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Changing challenges

We have yet to see the issue of climate change highlighted in our human rights discourse to understand better the disasters to come

Changing challenges
It’s time to pause and prioritise.

Nature nourished and reared us with mother’s generosity. It extended us everything to ensure our healthy living. We took that for granted. Our climate is rapidly changing with disruptive impacts, and that change is progressing faster than any seen in the last 2,000 years. According to the Climate Risk Index 2015 prepared by German watch between 1994 and 2013, more than 530,000 people have died worldwide and losses worth $2.17 trillion inflicted as a direct result of over 15,000 extreme weather events.

Global temperature has been rising incessantly for the past few decades due to greenhouse emissions — the biggest culprit is CO2. In 2015, representatives of 190 countries put their heads together and came up with the famous Paris Agreement to halt the rising temperatures and save the climate.

According to World Bank data on CO2 emissions, from 2011-15 United States and China remained the top producers of carbon emissions standing at 5.3 million and 9 million tons respectively. China is addicted to Carbon and running its power, steel and cement industries on coal. Both are signatories of the Paris Agreement and their will to comply by the same as well as influence the developing world will be decisive for any outcome.

The President of US calling climate change: “a hoax created by China” and even threatening to withdraw from the Paris Agreement is alarming indeed. China on the other hand has been playing more mature and lobbying for fulfilling the peace agreement. It’s a strange situation given the fact that Obama administration would keep appealing to China to honour its climate commitments. The equation has reversed, roles changed, thanks to Trump.

But still there is hope as Chinese government has realised the damage it has done to environment and has formally announced not to initiate new coal projects, have closed certain big carbon plants and determined to fulfill the commitments of Paris Agreement.

The US government is hesitant to continue the Obama era policies and Trump even has called coal as the energy of future. Meanwhile, the American people have been resisting the moves. More than 250 coal plants have been closed in the past few years in US primarily because the consumers shifted to clean energy and stopped drawing their energy needs from coal plants. It’s upon the people to let the firms grow at the cost of environment or to get them out of business and oblige the industries to produce clean energy. The demands of aware consumers often determine the supply.

The case of Pakistan is somewhat trickier as it has to suffer more despite contributing less than one per cent to global emission of greenhouse gases. Pakistan is ranked 8th on the list of countries most vulnerable to climate change.

The case of Pakistan is somewhat trickier as it has to suffer more despite contributing less than one per cent to global emission of greenhouse gases. Pakistan is ranked 8th on the list of countries most vulnerable to climate change.

According to Pakistan Economic Survey, more than 3000 people were killed and losses worth 16$ billion occurred due to floods in the past few years. Thousands more have lost their lives due to Karachi heat waves, drought of Thar, Sindh and other such brutal weather activities. The government projects worth billions simply washed away. Besides, the same is expected to rise further in the coming years. The seasons will become silly; floods will flush away people, homes and the biggest source of livelihood agriculture will fall victim to changing weathers.

It’s time to pause and prioritise. We are preoccupied with militancy and petty politics. The energies and resources are somewhat wasted on such stuff day in and day out. A mere comparison of our losses due to fighting militancy and losses due to climate change and then our times and resources spent on both the issues warrant a detailed research. It’s biased and irrational, yet no one bother. A recent survey revealed that less than 40 per cent Pakistanis consider ‘Climate Change’ a threat. Well, if such is the level of people’s sensitisation, what to say of the myopic and self-centered government.

Coal is the major contributor to rising level of CO2. A consensus has been made across the globe to reduce the utilisation of coal for energy production. China itself has closed several coal facilities these past few years, yet is supporting the coal investments in Pakistan. Almost all the energy projects under CPEC are mainly to run on coal. Yes, coal may provide us with a few thousand megawatt of electricity, but do we really need that at the cost of environmental disasters.

Pakistan has a potential to generate 90,000 MW and 60,000 MW from wind and hydal respectively, besides several other eco-friendly energies. Why doesn’t China invest in them instead of coal? I am surprised how the government gives clean chit to such mega coal projects and term them ‘feasible’. We don’t need coal energy for all the reasons. Civil society must come forth to lobby for the cause. The government is taking the nature to death through coal generated electric shocks. Only if the people occupied with petty politics could realise their gross omission in this respect.

We have yet to see the issue of climate change highlighted in our human rights discourse. Climate change and human rights are inextricably linked. Climate disasters lead to floods, displacements, food insecurity and all other related evils. Why are the political parties, civil society and human rights activists mum over the issue? Why are they not lobbying for eco-friendly projects and resisting the coal and other greenhouse emitting sources.

It is not gender neutral either. Statistical studies have proved women to be more affected then men due to climate change. Women are supposed to play a more proactive role to protect the planet. We need more women like Zandile Gumede, Mayor of Durban SA and Anne Hidalgo, Mayor of Paris, who have made climate change an integral part of their political manifestoes and urging other women accordingly.

Climate disasters have been addressed as a business-as-usual and in piecemeal at the time of any new climate related disaster. Ministry of Climate Change, NDMA, PDMA’s and all its field formations are actively trying to manage the weather related disasters, yet things are not improving. Perhaps because they can’t, firstly because we are being punished for the sins of other developed countries, secondly our own mix of energy basket has yet to become eco-friendly and thirdly the disasters are mostly mismanaged and limited to supplying sponsored food, tents and financial compensations. But if the disasters are to occur frequently in the future, we are to get more scientific and allocate sufficient resources for pre-emption as well, rather than merely managing the disasters traditionally.

Disaster management regime has expanded but has also given rise to “disaster economy”. Checks and balances are relaxed, if not abolished at the times of such emergencies. Disasters are destruction for the affected, but an opportunity for those “managing” the disasters to mint money — through tents, food, financial compensations, NGOs of all sorts and especially those flood protection walls, which are made with literally no material, as it is taken for granted that they are supposed to be flushed away in the upcoming floods. Purpose here is to emphasise the strengthening of checks and balances during these emergencies.

We need more oxygen and for that we need to plant trees. Billion tsunami tree of the KP government is a step in the right direction. The federal government and provincial governments also need such initiatives. Saving the existing forests is also crucial, which we have not been doing despite presence of various laws and staff. A visit uphill in KP shows how much jungles have been cut, trees simply sold away by the wood cartels in connivance with the concerned departments. The trees in forests of Malakand were utilised by the militants as well. However, even now they are cut down with impunity, yet the same is accounted for in the past records.

An apex committee for protection of climate has been notified to be chaired by the prime minister. This indeed is a step in the right direction but we need results. Pakistan also needs to actively engage the United Nations for effectively utilising the Green Climate Fund created in 2010 to help the developing nations in their eco-friendly initiatives. Since Pakistan is more of a victim then culprit, it’s obligatory upon nations of the world to extend help in saving the climate and brining the global temperature down by 2 degrees Celsius.

Fahad Ikram Qazi

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