Pakistan is an autonomous country that occupies a strategic location in South Asia, with a wide variety of landscapes. The major portion of the Pakistani land is dry and barren, mainly because of the great variability in the climatic parameters. Most Parts of Pakistan are Arid to Semi Arid with significant spatial and temporal variability in climate.

According to IPCC (Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change), the developing and the least developed countries are expected to suffer more due to climate change as compared to the developed countries. Pakistan lies in a geographical region where the temperature increases are expected to be higher than the global average; its land area is mostly arid and semi-arid, its rivers are predominantly fed by the Hindu Kush-Karakoram & Himalayan glaciers which are reported to be melting rapidly due to global warming; its predominantly an agricultural country and hence highly climate sensitive; thus, the country faces increasingly large risks of variability in monsoon rains, hence large floods and extended droughts.

The junction of three mountain ranges: Himalayas-Hindu Kush-Karakoram. Photo: WikiCommons

Water security, flood security and energy security of the country are under serious threat. The Indus Delta is already located in the intense heat zone and any rise in temperature would impact human health. Pakistan is no stranger to climate change – it is among the most vulnerable, ill-equipped and ill-prepared countries to deal with climate change.

The most recent scientific assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that the global average surface temperature on Earth will increase by 1 to 3.5°C (about 2 to 6°F) by the year 2100, with an associated rise in sea level of 15 to 95 cm (about 6 to 37 inches). Pakistan and the Indus Delta in particular would experience a 4 to 6 °C rise in temperature by that time on an average 0.5 °C rise per decade.

Climate Scientists recommend the world to take serious actions to limit emissions of greenhouse gases and keep the average global temperature below 1.5°C. In the case of Pakistan, even before reaching this threshold, the climate crisis in the region is already at an alarming level. Pakistan cannot afford a temperature rise above 1.5°C as it will increase its vulnerabilities many fold.

According to World Bank data on CO2 emissions, from 2011-15 Pakistan has produced 0.2 million metric tons. Although Pakistan has been a low producer of greenhouse gases, yet it has been one of the worst affected countries due to global warming.

The direct or indirect consequences of increase in temperature in Pakistan are heat waves, glaciers melting, floods, droughts, sea level rise, food insecurity, reduced agricultural productivity, reduced environmental quality, depletion of water resources and impacts on human health. All of these consequences are ultimately leads to economic loss. These Climate changes are costing the Pakistan’s economy $14 billion a year, which is almost 5% of the GDP.

Pakistan’s economy has been crippled heavily by devastating and repetitive floods

floods during the last decade. In the past 10 years, Pakistan has been hit by floods almost every year. However, the floods of 2010 and 2011 have emerged as the biggest catastrophes in the country’s history. The flood of 2010 remained as one of the biggest tragedy in the Pakistan’s history, with 20 million people affected by it. The floods resulted in approximately 1,781 deaths, injured 2,966 people and destroyed more than 1.89 million homes. 10,000 schools were damaged that correspondence to 1.5 to 2.5 million students affected. Estimated damage of Punjab was 67 billion rupees and of Sindh was 446 billion rupees. Overall estimated losses were 43 billion dollars, nearly 25 % of the nominal GDP of Pakistan.

A girl floats her brother across flood waters while salvaging valuables from their flood ravaged home on August 7, 2010 in the village of Bux Seelro near Sukkur, Pakistan. (Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images)

Pakistan’s economy has also been affected heavily by the continuous spell of droughts in the past years, particularly in the provinces of Baluchistan and Sindh. The drought in these areas has reduced the river flows, resulting in drying up of the irrigation canals, leading to a severe agricultural deprivation. It has also been responsible for causing immense losses to poultry and other animals, causing a general deficiency of food and water for people. The increased temperatures because of the increased GHGs as well as a mismanagement of the water reservoirs need to be blamed for the condition.

As an ill effect of global warming, the annual mean surface temperatures in Pakistan have been steadily increasing during the past century. A rise in mean temperature of 0.6-1°C in the coastal areas along with a 0.5 to 0.7% increase in solar radiation over southern half of country has been observed. In central Pakistan, 3-5% decreases in cloud cover with increasing hours of sunshine have also been responsible for increasing the temperatures.

