On the occasion of the 46th Earth Day and the signing of the historic Paris Climate Agreement at the United Nations headquarters, the Centre for Pakistan and Gulf Studies generated a poll to gauge the expectations of the people of Pakistan vis-a-vis the government’s role in countering climate change at home. 56.3% respondents believe that the government has already taken effective measures at home, while 25% of the respondents opined that sufficient measures are still not being taken. As many as 18.8% of respondents marked “Don’t know”, indicating a gap in information regarding the climate change phenomenon.

summaryIt was at the 21st Conference of the parties (COP21), that the Paris Agreement was reached in the December of 2015, via the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) adopted in 1992. The convention exists as a watershed between two trends: the push for non-renewable energy and the push for renewable energy resources. World leaders from 200 nations and multinational organisations gathered to negotiate the shift towards renewable energy and measure for effectively cutting down greenhouse gas emissions at the global level to save planet Earth from the drastic and irreversible changes and its unadaptable consequences that we are facing today. Temperature of the planet has been rising since the industrial revolution, and is now reaching its crisis point. An example is the rapid heating of oceans which is  leading to the extinction of many marine species. The icecaps are also shrinking, posing a direct threat to life in the arctic and survival of island states with rising sea levels. Amongst the multitude of other just as drastic problems carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels like coal, oil, and gas, need to be cut down and replaced with renewable energy resources. In September 2015, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) hosted the Sustainable Development Agenda (SDA), binding  signatory nations to achieve the 17 development goals by 2030. Among other social development goals, renewable energy stands out as the most crucial one. When nation states submitted intended nationally-determined contribution documents for COP21, pledging to cut off carbon emissions with each passing year after 2015, Pakistan missed the October 2015 INDCs submission deadline, but later declared the INDCs on a one-page document.

In the domain of non-traditional security paradigms, Climate Change is a transnational threat that permeates across borders. One state’s carbon emissions can disrupt weather patterns in another part of the world. In the prevalent scenario, Pakistan is a classic example. It contributes as less as one percent to global carbon emissions, but has been facing drought and famine in Thar and Balochistan as a result of these changes. Glacial melts resulting in flashfloods force their way through Punjab and Sindh in every monsoon season now –  wreaking havoc on vast populations and livestock. The Global Climate Risk Index 2014 of German Watch has ranked Pakistan among one of the three most vulnerable countries to climate change in the last three years. The estimated damage by floods in 2010 was US$9.7 billion.[1]

Frequent spikes in temperatures are another giveaway of climate change. A record breaking heatwave in June 2015 proved to be fatal for hundreds of residents of Karachi.[2] Increase in forest cover is the most natural and eary way of facilitating a reduction in Climate Change. In this context, the Government of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, as a sub-national entity, has signed up for the Bonn Challenge to increase forest cover with one billion trees by 2018.[3] The provincial governments of Punjab and Sindh however have been actively cutting down trees for ‘development infrastructure’[4] and making space for advertisement boards[5] respectively.

The Federal Ministry of Climate Change has formulated multiple policies in 2006, 2012, 2013, and published research papers about its plans to execute projects for climate change mitigation. However, the onerous task of reforestation and maintaining greenbelts in every province of Pakistan, has to be taken a lot more seriously. Increasing protected forest area, heavy penalties on governments, firms, and individuals responsible for illegal deforestation; provision of plants to the public during tree plantation drives for rigorous reforestation; reduce, reuse, recycle campaigns; engineered landfills for industrial waste; and identification of new limited capacity dam sites will be starting steps to reverse climate change in Pakistan, in a drive that will eventually require a lot more complex efforts if Pakistan is to survive.

[1] ‘Technology Needs Assessment Report for Climate Change Mitigation’, Ministry of Climate Change, April 25,    2016.  http://www.mocc.gov.pk/gop/index.php
[2] ‘Is Karachi experiencing climate change’, Dawn, June 24, 2015.
[3] ‘Counting a billion trees’, The Express Tribune, January 16, 2016.
[4] ‘1700 more trees to face the axe in Lahore’, Dawn, May 3, 2016.
[5] ‘Chopping of 1200 trees in Karachi’, Dawn, April 22, 2016.

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