Climate change, the greatest challenge of the 21st century, refers to long-term shifts in temperatures and weather patterns. Although these shifts are natural, however, human activity has been the primary driver of climate change since the 1800s, largely as a result of burning of fossil fuels (e.g., coal, oil and gas), which produces heat-trapping gasses that trap the sun’s heat and raise temperatures.
Volumes of scientific research concur with this finding that humans are warming the climate, and the 2013 IPCC Fourth Assessment Report states, “Human influence on the climate system is clear. This is evident from the increasing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, positive radiative forcing, observed warming, and understanding of the climate system.” (IPCC AR5)
As human-induced climate change continues to raise the planet’s temperature, prolonged droughts, rising sea levels, and more frequent and intense storms are affecting the lives and livelihoods of people worldwide. Particularly in conflict affected settings, these impacts can exacerbate economic, social, or political drivers of insecurity, putting already vulnerable populations at the forefront of numerous, intersecting crises.
Moreover, in recent years, the relationship between climate change and security has garnered significant attention. Many experts consider climate change as one of the greatest risks to peace and security in the 21st century due to the high risk of conflicts and tensions among and within nations over diminishing renewable resources, displacement of people across borders, substantial challenges to food, water and energy supplies, disruption of livelihoods, and climate-related disasters.
Developing countries, including Pakistan, are disproportionately affected by a changing climate due to their limited capacity to respond effectively. Pakistan, having 2.4% of world’s population accounts for 0.9% of global emissions, is said to be one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change according to the Global Climate Risk Index and is suffering from the destabilizing effects of it in the form of extreme weather events, heatwaves, floods, prolonged droughts, and water-related stresses and shocks.
Climate change has emerged as one of the biggest multisectoral threats to the safekeeping of the Pakistan nation surpassing traditional security concerns such as terrorism. As of December 2020, natural disasters that have struck Pakistan have affected 473,309 people and claimed around 10,000 lives costing the country more than $14 billion.
In addition to that, unprecedented floods from 14 June to October 2022, submerged huge swathes of Pakistan; killing 1,739 people and causing ₨ 3.2 trillion ($14.9 billion) of damage (equivalent to 4.8 percent of fiscal year FY22 gross domestic product (GDP)) and ₨ 3.3 trillion ($15.2 billion) of economic losses, according to a report on Pakistan Floods 2022: Post-Disaster Needs Assessment published by the World Bank.
The deluge, brought by record monsoon rains and glacial melt in northern mountains, impacted 33 million people out of a population of 220 million and swept away homes, vehicles, crops, and livestock in damage estimated at $30 billion as per the National Disaster Management Authority first country-wide total. The government and the United Nations have blamed climate change for the surging waters following the record-breaking summer temperatures.
Furthermore, Pakistan’s vulnerability to climate change has been acknowledged by the US National Intelligence Estimate on Climate Change, which places the country among the 11 nations highly susceptible to environmental and societal crises resulting from climate change.
The destabilizing effects of natural disasters will only be magnified with time thereby overwhelming the state’s disaster response and management capabilities further. The performance of national, provincial, and district institutions responsible for disaster management has been disappointingly inadequate when it comes to extending relief to affected communities and helping in their rehabilitation whenever disaster strikes. Their dismal performance can be attributed to many factors such as a shortage of financial resources to acquire machinery and equipment needed for rescue work, as well as a lack of trained manpower. Pakistan must strengthen emergency services to provide timely relief to those affected by natural disasters.
In addition to investing in capacity-building, risk reduction measures, and early warning systems to mitigate the impact of future disasters, a shift from a response based to a more proactive risk management approach to reduce socioeconomic vulnerabilities to the complex and multi-faceted climate crisis and disasters is needed. This transition requires proactive measures, climate change integration, a focus on long-term resilience and securing financial assistance from international institutions and developed countries responsible for major carbon emissions.
This issue also highlights the urgent need for South Asian nations to work together as South Asia is one of the most vulnerable regions globally to a number of direct and indirect effects of climate change. Pakistan should make efforts to foster greater regional cooperation which is indispensable to addressing climate-change-related challenges.
Moreover, the World Bank Group’s Country Climate and Development Report (CCDR) for Pakistan highlights the necessity of fundamental shifts in development paths and policies requiring significant investments in people-centric climate adaptation and resilience.
The CCDR also notes that the combined risks of extreme climate-related events, environmental degradation, and air pollution are projected to reduce Pakistan’s GDP by at least 18 to 20% by 2050. This will stall progress on economic development and poverty reduction.
“If we want to tackle climate change, we need to prioritize investing in adaptation to help prepare Pakistan for future climate-related calamities, which are growing in frequency and intensity,” said Hela Cheikhrouhou, IFC Regional Vice President for Middle East, Central Asia, Türkiye, Afghanistan and Pakistan. “With the right policy frameworks, Pakistan has the opportunity to attract private investment to build its resilience, particularly in sectors such as water management, agriculture, urban infrastructure, municipal services, and housing.”
Pakistan is already taking steps to build resilience. However, greater action and ambition will be needed to cost-effectively manage the risks, both now and in the future.
In conclusion, climate change has become a global challenge that requires immediate attention from governments, organizations, and individuals. To save lives and livelihoods and build a secure, sustainable, and equitable society, embarking on transformative climate action is imperative, not an option. Failure to do so will be catastrophic. The responsibility now rests with the current dispensation to ramp up efforts to ensure strict implementation of the existing policies to make significant headway in building resilience to climate change.