Focusing on climate change

  • And its serious effects on public health

Climate change has significant implications on public health. Rising temperatures will likely lead to increased air pollution, a longer and more intense allergy season, the spread of insect-borne diseases, more frequent and dangerous heat waves, and heavier rainstorms and flooding. All of these changes pose serious, and costly, risks to public health. Strong scientific evidence shows that as temperatures increase, more rain falls during heaviest downpours, increasing the risk of flooding events. Higher concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere, due to the burning of fossil fuels make oceans both warmer and more acidic. These two effects threaten the survival of marine life. Corals, shellfish, and phytoplankton, which are the base of the food chain, are particularly at risk. Climate change affects a variety of factors associated with drought and is likely to increase drought risk in certain regions. As temperatures have warmed, the prevalence and duration of drought has increased in Western US and climate models unanimously project increased drought in the American Southwest. The resulting dry conditions will increase the pressure on groundwater supplies as more is pumped to meet demand even as less precipitation falls to replenish it.

Tens of millions of trees have died in the Rocky Mountains over the past 15 years, victims of a climate-driven triple assault of tree-killing insects, wildfires, and stress from heat and drought. Our aging electricity infrastructure is increasingly vulnerable to the growing consequences of global warming, including rising sea levels, heightened wildfire risk, and other water supply issues. Spring arrives much earlier than it used to — 10 days earlier on average in the northern hemisphere. Snow melts earlier. Reservoirs fill too early and water needs to be released for flood control. Vegetation and soils dry out earlier, setting the stage for longer and more damaging wildfire seasons.

But after more than a century and a half of industrialization, deforestation, and large scale agriculture, quantities of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have risen to record levels not seen in three million years

Temperatures are rising in the planet’s Polar Regions, especially in the Arctic, and the vast majority of the world’s glaciers are melting faster than new snow and ice can replenish them. Scientists expect the rate of melting to accelerate, with serious implications for future sea level rise.

Rising temperatures and the accompanying impacts of global warming — including more frequent heavier precipitation in some regions and more severe droughts in others— has significant implications for crop and meat production. Global warming has the potential to seriously disrupt our food supply, drive costs upwards and affects everything from coffee to cattle, from staple food crops to the garden in your backyard.A changing climate affects the range of plants and animals, changing their behavior and causing disruptions up and down the food chain. The range of some warm-weather species will expand, while those that depend on cooler environments will face shrinking habitats and potential extinction.

Greenhouse gases occur naturally and are essential to the survival of humans and millions of other living things, by keeping some of the sun’s warmth from reflecting back into space and making Earth liveable. But after more than a century and a half of industrialization, deforestation, and large scale agriculture, quantities of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have risen to record levels not seen in three million years. As populations, economies and standards of living grow, so do the cumulative level of greenhouse gases (GHGs) emissions.

In October 2018 the IPPCC issued a special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C, finding that limiting global warming to 1.5°C would require rapid, far reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society, the IPCC said in a new assessment. With clear benefits to people and natural ecosystems, the report found that limiting global warming to 1.5°C compared to 2°C could go hand in hand with ensuring a more sustainable and equitable society. This report also shows that many of the adverse impacts of climate change are going to appear at the 1.5°C mark.

In 1992, United Nations “Earth Summit” produced the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) as a first step in addressing the climate change problem. The ultimate aim of the Convention is to prevent “dangerous” human interference with the climate system and then following Kyoto Protocol in 1995. At the 21st Conference of the Parties in Paris in 2015, Parties to the UNFCCC reached a landmark agreement to combat climate change and to accelerate and intensify the actions and investments needed for a sustainable low carbon future. The Paris Agreement’s central aim is to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping the global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Pakistan is the 8th most affected country from climate change and has become a water stressed country because its reservoirs can store water equivalent to 30 days of consumption, whereas the standard minimum requirement is 120 days. The heatwave that took more than 1,200 lives in Karachi only two years ago has since been visiting us with greater frequency and intensity. At 50.4°C, Nawabshah in Sindh in April 2018 recorded the highest temperature ever globally. Floods and hydro-disasters since 2010 — when 20 million Pakistanis were directly affected — have become an annual feature. Riverine communities routinely get wiped away without even a mention by media. And if it is not the floods, the calamity of drought is afflicting misery in Tharparkar district of Sindh and several other regions particularly in Balochistan.

Tree plantation is the major factor to focus on. As the new government of Pakistan has promised to plant 10 billion trees during its five year tenure world leaders of governments, the private sector and civil society together must support the multilateral process to accelerate climate action and ambition. The focus must be on key sectors where action can make the most difference—heavy industry, nature-based solutions, cities, energy, resilience, climate finance, more research and appropriate adaptation measures are required to counter the negative impacts of climate Change.