Climate Change – August 15, 2013

Yesterday’s news on Pakistan highlighted fears of serious floods overwhelming the cities of Sialkot, Peshawar, and Nowshera. Sialkot was spared the “Biblical flood” (the phrase used by Ban ki-Moon when he toured devastated areas in southern Pakistan), which engulfed Pakistan in 2010, while Peshawar and Nowshera were inundated and suffered widespread damage. Interestingly, it is not in my memory that these two cities were in the flood zone in the past. Earlier floods of 1950, 1955 and later, as far as I know, all occurred downstream of the Indus and its tributaries. Warming temperatures in the Himalayas allied with appreciable deforestation in the Himalayan mountain ranges have been identified by experts as the main sources of catastrophic floods in South Asia, whose intensity and regularity is a call for alarm among South Asian policy makers. The writer, Anatol Lieven, in his acclaimed book, “Pakistan, a Hard Country” has identified climate change as the most serious challenge to Pakistan’s future existence.


South Asian countries are not the only ones subject to the effects of climate change. Particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels, are low lying countries like Bangladesh, low lying island countries like the Maldives archipelago, and other countries with large coastal populations. A few years ago, the Foreign Minister of the Maldives who was addressing an international meeting, reportedly broke down while recounting that rising sea levels meant that his country could disappear under the Indian Ocean, unless global efforts to reduce carbon emissions were addressed.


Hardly any region in the world is immune to the negative effects of climate change. For example, Western Europe has experienced unusually hot summers in recent years. A prolonged heat wave resulted in the death of hundreds of French men and women-particularly the elderly-a few years back. Britain has experienced torrid summers in a reaction to which air-conditioning, which was practically unknown in that country of cool summers, is now being employed in some public areas and in private homes.


The good news is that the US and the West are becoming increasingly aware of the need to partially divert their energy needs away from oil and coal to renewables such as solar, wind, and hydroelectric power, etc. The Economistin a recent article has stated, “As a rough guide, the world needs to restrict emissions to a little over 700 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide between now and 2050, if global temperatures are not to increase by more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels”. The Stockholm Environment Institute calculates that if China continues on its current path, it would emit almost two-thirds of that budget-roughly 450 billion tonnes- on its own. The Economist estimates that the world “appears to break that 700 billion tonne budget quite dramatically”, but it continues more optimistically that China also has advantages in addressing its -and the world’s environmental problems. Its leaders are “good at taking action on high priority issues…China has a huge domestic market, cheap capital, and sunny, windy deserts: the ideal environment to build a zero-carbon energy system. It is the silver lining of a very dark cloud. If China cannot do it, no one can.”


It is appropriate that global warming has shot up to the top of the international agenda. The UN’s Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which shared the 2007 Nobel Peace prize along with Al Gore has done commendable work in sensitizing world leaders to the urgency of devising multilateral solutions to the dangers of climate change. The IPCC was established in 1988 by the UN. It has warned in its reports that there is a real danger that climate changes may also increase the danger of war and conflict because they will place already scarce resources, not least drinking water, under greater pressure and put large population groups to flight from drought, flooding, and other extreme conditions. These are issues already confronting the international community which if not addressed in a timely and effective manner, could jeopardize the march of humanity toward further progress and prosperity.


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