Ranking Higher, But in What?

There is little recognition that climate change, environment and population are interlinked to human rights of the people, writes Farhatullah Babar

Ranking Higher, But in What?
We take pride in “ranking high” in some selected fields in the Muslim world in particular, and in the world in general. We take pride and also brandish occasionally that Pakistan is number one in the Muslim World and one of the half dozen countries in the world possessing weapons of mass destruction. This obsession with “ranking high” in shining armour, glittering submarines and fighter jets, however, has also blocked the view from a recent high ranking in a critical area, which though not as shining, is a ticking bomb of a far more destructive power that atomic bomb - namely the climatic and environmental bomb.

A little noticed report of The Global Climate Risk Index for 2020 released early this month makes a grim reading. It places Pakistan at number five on the list of countries most affected and most unmindful of climate change. Until a decade ago, Pakistan was placed at number 10 moving up to number eight two years ago and lately to number five since last year. Pakistan’s vulnerability to climate change is increasing each year, the report said as we chant hurrah.

According to the report, Pakistan lost nearly 10,000 lives besides suffering economic losses worth nearly $4 billion and endured over 150 extreme weather conditions during the 20-year period till 2018. The situation is further deteriorating, it said. From the data compiled there is no evidence that enough is being done to meet the risks and threats of climate change.
Issues of climate change like floods, water and food scarcity are human rights issues and low on the priority scale of the state that is driven by security paranoid instead of welfare of the people

A hunger multiplier and ill-health multiplier climate change, however, has largely been perceived as concerning the poor instead of the rich. So it has remained a neglected and orphaned subject at almost every level. Unfortunately it has not been on the radar of political parties or the government.

Issues of climate change like floods, water and food scarcity are human rights issues and low on the priority scale of the state that is driven by security paranoid instead of welfare of the people. These issues have been left largely to the resilience of the people, as in times of floods, and foreign donors only. Official action is confined to calling upon the industrialised world to wake up to its responsibilities instead of preparing a national action plan. Pakistan does not contribute much to the carbon emissions and so it is not as much of our problem, so runs the argument.

There is little recognition that climate change, environment and population are interlinked to the human rights of the people. Sometime back, the Senate Human Rights Committee took up environment and climate change as human rights issues and set up a subcommittee. Nothing has been heard of that initiative since the terms of the previous human rights committee of the senate expired in March last year.

The lackadaisical manner in which we have taken up climate change can be seen from our participation in important international climate conferences. For instance, at the key international climate conference in Paris a few years ago, Pakistan failed to submit its official paper in time. When submitted late, it was found deficient in several areas; it identified no targets and made no commitments. There was no plan of action to check activities like coal power, deforestation, increasing use of fossil fuels, manufacture of chemical fertilisers and excessive extraction of ground water, particularly in Baluchistan- all rapidly degrading the environment.

The same was the case at the UN Climate Change Conference in Madrid that ended last week. While the international community failed to address some highly contentious issues, Pakistan also failed to present a workable blueprint of how to benefit from the Global Climate Fund even though it now ranks at number five and eminently qualifies to benefit from the Fund, provided that workable plans are drawn up.

The prime minister has been making some good speeches to highlight the dangers climate change poses to Pakistan. But good speeches alone will not change anything unless there is concrete follow up action.

There is immense potential for both India and Pakistan to cooperate on this issue and thereby open up new possibilities of cooperation in other areas as well. Both countries are highly vulnerable to effects of climate change. Countries which have large coastal areas, bulging populations, large poor communities and are located in tropical and sub-tropical regions are most vulnerable. So are countries whose economies depend on agriculture and natural resources and whose main sources of water are glaciers, rains and floods. Both India and Pakistan have these features and fall in the category of most vulnerable.

Both Pakistan and India can work together to develop a mechanism for joint monitoring of glaciers in the Himalayas. There is need for generation and dissemination of information and knowledge on these issues. Indeed the issue of water and climate change should have been included in the now-stalled composite dialogue. The tweeting prime minister has already shut the doors on any dialogue with India for all times to come. His economic team, however, at a press conference early this month bemoaned that the ailing economy and price hikes are due to the suspension of negotiations and trade with India, implying talks with that country. There is utter confusion in the government.

Climate change has also resulted in acute water scarcity but the government has yet to upgrade water and environmental management systems. Pakistan devotes 90 percent of its water to five agricultural products (rice, sugarcane, cotton, wheat and maize) that generate less than 20 percent of GDP, a situation that calls for upgrading water management system and re-orient water usage practices to cut back losses through improved water management.

The 2012 National Climate Change Policy has run its course and should be replaced with a policy framework informed by later day evidence and practice. The Climate Change Act of 2017 asks for the establishment of both a Climate Change Council and Authority but neither has been set up thus far.

Much has been discussed about the billion trees in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and another 10 billion trees across the country. Apart from the fact that these figures have been hotly contested as unrealistic it should be remembered that mere plantation of more trees will not realistically address the challenge of increasing temperatures and other climate hazards. A government that prides itself on ‘change’ seems totally unmindful of climate change.

The writer is a former senator