The future of our children depends on us

A photograph of the Hanna Lake river bed taken on 27th November 2015 by Elishma Noel Khokhar

This is Hanna Lake – or what is left of it


Image: A photograph of the Hanna Lake river bed taken on 27th November, 2015, by the author

Located on the outskirts of Quetta Cantt in a not far off Urak Valley, the man-made Hanna Lake used to be a beacon of life, attracting tourism and was home to marine life up till the late 90’s.

Now, the sorry spot consists of a receding waterline surrounded by a cracked river bed with empty plastic water bottles and bags strewn here and there with not a tourist in sight; the reason being the decade-long drought that has encapsulated the Balochistan province.

Certainly the rugged terrain of Quetta is a testimony of the severe climate pattern the region is experiencing. The city, which once thrived on an ancient system of underground water canals known as ‘Karez’ in the local language, is now barren due to the lack of rainfall.

There is a clear scientific consensus that climate change has a direct link to increased droughts, floods and severe weather patterns and events. Stakeholders are also in agreement that anthropogenic activity, in other words human induced activity, is one of the main causes of climate change. If any proof is needed, one can just skim through the plethora of literature available online as well as accurate data collected and disbursed in annual synthesis reports by the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the leading international body on the assessment of climate change.

A moral problem

What is more troubling is that even if we don’t seem to bother much about how our actions are changing the planet in the present, they will indelibly put a dent on the future of our children.

In a comprehensive report called “Unless We Act Now” published in November 2015, the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) demonstrated that 1) children will bear the brunt of climate change and 2) climate change will make existing inequalities worse, hence disproportionately affecting poor children more.

Evidence shows that climate change has detrimental impact on a child’s early development. Young children, who breathe twice as fast as adults are at a greater risk of catching respiratory infections. Similarly, they are also more exposed to vector-borne diseases like malaria and dengue – diseases associated with inadequate sanitation, poor hygiene and pitiable water quality.

Densely child populated areas, especially South Asia and its coastal areas are more likely to be affected by flooding and droughts, phenomenon’s Pakistan is already experiencing. In November 2015, it was reported that the Thar drought had claimed the lives of 275 children in just eleven months due to diseases like pneumonia, blood infection, diarrhea, hemorrhagic fever and birth asphyxia.

Despite having minimal contributions to carbon emissions, Pakistan is already super-exposed to climate-related risks.

“What will we tell our children and grandchildren?” is the moral question we should really be asking ourselves and what world leaders like Ban-Ki-moon are already losing sleep over.

Despite knowing that we had the capacities and the knowledge and the funds available (to be accessed) to do something about it, did we do our best? Did we try hard enough?

What Pakistan must do

Indeed, the most important point the UNICEF report makes is that the time for action is NOW.

Today, as 196 nation’s party to the UN Convention on Climate Change COP21 will be convening in Paris on how best to counter global emissions to keep temperatures below 2 degrees Celsius, what will Pakistan’s contribution be to landmark event and to the long term vision of protecting Pakistan and Pakistani children?

Will the Prime Minister and his delegation assume a defensive garb by passing the onus for fixing global carbon emissions on to developed countries, as per the principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’?

Or will Pakistan, recognising that climate change is a long term issue which does not discriminate between passports and borders and act NOW to safeguard the Pakistani population from both current and future climate risks?

If the latter is the choice, then the current government needs to shed its meager stance made in its national climate plan, the Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC), to assume a more equal contributory role by pledging to reduce emissions, to keep global emissions below the 2C threshold.

Certainly this is not a hollow plea. The ever more aware, socially responsible Pakistani citizen demands it.

In November 2015, climate activists, young and old, sprawled onto the streets of Islamabad on bicycles chanting the slogan “There is no Planet B”.

In June, 67 percent of Pakistani respondents voted that the long term goal of zero carbon emission should be part of the Paris climate deal in World Wide Views, a citizen’s national consultation organised by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) in collaboration with DBT Foundation and UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

45 percent of the voters also voted that Pakistan must make combating climate change a national priority. Fellow developing countries like Nigeria and Bahamas have already pledged to unconditional commitments of reducing emissions by 20 to 30 percent.

Will the leadership play its part at COP21 to secure a climate safe future for Pakistan’s children?