During the heat wave of 2010, Pakistan broke all records as Mohenjo-Daro, a city in Sindh faced the temperature of 53.5 °C, the hottest temperature ever recorded in Asia and the fourth highest temperature ever recorded in the world. The summer of 2010 caused a temperature of above 50 °C in twelve cities of Pakistan. The heat wave of July, 2015 in Karachi was also very terrible. The scorching heat resulted in several deaths.

Severe water-stressed conditions in arid and semi-arid regions due to reduced rainfall, and increased temperature leads to expansion of deserts.

The increasing temperatures due to global warming have resulted in a progressive melting of glaciers, which has resulted in a gradual increase in the sea levels. Pakistan has more glaciers than any other land outside the North and South Poles, especially in Karakoram ranges. Glacier melt, in the wake of climate change, is a big threat to the country’s water resources. According to the Karachi Tidal Station, an increase in the mean sea level at a rate of 1.1 mm/yr has been recorded during the past 100 years. The ravaging sea continues to engulf the surrounding land, and consumes 80 acres a day on an average. Six subdivisions of Thatta, which were previously considered extremely prosperous due to extensive agriculture, are now amongst the poorest parts of the country due to the engulfment by the sea.

Pakistanis receive ice outside a hospital during a heatwave

Pakistan, which is an already resource stressed country, has been crippled more by global warming, as the floods and droughts continue to wreck the country’s economy. These climatic catastrophes will not die down. Research studies have concluded that changing weather patterns will be the foundation for more intense and prolonged droughts and heat waves. Temperature increases both past and projected are higher over Pakistan compared to the global changes and as such the country is more vulnerable to climate change. Keeping in view the adverse effects of rising temperature, it is very important for our country to stay below 1.5°C. Efficient mitigation and adaptation strategies with policy interventions are needed to cope with rising temperature.

The government has recently promised to spend Rs177.61 billion (about US$1.67 billion) on different structured and non-structured measures to implement a 10-year flood protection plan to save lives and property. However, Pakistan has been severely criticized for its 350 word-long Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) brief submitted to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), shortly before the Paris summit. In contrast, other developing countries provided detailed INDCs giving targets and showcasing their contributions. In this lacklustre document, which was not the original document prepared by the Ministry for Climate Change, the federal government offered no specific targets for emissions reductions, and failed to highlight Pakistan’s extreme vulnerability to the impacts of climate change (floods, droughts, sea-intrusion and glacial melt).

The main challenge for Pakistan is to identify and calculate greenhouse gas emissions, peak emissions levels and future projections. This is the first step that must be taken before a clear path can be set for implementation. Pakistan needs international assistance and cooperation if it wants to mitigate and adapt from the effects of climate change.

Pakistan, which happens to not only be a victim of widespread terrorism and political instability but equally suffers from the effects of impending climate crisis, must see climate change as a security threat that effects not only the stability and prosperity of the country but also threatens the most vulnerable and poorest in the country.

Pakistani farmer Enayat Mohammed, 65, splashes water on his buffalos to cool them off as the temperature rises, on the outskirts of Gujranwala, in Punjab province, Thursday, May 10, 2012. Muhammed Muheisen/AP

Thus, ratifying the Paris Agreement isn’t where the work ends, implementing it matters the most because climate change is a threat that must not be ignored at any cost. The Paris agreement will come into effect in 2020, empowering all countries to act to prevent average global temperatures rising above 2 °C and to reap the many opportunities that arise from a necessary global transformation to clean and sustainable development.

Capacity Building in the use development and modification of mathematical models for use in climate change related studies, needs to be enhanced. This new field of climate change, being an emerging component of natural sciences, needs to be taken up as part of the curricula of studies at the college and university level.

Muzamil Saltan

About Muzamil Saltan

Muhammad Muzamil Sultan from Pakistan is an environmentalist studying climate change. He is a project representative at the International Climate Change Awareness Competition 2017 (ICAC) . He is also an ambassador for International Organization for Progressive Global Collaboration (IOPGC) and the Joint Secretary for Soil and Environmental Sciences Students Society (SESSS) in University of Agriculture Faisalabad, Pakistan.