Associated Press Service
By Sherry Rehman
As the world’s nations prepare to meet for the historic COP 21 meeting in Paris this year, Pakistan reels from a devastating mix of earthquake trauma and floods that only weeks ago had devastated large swathes of the country. By all accounts, climate calamities are not new to Pakistan. It is their ferocity and frequency that has been ramping up, pushing food, water and energy security into a tailspin. At a moment when the nation is fighting one of the world’s largest inland battles against terrorism, changing climate patterns that cause critical human and economic losses pose a potent and costly security threat for Pakistan.
Internationally, while countries look to worrying about their own environment and its relationship with stability, exchanges still remain unable to execute judicious action based on a widely accepted model of responsibility. The good news is that at key global inboxes the risk is not a postponable memo. Despite a huge polluters lobby, there is clarity that as we enter a century that will be transformed by carbon emissions our collective ability to innovate and cooperate on responses will shape much of our futures.
Developing nations will be the most hurt, and the least able to navigate multilateral forums without collaborative strategies on the ground on carbon control. Pakistan is one country that has a big case to make. In the basket of polluters in the region, it is caught in a tailwind of strategic climate inequity. For a country with less than 1 percent GHG emissions, but ranked 3rd among the 10 most vulnerable countries to climate change, there is no ambiguity about Pakistan rating as a victim of climate injustice.
Will data and advocacy mean much for Pakistan without multilateral clout? Expectations from Paris should not be high, but at least pitch for the mid-line. Global conferencing at the UN level has so far yielded only an increment of agreement, but that increment is important and must be pushed forward. While voluntary abstentions and reversal of consumption trends are notoriously hard to force down, let alone bring to treaty tables, the public investment in collective change and climate equity is crucial. While hard truths about climate stress and its link to security and stability will be out there in glossy folders, the push to help a pivotal South Asian country like Pakistan will likely be weak.
Climate justice is never easy to negotiate. At a fundamental level, the resistance and misinformation that clogs climate diplomacy is hard to shake off. Big players on the multilateral stage are often extractive at worst, or negligent at best. The problem is not just about identifiable action plans, but also the scale of growth retrenchments and community sacrifice compared to tangible results and short-term rewards. Big oil and other industries still behind the green technology curve dig in with lobbies and stakes in their own countries, which slows down movement at the intra-state level. Without private sector muscle and government focus, relatively smaller polluters like Pakistan often find little traction in such forums and continue to bear the costs when faced with equations that mark up emissions and impacts.
Yet for Pakistan, getting attention at the Paris moot is crucial, as these costs have escalated at a terrifying pace. The most visible climate shocks have been water related, in the form of regular unpredictable floods, accelerated glacial melting and frequently occurring droughts in different parts of the country. The outcomes are often ghastly to a bemused populace, facing climate havoc with a regularity that is morally indefensible and strategically myopic to ignore.
Since 2010 Pakistan has been experiencing severe natural disasters and flooding every monsoon.. Data further shows that since 1973, 77% of all disaster victims have been flood-affectees.
Despite the increase in funding allocated to climate adaptation and mitigation globally, Pakistan’s share remains negligible, and consistently incomparable with the kind of disasters the country has faced over the last five years alone. With losses attributable to climate related events running into billions of dollars, Pakistan stands well within its its rights for seeking a higher share in global resources and funds pledged towards mitigating climate impacts and building a framework for sustained resilience.
Globally, Pakistan is among the bottom 20 percent in terms of per capita water supply and among the sixteen emerging markets and developing countries that face dual challenges of improving water access and managing already high water stress. The floods and monsoons of the last four years alone have had a long-term impact on both .Not only is Pakistan’s water-intensity rate the highest in the world, water availability is under threat too, almost hitting the 1000 cubic meters scarcity mark. Financially, flooding causes a loss of 3-4% of the federal budget every year.
The World Bank says approximately 3 million Pakistanis on average are affected by natural disasters every year. Ranked 6th on the Climate Risk Index in 2013, Pakistan is experiencing a steady rise in temperature, higher than the average global temperature increase.The recurrence of stretched and extreme summers also translates into severe water shortages for agriculture, apart from higher likelihood of pest and disease in crops. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says quite clearly that among the projected climate change impacts in Pakistan, the possibility of increase in the frequency of hot days over most land areas is “virtually certain”. This will not only exert pressure on the demand for water due to frequent heat waves but will also adversely affect the reserves of Hindu Kush Himalayan glaciers, the primary source of water supply in the Indus river system. For those living in Pakistan, this virtual certainty has already turned into a harsh reality. As summers stretch their course over the year, it is becoming excruciatingly difficult to control the gaping energy deficit that is now testing both human and industrial endurance. Reports indicating the emergence of cyclones in Pakistan’s coastal areas also suggest that sea levels may be ascending and putting at risk active (Karachi) and potential (Gwadar) areas of commercial and economic activity.
Future projections are equally alarming, if not more, with Pakistan among the 33 most water stressed countries in the world by 2040. Both snow-melt and rain patterns show signs of increased flash flooding over the coming decades. Depletion in water reservoirs would also affect Pakistan’s hydro-power potential over the longer run. By 2040, projections indicate that an average rise in temperatures by 0.5 degree Celsius could destroy 8-10 per cent of all crops – an equivalent of Rs. 30,000 per acre – in Pakistan and it will need to increase crop yield to ensure food availability, along with water supply.
Just how much of this will materialize into policy equity, however, remains questionable, despite a renewed interest in climate change globally. Voluntary commitments are notoriously hard to enforce, let alone agree on, even if national self interest is the goal. Why should the fate of the intended nationally determined contributions – also voluntary commitments on bringing down carbon use – be any different then, especially when surplus supplies are expected to drive down the price of fossil fuels? The Carbon Pricing Panel convened by the World Bank and the IMF is a welcome step in incentivizing climate smart development, but does not replace the need for a binding mechanism to compensate countries like Pakistan that have been penalized by nature for climatic crimes not of their own making.
The world is expected to surpass the safe level of global warming in the next 15-20 years. As a developing country, Pakistan cannot allow itself more harm that it has already suffered at the expense of other high GHG emitting nations. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) estimates that by 2050, the cost for mitigation activities for Pakistan can go upwards of $17 billion, while the cost for adaptation can range between $7-14 billion. These are big numbers. Apart from carbon restrictions and pricing, the COP 21 moot will have to ensure that losses accrued due to climate related incidents are evenly spread and do not remain the sole burden of the small polluters.
Senator Sherry Rehman is Chair of the Jinnah Institute, and Vice President of the PPP; she has served as Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United States, and Federal Minister of Information. @sherryrehman