Wednesday Nov 29, 2017
Given the plethora of political and economic problems we face, often important and pressing issues are ignored. That is what has happened with the issue of climate change — a hugely significant reality for Pakistan, like the rest of the world, that doesn’t get the required attention.
The critical nature of the climate change situation in Pakistan is further underscored by the latest report of Bonn-based climate change watchdog: Germanwatch. According to the Global Climate Risk Index 2017 published by Germanwatch, Pakistan is the seventh most affected country by climate change in the world. Using data from 1996-2015, the Global Climate Risk Index measures the impact of climate change on a country in the form of extreme weather events such as storms, floods, heatwaves and droughts.
It is also pertinent to mention that Pakistan is the third most climate-change affected country in the South Asian region, only faring better than Myanmar and Bangladesh. Other neighbours of Pakistan such as India, China, Nepal and Afghanistan are doing much better as compared to us in terms of bearing the impact of climate change.
What was revealed by Germanwatch about the impacts of climate change in Pakistan can also be observed by a layperson on the ground. All month, Lahore and some other parts of upper Punjab had to face the worst form of smog. Flights were cancelled and the Lahore-Islamabad Motorway, the flagship project of the PML-N, was also closed for traffic multiple times. The Air Quality Index, which measures the quality of air in cities, of Lahore was the highest in the region. This means that Lahore has the most polluted air in the region – air that people are breathing in.
And it is not just Punjab, the long-term effects of climate change are also visible in Balochistan. The already impoverished province goes through a prolonged drought every year. The Rakhshan belt of the province situated in the north-west of the province is the primary victim of this drought. The agriculture and livestock dependent economy of Balochistan has been crippled severely due to drought. Furthermore, the tourist-favourite Hannah Lake of Quetta Valley has also dried up completely. The lake once used to be one of the most beautiful lakes in the country. Now it looks like barren land. While people do highlight these issues, they somehow never link them with the climate change process.
Shifting gears to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which has become the economic anthem of the country, has also created problems for environmental sustainability in Pakistan. Reportedly, $33 billion of CPEC will be used on energy projects. Most of these are coal-fired power plants for electricity generation. Coal plants are considered to be one of the major contributors to greenhouse gases, which cause global warming. While selecting these projects for CPEC, the aspect of an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) has been fully set aside. If that had not been the case, such projects would have never been approved in the first place.
Conversely, the Chinese government is controlling the spread of coal-power plants in its mainland. Reportedly, China is phasing out coal-power plants in compliance with the Paris Climate Accord and taking measures to control CO2 emissions from the existing ones. China is also making laws to control air pollution and is imposing fines on factories that violate those laws. In fact, Greenpeace, which is a leading climate-change watchdog, praised China for developing a network of 1500 air quality monitoring stations in over 900 cities to control air pollution. When China is avoiding coal plants itself then there is no justification for pushing for similar projects in Pakistan.
Unfortunately, the role of the government of Pakistan is disappointing when it comes to tackling the climate change challenge. Pakistan has established a Ministry of Climate Change after international pressure but the said ministry does not seem to have made much headway.
This point became more obvious in the recently concluded Conference of Parties – 23 (COP23) on Climate Change which took place in Bonn, Germany. During a session of the COP23, the moderator asked the participants to answer extempore questions on climate change rather than reading prepared speeches, due to time constraints. Our minister, though, insisted on reading his prepared speech. We would have hoped that, as the seventh most affected country from climate change in the world, Pakistan would have been more prepared.
Given the critical nature of the climate change challenge in Pakistan, is it not time we took the issue seriously and made bold decisions. First, the government needs to realise the gravity of the issue and let environmental experts make policy in the Ministry of Climate Change. The government also needs to reconsider the decision of installing coal power plants under CPEC. These projects can still be installed after making them environment-friendly, just the way China is doing in its mainland.
Climate change is a reality that is here – and is staying. It needs to be accepted and made an utmost priority in the policy agenda of Pakistan. Otherwise, any expected economic prosperity in the country would be meaningless.
The writer is a freelance columnist.
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Originally published in The News