From the arrival of early summers to record monsoon downpours, i.e., 87 percent heavier than the average monsoon rainfall and the ensuing floods, Pakistan has witnessed unprecedented erratic climatic conditions this year. The recent floods have affected the country’s landscape, submerging large swaths of land, destroying properties and infrastructure, and killing more than 15,000 people. Overall, 116 districts have been affected, and 66 have been officially declared as calamity hit.
According to the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), more than 33 million people were affected by the deluge. In financial terms, the damage is more than USD 30 billion. In addition to the loss of life and infrastructure, Pakistan’s agro-based economy has been significantly hit. This year, due to climate change, the agricultural yield was first damaged by intense heat waves of the early summers, and then, the remaining destruction came from the unprecedented floods. The primary cause of these devastating ecological disasters is climate change.
According to the Global Climate Risk Index, Pakistan is among the top ten worst countries affected by climate change, although being among one of the lowest carbon emitters globally.
Climate change is considered a threat to humanity, yet a global consensus on mitigating its impact has not been achieved. The United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) held in November 2021 was an effort to bring the world community together to agree on a comprehensive and balanced plan to deal with climate change and resolve differences related to the Kyoto Protocol, Paris Agreement, and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
However, there has been a distinct lack of seriousness on the part of developed nations to honor their commitment to reducing Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions and providing the promised funds to the affected countries. This became evident from the fact that the commitment made by the developed countries in 2009 to provide USD 100 billion a year by 2020 has been extended to 2025.
The fate of international efforts to achieve GHG reduction targets and fulfillment of monetary commitments remains elusive. Therefore, affected countries must chalk out their respective national strategies to deal with the impact of climate change. Globally, mitigation and adaptation are viable strategies for dealing with climate change. Mitigation and recourse strategies are applicable for the countries and regions contributing significant GHG emissions, like the United States (US), India, China, and the European Union (EU), which cumulatively contribute nearly 60% of the global GHG emissions.
Unfortunately, the effects of these GHG emissions do not remain restricted to the countries of origin but extend beyond national borders and are felt globally. However, the immediate neighbors of GHG-emitting countries are more prone to adverse impacts. For example, Indian farmers burning the residue of their crops at a mass level create excessive smog in Eastern parts of Pakistan, causing severe respiratory, other health, and administrative issues for people exposed to it.
The countries affected by climate change (not the direct contributors) should practice adaptation and remedial strategies. Pakistan should also focus on a cohesive and comprehensive adaptation policy. With the support of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Green Climate Fund last year, the government officially began creating a National Adaptation Plan (NAP). NAP was established under the Cancun Adaptation Framework (CAF) to reduce vulnerabilities and climate impacts by creating comprehensive medium and long-term plans and integrating adaptation measures into national policy. NAP can suggest both short- and long-term plans of action.
Through NAP, Pakistan can identify vulnerabilities and outline solutions that can help reduce climate change impact. For this purpose, the Federal and Provincial governments, and NGOs working in this domain, should work together to identify areas vulnerable to climate change at the local and national levels. While the plan should adopt sustainable growth models, it should also focus on developing an emergency response strategy for climatic catastrophes such as heat waves, floods, etc.
The NDMA, PDMAs, and other emergency response institutions should be adequately equipped and trained to respond to such situations. They should maintain a sufficient stockpile of food, shelter, medical, and other supplies and establish a mechanism to continue the supply of goods during emergencies.
In the longer run, the new adaptation plan should build upon the existing national mechanisms to increase climate resilience. Pakistan has been considering ‘ecosystem-based adaptation’ and nature-based solutions. The Ecosystem Restoration Fund, the Ten Billion Trees Tsunami Program, and the Recharge Pakistan initiatives are a few examples of the nature-based strategies being employed by Pakistan.
The plan also needs to highlight the importance of the construction of water reservoirs, which is vital for Pakistan. The government should strive to create political consensus regarding building new dams. Here, a national debate can be helpful, where water and environmental experts are invited to create awareness amongst the general public and political leadership to address their apprehensions.
Pakistan is already a water-stressed country, and by 2025, it will become a water-scarce one. Currently, Pakistan has a 30-day water storage capacity against a desirable capacity of at least 120 days. By constructing new dams, the country can store ample water during the rainy season to cater to its needs during the dry months, thereby managing flood waters.Severe heat waves, glacier outbursts, and record monsoon rains followed by massive floods are a wake-up call for Pakistan and the world. These events will likely increase in frequency and severity with each passing year.
Pakistan needs to develop a robust adaptation plan with comprehensive policies and solutions to deal with the impact of changing weather patterns. Climate change has become an existential threat. Therefore, we need to act before it is too late. Our response has to be quick, robust, and comprehensive. Only then can we reduce the adverse impact of climate change.