Pakistan’s big threat isn’t terrorism—it’s climate change
While Pakistan’s state and people are fighting terrorism as an existential threat, it is another danger, perhaps an even bigger one, which poses the greatest threat for the country, climate change, a recent article published by the Foreign Policy Group claims.
The report says that while Pakistan’s policies have always focused on short-term conventional threats, a potentially devastating danger lurks in the shadows: climate change. As the impact of global warming continues to grow, the political and economic instability it brings will threaten Pakistan’s security. The report says that the Pakistani government must prioritise its response to climate change in order to mitigate environmental threats and prevent future calamities.
The people of the country also have a hard time prioritising climate change above the immediate concerns of security and at a time when the average citizen is deprived of life’s most basic necessities. In 2007-2008, a Gallup poll found that only 34 per cent of Pakistanis were aware of climate change, and only 24 per cent considered it a serious threat.
However, the article argues that this perception is changing as global warming starts to impact everyday life. Over the past several years, Pakistanis have witnessed, firsthand, the devastating effects of climate change. Catastrophic floods displaced millions, and severe droughts in Thar and Balochistan portend the damage global warming can cause. The frequency of those floods has increased over the last five years, due to melting glaciers and heavy rainfall. Karachi, Pakistan’s most populous metropolitan city, suffered a heat wave so severe it claimed the lives of almost 1,200 people. These recent disasters could account for the change in public opinion from the 2007-2008 Gallup poll to the situation in 2015, when Pakistan joined the list of 19 countries where the majority of the population now considers climate change a top global threat.
Karachi, a city of 17 million people which attracts another million people every year is perhaps the most vulnerable due to climate change. The city is also the country’s main port city, which accounts for 42 per cent of its total GDP. It generates about half of Pakistan’s tax revenue, and houses its stock exchange, central bank, and the priciest real estate in the country.
The report says that the repercussions of climate change are exacerbated when combined with man-made modifications that have a drastic effect on the overall ecosystem. It not only upsets the balance of the environment, but also increases susceptibility to natural disasters like cyclones and tsunamis. Alarmingly, the area of Pakistan that is covered by mangrove forests has decreased from 400,000 hectares in 1945 to 70,000 hectares today due to land grabbing, rising sea levels, and the decreasing flow of fresh water into the sea. According to the World Wildlife Federation (WWF), the mangrove trees play a critical role in buffering the coastline from erosion caused by waves and storms. The absence of these mangroves puts the city at an even greater threat from cyclones and tsunamis.
A simulated drill of a major earthquake conducted by the United Nations last year showed that a hypothetical 9.0 magnitude quake in the Makran Trench, where the Arabian and Eurasian tectonic plates meet off the coast of Pakistan, which could trigger a catastrophic tsunami. The disastrous tsunami waves could reach Karachi in one and a half hours and “wipe out the entire city”, expert meteorologists have warned.
The report says that the Port Qasim Power Project, which is part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor programme, currently in development along the coastline of the Arabian Sea, is putting additional strain on the stability of the ecosystem. Already, as many as 80 per cent of the five million Pakistanis who once lived along the banks of the Delta have been displaced because of the project. Climate-induced migration has spread across much of Pakistan, as droughts, floods, and sea intrusion disrupt local communities.
The report says that it is imperative that Pakistan makes climate change a priority. Failure to do so would jeopardise the country’s national security and could produce as many as 35-40 million climate refugees. Where water and food shortage catalyses civil unrest and conflicts, it will also hinder the government’s ability to properly manage its resources.
Currently, Pakistan has allocated a mere Rs 58.8 million to combat climate change. Since Pakistan is not financially secure enough to afford climate change implementation programmes on its own, it needs assistance from foreign entities as well as climate change experts who can design comprehensive programme, bearing in mind the government’s limitations.
The report says that the historic Paris Agreement in 2015 provides hope for a global response to the threat of climate change. However, the government of Pakistan, much like all the member countries, has an obligation to follow strict guidelines and adopt more intense and frequent reporting of their progress. Only by assessing the vulnerabilities and needs of the state and strengthening its adaptation at the local level can Pakistan fully pursue opportunities offered, especially climate financing opportunities, through the Paris Climate Summit.