(17 September 2022)
Following Pakistan’s endless string of devastating natural disasters including floods, heat waves and forest fires, the country is currently at the epicenter of the extreme weather frontline. As the extreme weather phenomena is only set to increase in both numbers and intensity in the years to come, South Asia, and particularly Pakistan, is deemed to be among the first to suffer the dire consequences of climate change, experts believe.
The extreme weather conditions highlight how Pakistan has become trapped in a vicious circle linked to climate change. Located at the foot of the Himalayas, the country’s rivers have become more and more swollen in recent years due to the accelerated melting of the mountain chain’s glaciers.
In 2020, the Bonn-based think-tank Germanwatch ranked Pakistan as the world’s eighth most vulnerable country to climate change. But in March this year, a NASA study cast an even darker cloud over Pakistan, predicting that in the not-too-distant future, some Pakistani regions will simply become uninhabitable. It pointed in particular to Jacobabad, which already ranks as the world’s hottest city. Karachi, Pakistan’s financial capital, is forecast to be submerged in seawater by 2060
Although Pakistan and its population of 220 million are victims of global warming, they are also paying the price for years of delays in addressing the problem. The latest flooding, which is estimated to cost Pakistan $10 billion in damaged infrastructure alone, couldn’t come at a worse time for the country, which is already suffering a severe economic crisis. Authorities estimate that some 80,000 hectares of Pakistani farmland have been destroyed so far, and those that have been flooded are not expected to be able to produce anything for at least another season.
Climate Change has hit Pakistan the hardest!
According to the statistics, since 1959, Pakistan is responsible for only 0.4% of the world’s historic CO2 emissions but is among the top 10 countries affected by climate change. While the U.S. is responsible for 21.5%, China for 16.5%, and the EU for 15%. The country is home to the largest number of glaciers, 7253,the most outside of the arctic polar region, which are all reportedly melting fast. Quite apart from super-monsoons, Pakistan this year saw three times as many glacial lake outburst floods as normal. As a result, one-third of country is currently underwater. The crops and agricultural land are all gone, millions of lives ruined, livelihoods wiped out, roads swept away, houses destroyed or barely standing.
Against this backdrop, Pakistan’s minister for climate change has called for rich nations to pay reparations to developing States suffering climate loss and damage. In an interview the climate minister, Sherry Rehman, said global emission targets and reparations must be reconsidered, given the accelerated and relentless nature of climate catastrophes hitting countries such as Pakistan. There are also growing calls for fossil fuel companies – making record profits as a result of Russia’s war in Ukraine – to pay for the damage caused by global heating to developing countries. “Big polluters often try to greenwash their emissions but you can’t walk away from the reality that big corporations that have net profits bigger than the GDP of many countries need to take responsibility, she added.
The minister said, global warming is the existential crisis facing the world and Pakistan is ground zero — yet we have contributed less than 1% to [greenhouse gas] emissions. We all know that the pledges made in multilateral forums have not been fulfilled. There is so much loss and damage with so little reparations to countries that contributed so little to the world’s carbon footprint that obviously the bargain made between the global north and global south is not working,” Rehman said. “We need to be pressing very hard for a reset of the targets because climate change is accelerating much faster than predicted, on the ground, that is very clear.
And much worse is yet to come!
The cash-strapped Pakistan’s economy is already on the ropes amid commodity prices and inflationary pressures, even before the clouds burst. The country’s food supply is at severe risk as large swathes of agricultural lands have been flooded and crops have been destroyed. In simple terms, the country requires $32 to $34bn in the current fiscal year to honor its foreign payments, mostly debt servicing and liabilities. The trade deficit has started to widen again, following the lifting of a ban on the import of luxury items under pressure from lenders, who are averse to such protectionist measures.