Pakistan: From Global Warming To Global Boiling

Pakistan, which contributes less than 1% of global greenhouse gas emissions, is set to suffer from extreme temperatures surpassing 52 degrees Celsius in an extended summer followed by a monsoon with above-average rainfall, making adaptation near impossible

Pakistan: From Global Warming To Global Boiling

As I write this article, various cities in Pakistan are sweltering as they face the brunt of global warming despite contributing less than 1% of the total world's greenhouse gas emissions, which is an alarming situation. Cities in Sindh and southern Punjab in Pakistan are among the worst hit by the ever-rising mercury, which soared past 52 degrees Celsius in some areas, creating hardships for residents. Several people have lost their lives due to heat stroke and other extreme heat-related ailments. 

Edem Wosornu, Director of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)' Operations and Advocacy Division, recently (in the third week of May) visited Sudan, Pakistan, and Afghanistan to assess the situation arising from climate change. She saw firsthand the impact flash flooding and heavy rains have had on agricultural families in and around Peshawar, where people lost their crops and whose children cannot get to school due to the washed-out infrastructure.

She also visited the government's emergency centre in Islamabad, where she said they were "trying their best to ensure that predictability is key, where they can prevent massive loss of life from the early warning systems." According to a statement issued by OCHA after the visit, Wosornu said that the authorities have sought UN support in tackling the emerging situation.

Dr Muhammad Hanif, one of the top meteorologists with a doctorate in the subject from the United Kingdom, says, "Two to three heat waves (with an average duration of 3/4 days) from May 1 to June 30 is the normal climate of Pakistan, but the duration of such heat waves has extended from an average of five days to seven days because the summer season in Pakistan has extended from 155 to 185 days now."

"The summers are expanding at a rate of one day per year in Pakistan," Dr Hanif said, adding, "Urban floods and heat waves are the key threats now."

"The heat wave's main focus will be on urban hubs. The urban heat island impact has significantly increased (about 25%) in Pakistan due to concrete jungles and minimum green spaces," revealed Dr Hanif. He said Lahore has been defined as being the worst hit by climate change and global warming. He went on to confirm that Lahore is impacted not only during the summer but also in the winter. An eye-opening piece of data shared by Dr Hanif was that "Lahore city has emerged as the most vulnerable city with 150 days of climate impacts, such as 75 extremely hot days (May to September), 30 days covered by smog, 35 days in dense fog, and 10 days of urban flooding. Hence, 150 out of 365 days (40% of the time), people in Lahore face a hard and harsh life." 

This may worsen if concrete measures are not taken.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who visited Pakistan after the super floods in 2022, had urged the international community to "help Pakistan recover" from the devastating floods, calling it a "litmus test for climate justice." 

The El Niño conditions prevailing over the equatorial Pacific region are likely to weaken to neutral El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) conditions during the early part of the monsoon season. During the second half of the southwest monsoon season, La Niña conditions are likely to develop

Addressing the UN General Assembly (UNGA) in New York last September, Guterres reiterated that Pakistan is a "double victim—of climate chaos and of our outdated and unjust global financial system that prevents middle-income countries from accessing much-needed resources to invest in adaptation and resilience."

The catastrophic floods, which struck Pakistan from north to south, caused nearly $16.4 billion in damage to infrastructure, crops, and houses, apart from the displacement of a large section of its population.

Latest reports suggest that Pakistan has received $2.8 billion from international creditors against $11 billion in pledges made at the Geneva Conference for the flood-affected population. Moreover, it could only spend around half of the money it had received on the flood victims, with the remaining going towards budget financing. This shows the seriousness of the authorities in tackling climate change impacts, rehabilitation of flood victims, and poor advocacy by the Pakistani authorities.

The consensus among technical experts at the 28 sessions of the South Asian Climate Outlook Forum (SASCOF-28) held on April 29, 2024, in Pune, India, warned that the El Niño conditions prevailing over the equatorial Pacific region are likely to weaken to neutral El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) conditions during the early part of the monsoon season. During the second half of the southwest monsoon season, La Niña conditions are likely to develop—conditions commonly associated with above-normal rain.

Technical experts believe that countries like Pakistan, Bhutan, India, Nepal, and Bangladesh are all expected to receive higher-than-usual rainfall. This rainfall will occur in the context of an overall warming trend, with higher-than-normal minimum and maximum temperatures.

Mandira Shrestha, a Senior Water Resources Specialist at the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), says, "In that context, this year's monsoon outlook is worrying. It is also set against an overall warming trend, which we know is linked to greater melting of snow and ice and the loss of the permafrost—the hidden glue that stabilises many mountain slopes—and whose thawing is often a key factor in the sorts of devastating flash floods and landslides we are now seeing across our region. This forecast alerts funders, multilateral agencies, and disaster management authorities in governments: multi-hazard early warning systems in this hugely populated region of rising risk must urgently be rolled out."

Rain forecast for the upcoming monsoon season from June to August is said to be promising, with most regions expected to receive normal to above-normal rainfall. The Meteorological Department predicts above-normal rainfall for central and northern Punjab. Southern Sindh is also expected to receive more rain than usual, providing some respite from the heat to these areas.

Balochistan is forecasted to receive slightly more than normal rainfall, which would boost agricultural activity there. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Gilgit-Baltistan are expected to have normal rainfall, ensuring stable conditions in these mountainous regions. Alarming data and warnings from international and regional experts on climate change and global warming suggest the need for concrete but urgent efforts by the Pakistani authorities with help from international communities.

After the blistering heat wave the country suffered last July, which hit not only South Asia but the Northern Hemisphere, including America and Europe, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had pleaded for immediate, radical action on climate change, saying that record-shattering July temperatures (2023) show the Earth has passed from a warming phase into an "era of global boiling."

This can only be ensured by abandoning the use of fossil fuels, which are the single largest contributor to global warming. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in 2018, 89% of global CO2 emissions came from fossil fuels and industry.