Huzaima Bukhari, DR. Ikramul Haq & Abdul Rauf Shakoori
Glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs) represent a major hazard and can result in significant loss of life. Globally, since 1990, the number and size of glacial lakes has grown rapidly along with downstream population, while socio-economic vulnerability has decreased. Nevertheless, contemporary exposure and vulnerability to GLOFs at the global scale has never been quantified. Here we show that 15 million people globally are exposed to impacts from potential GLOFs. Populations in High Mountains Asia (HMA) are the most exposed and on average live closest to glacial lakes with ~1 million people living within 10 km of a glacial lake. More than half of the globally exposed population are found in just four countries: India, Pakistan, Peru, and China—Glacial lake outburst floods threaten millions globally byCaroline Taylor, Tom R. Robinson, Stuart Dunning, J. Rachel Carr1 & Matthew Westby
The global warming conditions alerted countries around the world and forced them to consider it as a serious threat to the survival of their people. The footprints and adverse impacts associated with climate change are getting more obvious in their ecosystems and economies. Climate change and allied challenges evolved as a major threat to the global economy.
Increased carbon emissions have considerably escalated the global temperature levels and the Earth is now about 1.1°C warmer than it was in the late 1800s. The last decade (2011-2020) was reported to be the warmest on record and the United Nations opines that since the 18th century, human activities are the main factor behind climate change. The factors behind climate change include burning fossil fuels like coal, oil, and gas, increased urbanization, and reduction in forests. The world is now witnessing a wide range of trials in the shape of intense droughts, water scarcity, severe fires, rising sea levels, flooding, melting glaciers, heat waves, catastrophic storms, flash floods, etc.
These climate-related changes have a direct bearing on health, agriculture, infrastructure, and economic productivity of countries and on the nature of the ensuing challenges that cannot be handled in isolation. Any change in a prevailing situation directly impacts nations across the globe, regardless of the fact whether their contribution is minimal or insignificant. Taking cognizance of these issues and the need to make a joint effort, the United Nations Conference of Parties (COP) in December 2015 entered into a Paris Agreement which is a legally binding international treaty on climate change. The 196 participants at COP 21 earmarked a goal to limit global warming to well below 2, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels.
Spread over 796,096 square kilometers, Pakistan has historically been rich in natural resources, including agriculturally suitable climate and fertile lands, gifted with natural gas reserves, and mineral deposits. It has different climate zones and a diverse topography ranging from barren lands to fertile fields, home to world-famous mountain ranges, and more than 7,000 glaciers, which are the highest in the world outside the polar region.
The recent changes in world’s climatic conditions and local problems have made Pakistan extremely vulnerable to risks stemming from global warming, the Climate Risk Country Profile for Pakistan issued by the Asian Development Bank in May-2021 states as following:
“Pakistan faces some of the highest disaster risk levels in the world, ranked 18 out of 191 countries by the 2020 Inform Risk Index. This risk ranking is driven particularly by the nation’s exposure to earthquakes and the risks of internal conflict. However, Pakistan also has high exposure to flooding (ranked jointly 8th), including, riverine, flash, and coastal, as well as some exposure to tropical cyclones and their associated hazards (ranked jointly 40th) and drought (ranked jointly 43rd). Disaster risk in Pakistan is also driven by its social vulnerability. Pakistan’s vulnerability ranking (37th) is driven by its high rates of multidimensional poverty. Pakistan scores slightly better in terms of its coping capacity (ranked 59th)”
Pakistan is placed at number eight (8) on the Global Climate Risk Index 2021 among the list of countries most affected by climate change and has witnessed varied weather patterns, including disparities in temperatures, frequent and severe tropical storms and coastal rains, glaciers melting at a faster pace, glacial lake outburst flooding and droughts, etc. In the recent summer of 2022, unprecedented rains and a combination of riverine, urban, and flash flooding led to a catastrophic situation in the country. The USC Dornbsife Global Policy Institute in an article Crisis in Pakistan–how severe flooding underscores yet again the costs of climate change by Ezi Ogbuli of October 3, 2022 states that Pakistan experienced 375.4 mm of rainfall which was 287% higher than the national 30-year average of 130.8 mm.
According to a report, Pakistan Floods 2022, Post-Disaster Needs Assessment, issued by Ministry of Finance, initial estimates suggested that around 33 million people were affected by the floods and the calamity displaced nearly 8 million people while more than 1,700 people lost their lives. It also caused significant livestock casualties and widespread damage to infrastructure. It is estimated that total losses are to the tune of over US$ 30 billion—agriculture, housing, and infrastructure being most severely affected. It is feared that more than 9 million additional people would be pushed into poverty and the damage caused to agriculture can have a direct impact on the national economy and overall food security situation in the county.
To pave a path for resilient and sustainable recovery and to shield underdeveloped economies from climate challenges which largely stem from inefficiencies of developed and developing economies, countries need to work on transforming key sectors like agriculture, industries and energy. A publication by the World Bank, The Climate Change Action Plan 2021–2025: Supporting Green, Resilient and Inclusive Development, notes that the energy sector produces three-quarters of global GHG emissions, and this is even though about 800 million people live without electricity, almost 3 billion people still cook with biomass, e.g. wood and other fuels which adds to the challenge of air pollution leading to health troubles.
Hence, in our context, ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy is extremely crucial. Successive governments have been making efforts to facilitate affordable renewable/green energy schemes. However, the overall economic situation of the country has made the situation difficult for funding such initiatives. For example, the State Bank of Pakistan offered a reduced rate of markup for consumers who wanted to install solar energy products, whereas due to currency devaluation and import restrictions, the solar products are either not available or if available are trading at exorbitantly high prices, making the equation financially not feasible for the common citizen.
Similarly, with rapidly increasing urbanization, there is a greater need for countries to work on having required policy support and allied apparatus to ensure that regulations and investments are in place to improve urban air quality—decarbonize energy systems. Pakistan needs to effectively utilize its resources in areas like solid-waste management, public transport systems and improve the coverage and efficiency of water supply, sanitation, and wastewater treatment. The role of provincial and local governments is important as they work towards governance and improving capacity of the state to facilitate livelihoods of the people. An efficient system will help us to avoid the eco-system’s fabric from deteriorating further. We surely inherited a much congenial eco-system and now we must leave it in a better state for our coming generations.
Huzaima Bukhari, lawyer and author, is an Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), member Advisory Board and Senior Visiting Fellow of Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE)
Dr. Ikramul Haq, Advocate Supreme Court and writer, is an Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), a member Advisory Board and Visiting Senior Fellow of the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE).
Abdul Rauf Shakoori is a corporate lawyer based in the USA and an expert in ‘White Collar Crimes and Sanctions Compliance.
They have recently coauthored a book, Pakistan Tackling FATF: Challenges and Solutions
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