Climate Change in Pakistan

Flooding in Sukkur, Sindh Province, 2010 (Rob Holden/ Department for International Development)


Article by Nazeel Irshad, a volunteer for Climate Justice for All

Climate refers to long-term weather patterns, whereas weather is day to day changes in atmosphere (temperature, wind, humidity, rainfall). The climate of any place is dictated by its topography and the composition of gases in its atmosphere. Predictable climate is imperative for normal human functioning and planning, but climate change is hindering this. Pakistan, a country in South Asia, has diverse topographical features ranging from mangrove forests in the South to some of the world’s highest peaks in the North, with deserts, agricultural land, a plateau and barren lands in between. Unfortunately, Pakistan is among the countries most affected by climate change. Lahore, a metropole in Pakistan, is rated as the most atmospherically polluted city in the world according to the US Air Quality Index.

Trees covered in webs from millions of spiders taking shelter and becoming stranded for days during flooding in 2010 (Russell Watkins/ Department for International Development)

Weather patterns in Pakistan are becoming erratic, water tables are dropping, GLOFs (glacial lake outburst floods) are becoming more frequent, sea levels are rising, and extreme weather conditions (both in summer and winter) are becoming commonplace. Flash floods and urban flooding are recurring. Islamabad, the capital city of the country, has experienced urban flooding this week. Smog, a fairly new phenomenon, is becoming more intense and every winter clouds the country for longer periods with each passing year. Smog is a leading cause of many breathing and eye disorders. Biodiversity is taking a serious hit, with birds like vultures or insects like fireflies becoming a rare sight, which disrupts the balance of ecology. A recent report by Asian Development Bank and World Bank reveals that climate change costs Pakistan around $3.8 billion a year. According to this report there is a serious threat of flooding, which will take a toll on the agricultural production and will lead to food scarcity in turn. Other reports predict that Pakistan is about to run into severe water scarcity in the coming years. All of this can increase internal migration and up the ante on already existing ethnic grievances.

The current government in Pakistan has pledged to plant 10 billion trees, under a project called the “Ten Billion Tree Tsunami Programme.” The government has already planted one billion trees and, by the time this project is completed, it will bring windfall gains for all. The government has recently called for the closing of all coal-powered electricity generation plants and the scrapping of any new coal power projects. It is also giving incentives for the import of electric vehicles, hoping that by 2030, 30% of Pakistan’s vehicles will run on electricity. At the moment electric vehicles are too expensive for the middle class of the country, which makes up a major chunk of the population. Also, electric vehicles are not that feasible because of the scant number of charging docks around the country. Unfortunately, the capitalists who hold sway in the country continue to defy environmental laws. The profit motive makes them more likely to pay penalties, rather than change their way of operating. Pakistan also experiences a “tragedy of the commons”, where people act in their own self-interests, further depleting limited resources and causing deterioration of the environment.

Civil society is a crucial realm of society, separate from the state and market. It is formed by individuals and independent institutions self-organizing for the interests of citizens. The civil society in Pakistan needs to put climate change on its agenda and form advocacy groups for issues related to climate change and the environment. Civil society can act as a pressure group to electrify government into further action and can push governments to collaborate with schools. Schools can take their students out on excursions, where the government can provide them with saplings to plant. Civil society can make the government train the people who become jobless because of the shift to use of renewable energy sources to reduce the carbon footprint.

The World needs to understand that climate change is an issue of global governance, since it transcends borders and can’t be allayed with unilateral efforts. It needs well-coordinated multilateral efforts by all. When leaders like Trump claim climate change to be a hoax, it regresses the gains made. Recent floods in countries like Germany and China prove that, no matter how advanced or capable you are as an individual country, you can’t deal with climate change alone. It is a force to be reckoned with and can make any superpower bow down.  Climate Justice for All is an instrument that brings global civil society together to challenge global governance to revert or halt climate change, and pass on the environment untainted to the coming generations as is their due right.