harvests and human lives but we are not still thinking to improve on planning to tackle the disasters of climate change but totally focus on flood relief campaigns. The validity of stormwater drains getting blocked cannot be understated, yet the crisis is of the state’s own making as the governance systems remain exclusive.
The agenda of the governing bodies is not positioned with its citizens’ necessities. Encroachments occur because there is a severe scarcity of affordable housing for low-income residents in the city, yet the government has given no attention to this serious issue. However, it is appalling to witness that ministerial representatives cannot solely define the crisis as a challenge posed by climate change while underplaying the concept of increased urbanization. The installation of hard, impermeable surfaces has limited the ability of the land to absorb rainfall because of urbanization. Because less water infiltrates into the ground, the volume and rate of surface run-off increase. Arguably, in Pakistan majority of construction has occurred on the ground with a high danger of flooding, with buildings often jammed up against the riverbank. These variables make urban areas more vulnerable to river flooding, and run-off from new development can potentially worsen river flooding downstream. If the natural watercourses are not restored, the outcomes will continue to displace more people and exacerbate socio-economic conditions.
The horrors of changing climate have now become a trending topic in policy circles, but all these given statements and promises of our leaders are not enough to curtail the unraveling disasters. The rate of deforestation in Pakistan is second highest in Asia, and according to official statistics, the current forest cover is below 25% against the 33% forest cover in 1947. Because of deforestation, we only have roughly 4% of our land covered in trees now. This devastation, primarily caused by illegal logging by wood gangs, has clogged our waterways and rendered us vulnerable to flooding.
There is a need to realize the fact that, instead of all the great work we have done, we are not on track to a sustainable future, and this decade is our last window of opportunity to turn things around. As critical impact is only possible through our daily actions. The cost of challenging nature at the cost of industrialization and so-called development really threatens the well-being of our communities. The low forest cover, blocking the natural flow of water by establishing giant infrastructures, and poor urban development practices are affecting nature’s reactionary impulse. It is high time for the associated authorities to address the loopholes in their employed system of governance while working towards the practices that will reduce the climate-induced challenges any delay in our action will jeopardize our entire country so, quick actions are required to cope with the challenges of climate change through the drivers of urban planning and appropriate policy making (the process of creating a National Adaptation Plan for building resilience to climate change).
Adaptation has prompt advantages and a clear economic case:
Unmitigated disaster events, and impacts of climate extremes like droughts, are very expensive and damaging for cities. Adaptation needs large investments, but it is cheaper overall than not adapting and being forced to spend on disaster relief and recovery later on. It also saves lives and minimizes disruption and damage.
Adaptation helps to unlock economic potential by encouraging investment:
The possibility of unmitigated disaster events impacts investment decisions and cities’ economic growth; firms avoid long-term investments in productive assets, entrepreneurship is restricted, and planning horizons are shortened, leading to lost development opportunities. Increasingly, climate action can also improve a city’s credit rating.
Adaptation delivers near-term health, societal and economic benefits:
Most adaptation investments serve multiple purposes and quickly provide everyday benefits for cities and citizens. For instance, strengthened river embankments can be used as pedestrian walkways, cycle lanes, or parks; nature-based or ‘green’ adaptation solutions that use vegetation to reduce heat, drought, and flood risk also help to improve air quality, environmental conservation, and citizens wellbeing, as well as absorbing greenhouse gases. Reducing the risks of disasters also improves political security and helps reduce civil unrest, hunger and disease, contributing to a stable environment for social and economic development. These benefits outweigh the costs of potential losses by a factor of four, on average.
Adaptation needs to be a core part of climate action planning:
Cities need comprehensive, city-wide, and multi-hazard adaptation strategies based on an assessment of their climate risks. Climate risks affect every city differently depending on their geography, and socioeconomic and demographic contexts. Cities’ climate risk is influenced by the hazards they are exposed to, and the vulnerability of the city’s assets and population to those hazards. Climate hazards have an outsized impact on lower-income communities and cities. An adaptation strategy can take the form of a standalone (but linked) strategy, or it can be a component of a climate action plan and/or a comprehensive city plan. Cities that do not consider their climate risks in a wider plan can increase their vulnerability to climate change. Cities also need to integrate climate risk into sectorial and urban planning so, it is recommended that Cities can priorities ‘no- or low-regrets’ adaptation options in the adaptation strategy, which are relatively low cost and deliver multiple health, societal, economic, and mitigation benefits as well as reducing climate risk.