By Syed Muhammad Abubaka
The Global Climate Risk Index has placed Pakistan on the fifth spot on the list of countries most vulnerable to climate change in its annual report for 2020, which was released by the think-tank Germanwatch on Wednesday.
According to the report, Pakistan lost 9,989 lives, suffered economic losses worth $3.8 billion and witnessed 152 extreme weather events from 1999 to 2018 and based on this data, the think-tank has concluded that Pakistan’s vulnerability to climate change is increasing.
A screenshot of the list of the 10 most vulnerable countries to climate change in the long run. — courteys Germanwatch report
The data also indicates that the government, as well as the world, is not taking enough measures to cope with the challenges and risks that climate change poses to Pakistan, experts say.
According to the report, Pakistan is among the countries that are “recurrently affected by catastrophes [and] continuously rank among the most affected countries both in the long-term index and in the index for the respective year”.
Apart from Pakistan, the countries on the list of the 10 countries most affected by climate change include Puerto Rico (1), Myanmar (2), Haiti (3), Philippines (4), Vietnam (6), Bangladesh (7), Thailand (8), Nepal (9) and Dominica (10).
Out of ten countries on the long-term index, seven are developing countries in the low income or lower-middle income category, two are classified as upper-middle-income countries (Thailand and Dominica) and one is an advanced economy (Puerto Rico).
Geographical location and lack of action
One of the reasons for Pakistan to be continuously ranked high in the long-term index of the report is mainly due to its geographical location.
Read: Can Climate change Pakistan?
According to David Eckstein, one of the co-authors of this report, “the entire region where Pakistan is located is prone to extreme weather events, in particular, heavy rainfalls e.g. during monsoon season, and floodings as a result.”
Advisor to the Prime Minister on Climate Change Malik Amin Aslam Khan, while commenting on Pakistan’s ranking in the 2020 report, said: “Our ranking over the long-term index went up from eight to fifth because the period used amplifies our most climate catastrophic events in 2010/2011 when the super floods hit.”
“In terms of economic costs at $3.8 million, we are number three over a 20-year period. What this means is that our economy is constantly at risk from climate catastrophes and this is not just an environmental challenge but an issue impacting our economy, human health, agriculture and ecosystem,” he explained.
Dr Adil Najam, the dean of Pardee School of Global Studies, Boston University blames the lack of action taken to combat climate change risks.
“The report clearly indicates that the world hasn’t acted, so the vulnerability of the whole world is increasing, and since Pakistan hasn’t acted, things are worsening for us too,” he said.
Talking about the threat of rapidly melting glaciers that resulted into Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOFs) in Pakistan, Dr Najam said, “The glaciers won’t stop melting because there was a beautiful speech.”
He was referring to a recent speech by Prime Minister Imran Khan at the seventh International Union for Conservation of Nature Asia Regional Conservation Forum, where the premier had highlighted the dangers Pakistan faced by climate change, while pointing at measures his government had taken to curb the impact.
For Dr Najam, however, the speech is not good enough.
“If we don’t do anything, we should not expect anything to change or become better.”
As Pakistan is situated in a vulnerable geographical location, where the intensity and frequency of extreme weather events are high, Eckstein urges the government to develop appropriate measures like projects, programmes and plans to protect the most vulnerable population. At the same time, he realises that, in order to succeed in its efforts, Pakistan will require assistance.
“It cannot do this with its own means, most likely, therefore, it will require the financial and technical support from the international community through channels, such as the Green Climate Fund (GCF),” he said.
The 2015 Paris Accord required the 196 parties to the agreement to submit their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) — their plans to reduce temperatures and adapt to the impacts of climate change.
Pakistan’s NDC revealed that the country needs US$ 40 billion to reduce 20 per cent of its emissions for 2030 and US$ 7-14 billion annually for adaptation. Independent experts state these figures as unrealistic but Malik Amin Aslam believes the “it reflects the amount that the global climate finance infrastructure needs to make available for Pakistan to shift towards a low carbon trajectory growth”.
