Dr. Tahseen Mahmood Aslam seeks attention
towards a serious issue
Pakistan is designated as a country that is seriously prone to climate disasters and has already been subjected to serious disruptions caused by climate fluctuation. Currently, climate change is a major existential threat to humanity accelerated by massive carbon emissions, fossil fuels, deforestation and greenhouse gases, leading to global warming, which, in turn, causes melting glaciers, rising sea levels, changing rain patterns, droughts, flooding and frequent heatwaves. Pakistan is already on the list of the 10 most affected nations by climate change in spite of its negligible contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. The recent Long-term Global Climate Risk Index 2020 rated Pakistan as the fifth most affected country due to adverse impacts of climate change. Pakistan lost 9,989 lives, suffered economic losses worth $3.8 billion and witnessed 152 extreme weather events from 1999 to 2019 clearly pointing out that Pakistan’s vulnerability to climate change is increasing.
Pakistan needs a multi-tiered approach with short-term, medium-term and long-term steps to tackle the mounting climate change problems. The northern areas of Pakistan have suffered severe deforestation due to lack of access to natural gas, electricity and job opportunities. The government is advised to increase urgent reforestation projects on mountain slopes and engage local communities in the effort. Fossil fuels constitute 64 per cent of total energy production in Pakistan and less than 35 per cent comes from renewable energy. If the government plans to increase the share of renewable energy to 60 per cent by 2030, it needs to ramp up the efforts to materialise the plan.
Over the years, Pakistan’s increased vulnerability to global warming has seen natural disasters such as floods and droughts occur more regularly. These, in turn, have incurred a substantial loss of life and property, besides reversing development gains in the country. South Asia Climate Change Action Plan 2021-25 states that the quality of life in Pakistan is set to decline by 4 per cent to 5 per cent by 2030. This is mainly due to increased vulnerability to natural disasters that are a consequence of global warming. It is stated that 49 million people reside in high-risk areas where their health and well-being are directly affected by water scarcity, disease outbreak and water and food insecurity. Unplanned development in the face of surging urban populations and the emerging challenges of waste disposal and water supply and drainage, are compromising the country’s resilience to extreme weather events.
Pakistan is required to reform its energy sector where carbon emissions are predicted to increase by at least 380 per cent between 2015 and 2030. Though the government has pledged to significantly curtail its carbon emissions, its current policies indicate the opposite. The same is true for other sectors such as construction, agriculture and water security and distribution where the government still appears to be following outdated methods, worsening the country’s vulnerability to climate change and curtailing opportunities for development. The authorities need to do more than just pay lip service to the goal of reducing the impact of climate change. The country’s survival depends on sincere action in this direction.
The fast-changing climate is a global issue that has put the world in a spin. Radical changes in climate conditions are now coming to a head with ever-increasing risks emerging with every coming year. It is now very clear that in the past few years a deluge of extreme weather events and ecological disasters have been increasing alarmingly. The number of climate-related disasters has tripled in the last 30 years while the vast majority of weather events in the last five years have proven to be significant in influencing the process of climate change. There are many more events that have made it increasingly clear that habitats such as the Great Barrier Reef, the Arctic and the Amazon rainforest are on the brink of collapse.
There is panoply of events that are extremely worrying and the primary factor is that in the last seven years the world has witnessed are rated to be the hottest ever recorded on the planet. While 2021 was only the fifth-highest out of those, this has been largely attributed to the La Nina weather pattern, responsible for cooling ocean temperatures. What is more, it is found out that 21 out of the 22 hottest years ever recorded had been since the millennium. It was also found that last year more than 400 weather stations across the globe had reported record-breaking heat with 10 countries smashing national heat records and two continental records broken in Europe and Africa. Many meteorologists and climate scientists say that the extreme heat wave that hit North America in the summer, breaking records by up to 5°C (9°F) in places, was among the most alarming weather events of the year. Climate scientists say that rising global temperatures led to the weakening of the jet stream – which usually keeps cold Arctic air in the Arctic – meaning that polar air was able to travel southwards to the US and resulted in the cold conditions.
The emerging weather conditions comprise heavy snowfall, low temperatures and immense winds plunging temperatures to disastrously low-levels. Many parts of the world have experienced extreme cold snaps that can actually lead to an increased risk of wildfires, since they dry out plants which create the ideal conditions for fire to spread. Raging wildfires may have made headlines in many parts of the world in recent years but in summer 2023 they also suffered its worst drought in almost a century. That is pretty bad news for many countries that rely on hydropower for two-thirds of its electricity supply. Similarly, it was pointed out that in China was hit by record rain that inundated vast areas including Beijing. The deluge of rain led to catastrophic floods with shocking images and footage on social media showing a subway tunnel filling up with water.
Such flooding events are set to become increasingly common, as a rise in global temperatures means water is more likely to evaporate from oceans and accumulate in the air. The most shocking statistic to arise from 2023 is that the month of July was, on average, Earth’s hottest month since records began, 142 years ago. Globally, the combined land and sea temperature was 0.93°C (1.67°F) above the 20th-century average, beating the previous record set in July 2016. While human activity continues to emit greenhouse gases, the catastrophic wildfires seen across the world in summer 2021 added even more carbon to the atmosphere. In August 2022, burning forests released 1.3 giga-tons of CO2 into the atmosphere and that was the highest monthly amount of carbon released by wildfires since 2003.
For the sixth year in a row, ocean temperatures reached record highs in 2022. While ocean temperatures have been rising steadily since 1958, when records began, the rate of increase has jumped significantly since the 1980s. Rising ocean temperatures, along with increasing acidification, are causing mass coral bleaching events all over the world. To add to the woes is that the world’s oceans are not just getting hotter but they are also rising to terrifying new highs as the global sea levels rose by on average 0.08 inches (2.1mm) per year between 1993 and 2002, while that increased to 0.17 inches (4.4mm) between 2013 and 2023. This is largely due to warming ocean temperatures, which accelerate the rate of ice-melt. While these increases might not sound like much, many low-lying countries could become uninhabitable within decades due to sea level rise. TW