Like an ostrich which hides its head in the sand when confronted by danger some politicians in the past few decades chose to emulate the bird rather than confront the dangers to humankind posed by climate change. The UN summit on this subject at Copenhagen in 2009 failed to arrive at a consensus to mitigate the balefully visible havoc that climate change was wreaking on the lives of human beings, topography and agriculture etc. Thankfully, contrary to pessimistic projections, the recently concluded climate change summit in Paris after protracted negotiations was able to reach agreement on reducing carbon emissions. This is a momentous achievement.
Before analyzing the specifics of the Paris Accord it would be useful to see what the experts are telling us about the deleterious effects of man-made climate change. According to the Climate Risk Index 2015 prepared by German Watch, between 1994 and 2013, more than 530,000 people have died worldwide and losses worth $2.17 trillion (purchasing power parity) were inflicted as a result of over 15,000 extreme weather events.
In a generally upbeat assessment of Pakistan’s future the acclaimed author Peter Lieven in his recent book Pakistan: A Hard Country has prophesied that Pakistan could be undone by two contingencies; climate change or a military attack by the United States. For the purposes of this report, we are concerned only by the first eventuality. According to Tehreem Husain writing in the Express Tribune recently, “with [a] rising population already feeding on scarce resources the climate change bomb is ticking for the country. Temperatures in northern Pakistan have already been estimated to have increased by 1.9 degrees centigrade in the past century and resultantly the glacial cover in Pakistan is on the decline”. This is a most unwelcome development. Yet in an effort to bridge the gap between the demand and supply of electricity, the Nawaz Sharif government in the face of incontrovertible evidence of the catastrophic events on human health from the operation of coal-fired plants, is persisting with this technology on costing grounds.
Similar reports are emerging about the desertification being experienced in neighboring Iran. The pistachio growing region of the Kerman province has been hugely impacted perhaps terminally by the shortage of water. For the first time, water now has to be transported by tanker just as this precious commodity is transported in certain quarters in Karachi. The smog in Delhi and Beijing has attracted worldwide attention. According to Timothy Egan writing in the New York Times many Chinese may be forced to leave their homes- climate refugees fleeing to stay alive. Prolonged and persistent drought whether in Iran, California or other parts of the world is a sure sign of climate change.
Developed countries are also not immune from the force of climate change. Egan in the same NYT article states, “In Florida the majestic keys re swamped. December rains and high tides have left mosquito – thick canals and stagnant pools. Most of the keys are less than six feet above sea level. Climate scientists predict that a five-foot rise which could happen by 2100 would wipe out 70 per cent of the property value”. Egan is highly critical of Republican front-runner Donald Trump’s stance on climate change. “It is a hoax says Donald J Trump with all the practiced hucksterism of the swampland salesman”. Egan suggests that Trump may feel differently when one of his resorts, Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, goes under water. There are other examples of climate change depredations many in the US that Egan has catalogued. Florida was only a representative sample.
In the glow of the Paris Accord, one scientist exclaimed, “I think this Paris outcome is going to change the world”. According to Christopher B. Field another leading American climate scientist, “We did not solve the problem but we laid the foundation”. Shahid Javed Burki, a former Vice President of the World Bank, writing in the Express Tribune suggested that Washington and Beijing made the most important change in geopolitics. According to his assessment, “Americans had historically demanded action from other nations while doing little at home despite the country’s status as the world’s largest greenhouse gas polluter through recent decades. And the US was locked in an impasse with China, the world’s other largest polluter as each country waited commitments from the other before acting itself”. After a lot of wrangling, the approved text called for keeping the “increase in the global average temperature well below two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees.” Greenhouse emissions will not necessarily go to zero after 2050 suggests Burki but they will go low enough to be offset by natural growth forests or development of carbon-capture of technologies. Each country will deliver every five years a “new pledge to further reduce emission. Developed countries will provide financial resources to developing ones”.
According to Burki, the Accord is likely to encourage banks and investment funds to move their portfolios from coal and oil to renewable energy like wind and solar. “Automakers will have the incentive to t develop electric and hydrogen cars”. Burki quoted Nancy P Furd managing partner of DB Partners, a venture capital firm “people are boarding this train and it’s time to hop on if you want to have a thriving 21st century economy”. Burki rightly in my view points out that the success of the Paris Accord will “depend on what the individual signatories are willing to do in the future not just to limit the production of greenhouse gases but to go beyond the promises they made in Paris”. In other words, the proof of the pudding will lie in translating the pledges into concrete observable and verifiable action.