“It would also help to meet the forced adaptation needs that our economy has to face due to climate change,” he added.
However, Dr Najam believes the government was not serious when it was drafting the NDC document.
“We knew we won’t get the money and let’s suppose for a second if we did, we won’t spend it properly!” he said.
“The issue is not just of Pakistan but the NDCs of most countries are not worth the paper they are written on, that is why the Paris Agreement has failed.
“It lacks aspiration,” Dr Najam declared.
David Eckstein shared Dr Najam’s opinion.
“The mitigation efforts by all countries worldwide are not enough to avert climate change and keep temperatures below 2ºC or 1.5ºC. This increases the likelihood of more intense extreme weather events,” he said.
Eckstein is the policy advisor related to climate finance and investments at Germanwatch. He warns that global financial support for adaptation to climate change is insufficient to prevent the occurrence of extreme weather events.
“In 2017, only 19pc of (global) climate finance mobilised addressed adaptation. There is also a huge gap regarding financial support for dealing with loss and damage,” he said.
Aslam, on the other hand, pointed out that despite emitting less than 1pc of the global emissions, Pakistan consistently remains on the most vulnerable category. This forms the basis for creating a new coalition of climate injustice, with the prime demand of prioritising action on loss and damage.
“Yet we are a country which on its own financing is investing a large amount for forestry, building upon its global success of a billion trees to now initiate a 10 billion tree tsunami,” he says.
He said that the present government is self-financing some of the green initiatives occurring outside the NDC. “We are shifting towards a low carbon economy with a stated goal of shifting 30pc of its energy mix towards renewables and also embarking on an e-mobility transition targeting 30pc shift [to electric vehicles] by 2030.”
The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government’s efforts does not change the fact that Pakistan has heavily invested into the dirtiest fossil fuel on earth — coal and that can further exacerbate its vulnerability to climate change. Dr Najam drew attention to this dark side, as Pakistan’s NDC confirms that the country plans to increase its emissions to fourfold, with a sizeable share coming from coal-fired power plants.
“I want to see the energy productivity of Pakistan increased but the energy itself doesn’t have to be polluting. Coal is a dying technology. Why are we going after outdated technology which is more expensive than solar and wind? Why should we imperil the lives of own people?” he asked.
“It just like someone insisting on buying a cassette player in the age of digital and iPhones. Coal’s time is up.”
It would be unfair to blame the current government for the coal-fired power plants, though.
“The coal projects are part of the legacy we inherited from the previous government (referring to PML-N’s government from 2013-2018) which has, unfortunately, locked us into long-term contracts with sovereign guarantees,” Aslam said.
He continued: “We are trying to minimise the impacts by the employment of best available technologies.”
The current government has certainly taken more steps to improve the climate of the country and Dr Najam is cognizant of this fact. Referring to Aslam, Dr Najam said: “We now have someone who is very good and actually knows the issues.”
At the same time, he expressed his frustration over recent statements by Zartaj Gul, State Minister for Climate Change. “As if we are not interested in the subject of climate change,” he remarked.
Most-affected countries in 2018
In the short-term index titled ‘The 10 Most Affected Countries in 2018’, Pakistan is ranked on the 100th position losing US$ 90 million to climate change-induced extreme weather events.
Japan, the Philippines and Germany are the top three countries most affected by climate change and extreme weather events in 2018. Surprisingly, these three countries were not listed in the short-term index last year, highlighting the unpredictability of climate change.
The report flags heatwaves as a major cause of damage in 2018. According to the short-term index, in 2018 a total of 2,928 people died from heat-related impacts, as compared to 3,622 fatalities by catastrophic floods, and 2,463 life losses due to severe storms.
Germany, Japan and India were adversely affected by heatwaves and across the world heat-related impacts resulted in economic losses to the tune of US$ 60.42 billion in 2018. It also informs that urban populations are particularly vulnerable from the impacts of heatwaves. If coupled with unsustainable development, it can lead to temperature increase of up to 12°C in cities, compared to rural environments, particularly at night.