Pakistan is only responsible for 0.49 percent of global emissions yet is the 8th most vulnerable country to climate change. Pakistan is also the 2nd most vulnerable to rising food prices (per a Bloomberg scorecard) – which usually follow after extreme climatic events. A few months ago, Pakistan also faced one of the worst heatwaves in the world, with at one stage, the top 5 of the ten hottest places on earth were in Pakistan. If we go back, Lahore (one of the major cities in Pakistan) topped the list of the most polluted cities in the world for multiple weeks.
Recent floods have wreaked havoc on Pakistan’s economy, which was already in shambles. The country recently averted a Balance of Payment crisis after successfully receiving $1.17 billion in bailout, avoiding a default. Pakistan stands at 18 out of 119 countries on Inform Risk Index by the UNDRR. Apart from 33 million people being displaced and more than 1400 perishing, the country expects to experience a whopping $30 billion loss, almost 9 percent of its GDP. Sindh and Balochistan, two provinces in the country, received 522 and 469 percent more rainfall than normal. Overall, Pakistan will receive a 207 percent increase in rainfall compared to the previous year. The loss of infrastructure is also unprecedented, as 190 bridges, 40-dams, more than a million homes, and 79 grid stations were damaged.
According to Jason Hickel in his book The Divide, out of the 588 billion tons of carbon dioxide emitted globally (up until 2017), 70 percent came from industrial economies. However, 83 percent of deaths due to these emissions happened in countries with the lowest emissions.
These effects are, however, not only confined to Pakistan. According to a recent report by Oxfam, Climate Hunger, out of 10 countries likely to become “climate hotspots,” 48 million people are suffering from acute hunger, and 18 million are at risk of starvation. In 2016, the number of people suffering from hunger in these countries were 21 million. In the contrast, 18 days of profit from fossil fuel companies will be enough to oblige to United Nations’ appeal of $49 billion for humanitarian aid called for this year.
A concerning dimension of this rising food insecurity is increased social unrest. A recent report by Verisk Maplecroft mentions that about 101 countries worldwide will increase social unrest and labor activism. Over 80 percent of countries across the globe are fighting inflation of around 6 percent or more that eats into savings and negatively impact living standards.
A recent study by World Weather Attribution concluded that “man-made climate change” was the cause of worsening floods in Pakistan. But isn’t the majority of climate change man-made? Look at the Global Footprint Networks’ Biocapacity Another measure, per capita ecological footprint, measured by Global Footprint Network, shows the same story. A negative footprint means an ecological deficit (biocapacity is less than consumption). On average, humans may consume about 1.8 global hectares (gha) per annum. This is similar to what people in Ghana consume,. However, in developed countries like the U.S. and Canada, the number goes up to 8 gha per annum. EU and U.S. account for only 10 percent of the global population but emit 23 percent of global emissions.
While the Oxfam report cements the aforementioned discrepancy in readiness and vulnerability to climate events (where low and middle-income countries are the least ready and most vulnerable), the developed world might also not be safe from the repercussions. The recent surge in energy prices across Europe can cause unrest. The Verisk report also mentioned that more than 50 percent of countries might face “mass mobilizations” by 2022.
In Pakistan, about 8.3 million acres of crops were destroyed. It is pertinent to mention here that the country still has a huge agrarian base which contributes 23 percent to its GDP and employs about 37 percent of the labor force. Health risks are mounting as well, with diseases like polio, Hepatitis, and other water-borne ailments surfacing and presenting a challenge to all already exhausted health systems.
The events in Pakistan should serve as a grim reminder to the policymakers in the world. The same patterns have been repeated in other countries. The climate debt at the current levels will not be enough. Despite the massive scale of destruction corroborated by estimates, the current assistance by the international community only amounts to 1 percent of the total aid required for Pakistan to tackle this issue. According to a report, funding needed to resolve climate change has increased by more than 800 percent in the last 20 years, whereas only half of it has been honored by rich countries. That highlights only one dimension of this problem.
We need to reframe the narrative and pose solutions accordingly.