Changing minds for climate change

Changing minds for climate change was the title of four day international conference organised by the Pakistan-US Alumni Network (PUAN) in Islamabad recently. PUAN is the alumni network of the students and professionals, who have participated in US government sponsored exchange programmes. With more than 19,000 alumni across Pakistan, PUAN is one of the largest alumni networks in the world. PUAN regularly organises events across Pakistan, including service projects, leadership training, roundtable discussions, and community engagement activities.
The conference brought together climate change professionals, activists, students, teachers, and policymakers, to share knowledge and experiences.

More than 250 alumni of US government-sponsored exchange programs from across Pakistan and South, Central and East Asia gathered in Islamabad for the event, which was jointly sponsored by the US Embassy in Islamabad, US Educational Foundation in Pakistan and PUAN. Senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed, Secretary Senate Standing Committee on Climate Change, Samina Baig, Pakistan’s first female to summit Mount Everest and the Seven Summits attended the conference’s opening ceremony to kick off a program of interactive workshops, panel sessions, keynote speeches, and community outreach events. Senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed in his remarks said that, he is the voice of climate change in parliament. He suggested that “siachen should be converted into Peace Park, as both neighbouring countries are heavily spending their resources over there.”

American ambassador to Pakistan David Hale addressing the conference participants said, that “No country can tackle climate change alone, we must all work together. Governments and scientists, businesspeople and civil society must harness every aspect of a nation’s resources to address this global crisis.” The US, along with partner nations around the world including Pakistan, is working to reach common ground on the climate agenda. Notably, Pakistan has recently made great progress on the path to adopting the Paris Agreement, he said. Pakistan has also agreed to an amendment to curb greenhouse gases (hydro fluorocarbons/HFCs). Moreover, the US and Pakistan are working together to encourage private sector investment in new clean energy generation (such as wind, solar, and hydro) through technical assistance, grants for transmission infrastructure, and financing.

Pakistan’s vulnerability to adverse impacts of climate change is well established and widely recognized. Despite Pakistan’s diminutive contribution to global GHG emissions, it is among the top ten most climate affected countries of the world, as indicated by the Global Climate Risk Index developed by Germanwatch. Moreover, these adverse impacts of climate change are not in the distant future but are imminent. Indeed, these are already occurring as Pakistan has started suffering with ever-increasing frequency and ferocity of climate-induced catastrophes. Studies and assessments undertaken by the National Disaster Management Authority show that extreme climate events between 1994 and 2013 have resulted in an average annual economic loss of almost US dollars 4 billion. The last five floods (2010-2014) have resulted in monetary losses of over US$ 18 billion with 38.12 million people affected, 3.45 million houses damaged and 10.63 million acres of crops destroyed. Likewise, over 1200 people lost their lives due to the unprecedented heat wave in Karachi in 2015.

The conference coincided with ratification of the Paris Agreement by Pakistan. Adoption of the Paris Agreement has further reinforced the ultimate objective of the United Nations Framework on Climate Change and has provided a framework for its realisation in a more intense manner with a long term perspective. The global consensus on limiting temperature increase to below 2 degrees Centigrade is an endorsement of the scientific conclusions reached by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and provides safeguards for vulnerable regions and countries of the world from irreversible adverse consequences. In doing so, the urgent need for undertaking adaptation measures by all groups of countries has also been underscored. Moreover, it needs to be recognised that without provision of adequate finance, technology development and transfer and capacity building, the consequences for developing countries are likely to remain catastrophic.

According to the World Wildlife Fund, by 2040 up to ten per cent of Pakistan’s agricultural output would be affected by climate change. Global warming could not only make it more difficult to produce crops, the reduction in crop yields could also push food prices up, adding to the miseries of the bottom 40 per cent of the population. Besides disasters, unprecedented floods could play havoc with agriculture. Being one of the most climate change vulnerable countries in the world, Pakistan’s economy is already under severe strain from prevailing and likely future threats of climate change. Adverse climate related impacts are draining public funds from essential social requirements towards disaster management.

Climate change knows no boundaries. Changing minds of policy makers from Islamabad to Washington is imperative and no one can afford further delay to address imminent threat from climate change. Hence, the response has to be transnational. Learning from global and regional experience is crucial in this regard. For instance, Bangladesh is considered as adaptation capital of the world, which offers huge opportunities to region for climate change adaptation.

The writer is Executive Director at Centre for Environment and Development

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