By Saleem Shaikh
Pakistan’s vulnerability to climate change is being made worse by poor governance and the degradation of its natural resources, posing risk to the food security, health and livelihoods of its poorest citizens, climate change experts claim.
“Poverty is a crucial factor in assessing vulnerability … to climate change and extreme events,” said Adil Najam, dean of Boston University’s Pardee School of Global Studies, during a recent meeting on implications for Pakistan of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report.
He described Pakistan as being highly vulnerable to climate change impacts. That is in part because “not only forests but also land and water resources are degraded,” he said, as well as because of governance issues.
According to Najam, addressing climate change remains a low priority for the Pakistani government and a lack of understanding about the country’s growing vulnerability, combined with inaction and poor policymaking, is likely to create problems for its people and its economy.
“Unpredictability is the biggest challenge of climate change, and the poor are at the core of the impacts,” he added. Poor people “want to or should adapt to climate change” but many lack the capacity, he said.
Najam was among a number of scientists, climatologists and lead authors of the IPCC report at the meeting who said that political leaders must work to mitigate the negative impacts of climate change on societies and ecosystems and help communities adapt to changing weather patterns.
Koko Warner of the United Nations University Institute for Environment and Human Security in Germany, warned that failure to take action now on climate change may limit options for developing resilience to the problem in the future, and threaten the long-term success of sustainable development efforts.
NEED TO MONITOR MONSOONS
Edvin Aldrian, one of the authors of the IPCC assessment report, said there is a pressing need for an effective country-wide monsoon monitoring system in Pakistan to avoid or reduce loss of life and damage to structures and the economy, as happened after record flooding in recent years.
Mohsin Iqbal, head of the agriculture section of the state-owned Global Change Impact Studies Centre in Islamabad, said that in Pakistan, as in other South Asian countries, climate change is expected to lead to declines in crop yields, particularly for rice, maize, wheat and potatoes.
In addition, flooding and power supply disruptions will badly affect things like processing, refrigeration, storage and transport of food, Iqbal said.
Pakistan gets 60 to 80 percent of its water for crop production from snow and ice melt from the Hindu-Kush-Himalaya region in the country’s north. But faster glacier melt and changing rainfall mean rivers may carry too much water at some times of year and not enough at others.
“The large variability of river flows caused by glacier melt will make irrigated areas highly vulnerable,” Iqbal predicted.
Areas that rely on rain to grow crops also will be affected by changes in rainfall patterns, he said.
Iqbal predicted that rising temperatures in Pakistan are likely to cause wheat production to fall by 6-8 percent and rice by 15-20 percent by the end of the century.
SEA LEVEL RISE
Ghulam Rasul, a senior weather scientist at the Pakistan Meteorological Department, said that sea level around the world is rising just when most deltas in south Asia – including the Indus delta in Pakistan’s south – are sinking because of groundwater extraction, floodplain engineering and the trapping of delta-building sediments by dams upstream.
Meanwhile, climate change is already impacting human health, said Tauqeer Ali Sheikh, head of Leadership for Environment and Development (LEAD) in Pakistan and the Asia regional director of the Climate and Development Knowledge Network, which organised the Islamabad meeting with the IPCC and the Pakistani government.
Dengue and Japanese encephalitis outbreaks in Pakistan already have been linked to changing temperature and rainfall patterns, he said, quoting from the IPCC’s report.
Iqbal said prompt action is needed to address the threats, before they grow worse. Effective action, he said, depends on “coordinating long-term efforts among inter-related government departments like agriculture, water and power, food security, irrigation and health.”