Addressing Pakistan's Climate Change Challenges: Urgent Call for Adaptation and Governance Reform

Addressing Pakistan's Climate Change Challenges: Urgent Call for Adaptation and Governance Reform
Climate change stands out as the most critical problem of our era, impacting individuals across all economic backgrounds. The subject is widely discussed, with public figures drawing attention to extreme heatwaves, floods, storms, and shifting weather patterns. Even once-moderate cities like Karachi now face heightened weather extremes.

These conversations center on understanding the causes of climate change and emphasizing the need for adaptation to the current situation. Developed countries not only emphasize adaptation but also stress the importance of mitigating environmental variability.

Twenty years ago, climate change discussions were virtually non-existent, with people primarily focusing on weather-related factors. Global temperature change and heavy rainfall in Assam were occasionally mentioned but not formally acknowledged as climate change concerns. At that time, these topics were considered distant future issues and lacked significance.

However, the rapid changes in the world's climate have become increasingly evident, leading to greater awareness and discussions about phenomena like El Niño and La Niña. Despite this progress, many individuals still struggle to fully comprehend the connection between these phenomena and climate change. Unfortunately, the general population in Pakistan remains largely uninformed about these urgent environmental issues.

According to the Global Climate Risk Index 2021, Pakistan ranks as the eighth most vulnerable country in the world. Specifically, its southern province of Sindh stands out as one of the most susceptible regions to climate change in South Asia. When comparing Pakistan's carbon emissions to those of other countries, the amount is relatively insignificant. This is due to the fact that Pakistan has not heavily relied on coal or fuel consumption like China, the US, and other nations. Our country possesses fewer vehicles and factories.

While our emissions may not play a significant role in causing climate change, it doesn't absolve us of responsibility. Local environmental pollution continues to increase, and it is imperative for us to address these issues by allocating resources and raising awareness. If we neglect these concerns, Pakistan's ranking in terms of vulnerability could potentially rise to the top.

The 2015 heatwave in Karachi, Pakistan's largest city, served as a catalyst for local action. Heatwave planners, policymakers, and numerous NGOs actively engaged in on-the-ground relief work, recognizing the emergence of a climate emergency and the need for effective management.

However, the actions taken by city administrations and policymakers to address rising temperatures often rely on unsubstantiated assumptions, overlooking the comprehensive assessment of urban vulnerability to heat and climate change. Temperature-related concerns and associated risks are disregarded in this one-dimensional approach. As a result, the current strategies for heat management, adaptation, and mitigation in major cities like Karachi are failing to adequately safeguard human life.

To rectify this, we must deepen our understanding of climate change and its interconnected phenomena, such as extreme heat, urban flooding, river flooding, and local weather patterns. It is crucial to recognize how these factors are linked to urban planning, infrastructural inequality, and the increased vulnerability of citizens.

To effectively implement climate change adaptation in Pakistan, several key areas demand our attention:

Improving the governance system is vital, with a focus on prioritizing global, national, and regional issues to find effective solutions. It is crucial to include diverse stakeholders in decision-making processes related to climate change. Embracing a bottom-up approach to governance, aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals, is essential. This approach emphasizes developmental and environmental co-benefits, recognizes the experiences of marginalized communities, and addresses the impact of social stratification on participation in governance activities. Prioritizing education and capacity building efforts is of utmost importance.

Additionally, integrating scientific knowledge and innovation into daily lives, warning systems, implementing risk protection strategies, and enhancing social security measures are key components for building a robust framework for climate change adaptation. Empowering grassroots levels and strengthening local institutions are necessary for successful implementation. Without these comprehensive measures, the desired outcomes cannot be achieved in Pakistan's journey towards climate change adaptation.

According to IPCC report, technological advancements have bolstered the capacity of various Asian countries to monitor and respond to climate-related hazards. In line with this trend, Pakistan has also embraced advanced technologies such as Geographical Information Systems (GIS) and Remote Sensing to tackle climate risks. These tools are being utilized to evaluate and mitigate the risks associated with climate-induced disasters. However, it is crucial to scale up these efforts and involve social sciences and researchers in this endeavor.

To comprehend the changes necessary in lifestyle and behavioral factors, individuals play a pivotal role in understanding the drivers and processes of climate change. They must then determine how to adapt their lifestyles accordingly. Socio-cultural factors often influence adaptation decisions, as the sense of risk and uncertainty compels individuals to adapt. Exploring the relationship between psychology, behavior, economics, and risk perception is crucial in understanding how our perceptions and attitudes shape climate change action and behavioral patterns.

Although each community differs economically, culturally, and socially, certain common values exist. Nonetheless, incentivizing adaptation is essential. Without resources and collective efforts, we lack the capacity to effectively address climate risks. Therefore, raising awareness and implementing adaptation measures are imperative at this critical juncture.

The author is an urban planner and geographer who is also Associate Director of the Karachi Urban Lab at IBA.