Pakistan faces existential crisis | Climate change

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its latest report in August 2021, on the heels of one of the hottest and most devastating summers on record: flooding in Europe North and China, wildfires in the United States and heat waves everywhere.

The report tells us that the consequences of the current global warming crisis are largely irreversible. The best we can do is prevent a total ecological collapse.

One of the report’s most disturbing findings is that polar and mountain glaciers are likely to continue to melt, irreversibly, for decades or centuries to come.

Pakistan has more glaciers outside the polar caps than anywhere on earth. Glaciers feed one of the oldest and most fertile valleys on the planet, that of the Indus basin, shared between India and Pakistan. About 75 percent of Pakistan’s 216 million people live on the banks of the Indus River. Its five largest urban centers depend entirely on the river for industrial and domestic water.

Pakistan has been blessed with regular agricultural cycles that have supported its economy through successive crises. However, if the IPCC report is correct – which it almost certainly is – by 2050 the country will be running out of water.

Pakistan is not the only low-income country facing the impacts of climate change. He’s not the only one watching powerlessly as industrialized countries – led by China and the United States – drag their heels to cut emissions. Pakistan, like the Maldives and many other island countries, will suffer the consequences of global warming disproportionately. However, unlike many countries that have raised the issue of global emissions at the UN, Pakistan is not even doing the bare minimum to try to secure its future.

To say that this is the biggest security problem the country will face in the coming decades would be an understatement. No other country is as dependent on non-polar ice for freshwater as Pakistan. No other country stands to lose so much. Yet the Pakistani government seems singularly oblivious to the looming crisis. It hasn’t even made much effort to meet its goal of producing 60% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030. Today, the country still derives well over 60% of its electricity. of fossil fuels.

Pakistan is already facing increasing environmental challenges. Heat waves kill dozens of people and have a regular impact on crop cycles and yields. This year, its largest city Karachi and its capital Islamabad suffered devastating floods. In addition, the 806 kilometer (500 mile) long Karakoram Highway, which is a vital part of Pakistan’s economic corridor with China, has been closed several times, for several days, due to landslides. These devastating landslides were a direct result of large-scale deforestation in the region north of Kohistan and south of Jaglot. Further north to Shimshal and east to Skardu Valley, the timber mafias are rapidly stripping ancient forests, while ensuring future environmental disasters.

Local and international environmental experts have long warned that without urgent and drastic action, things will get worse – both in Pakistan and in wider South Asia. They have been warning for more than a decade that Pakistan’s glaciers are melting and that it is only a matter of time before the country runs out of water. Now the IPCC is saying the same thing in no uncertain terms.

Despite growing evidence of a growing crisis, the Pakistani state refuses to act.

There are several local initiatives to understand and tackle the impact of climate change on the region, such as those of the Shimshal Trust. But these efforts often face obstacles from the state and the military, who do not want environmental considerations and conservation projects to limit their control over strategic regions near the country’s border with China. and India.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan announced, at the start of his term in 2018, the Million Tree Plantation Drive to counter the effects of ongoing deforestation and climate change on the country. However, it is like adding a fourth wheel to a tricycle and hoping that it eventually turns into a driverless electric car. No new tree planting can replace old growth forests. It’s just a fact. Ancient alpine and coniferous forests literally keep the ecology of northern Pakistan – its glaciers, rivers and fertile valleys – together. It took them millennia to grow and stabilize. They are irreplaceable.

Today Pakistan is facing an existential crisis. The effects of climate change do not threaten a single sector or region of the country, but the lives and livelihoods of all of its people. As this year’s IPCC report pointed out, it is unfortunately already too late to undo the damage caused by the rampant consumption of fossil fuels. The choice we face now – in Pakistan and around the world – is to continue on the path of certain destruction, or to start fighting for our collective survival.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.

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