Malik M Ashraf
PRESENTLY the world is focused on dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic which has destroyed lives, livelihoods and economies, thus posing an unprecedented challenge of the century to the entire humanity. Hopefully through collective efforts of the global community the contagion will be contained in the near future. In this regard a ray of hope has been kindled by the development of vaccines by a number of countries. It is indeed a very satisfying development in regards to overcoming the pandemic, saving human lives and reviving the devastated economies. However, the world is still not on track to deal with the challenge posed by climate change which is an ever-growing threat to people’s health, jobs and safety. The stakes could not be higher than this.
According to two authentic reports compiled by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) recently released, the climate crisis continues with unmitigated severity. The WMO report shows 2020 to be on track as one of the three warmest years on record while the UNEP report states that to limit temperature rise to 1.5-degrees Celsius as set out in the Paris Climate Change Agreement, the world needs to decrease fossil fuel production by roughly 6% every year between now and 2030. The UN Secretary General in his address at Columbia University on the day these reports were released said, “Making peace with nature is the defining task of 21st century. Later, speaking to the Climate Ambition Summit held online marking five years since the landmark Paris Agreement, he urged the world leaders to declare a state of climate emergency and focus on greener growth. He observed “Commitments made in Paris were far from enough to limit temperature rises to 1.5 degree Celsius and if we do not change course, we may be headed for a catastrophic temperature rise of more than 3 degrees this century.
The foregoing reports and discourse of the UN Secretary General emphasize the severity of the problem and the need for the global community to act in unison to deal with the phenomenon of climate change. But it is regrettable to note that the required commitment is not coming forth from the countries which are major contributors to the emissions of green-house gases. Major economies including Australia, Brazil and South Africa were absent from the summit. Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro has dismissed the scale of destruction to the Amazon rainforest opened up by his climate-skeptic policies. The United States, the world’s second-largest polluter, left the Paris Agreement under President Donald Trump. Nonetheless, it is encouraging to note that President-elect Joe Biden has indicated US rejoining the Paris Agreement. Under the Paris climate accord, signatories committed to limit temperature rises to “well below” 2.0 Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and to try to restrain them to 1.5C.
Other world leaders, including Prime Minister Imran Khan, addressing the summit through short video messages, said that they would announce new and ambitious climate change commitments and that there would be no space for general statements. The countries are set to announce efforts to reduce national emissions, long-term strategies and financial commitments to support the most vulnerable. More than 110 countries have committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2050. China, the world’s biggest polluter, announced in September plans to achieve net-zero emissions by 2060.
Prime Minister Imran Khan in his address made specific commitments instead of making a general statement and also unraveled measures that Pakistan had already put in place in this regard. He told the summit that 60pc of all energy produced in the country will be clean and through renewable resources by 2030; Pakistan has already scrapped two coal power projects which were supposed to generate 2600 MW of electricity and replaced them with hydro-power units; 10 billion trees will be planted in the country during the next three years; number of parks and protected areas have been increased from 30 to 45 and as far as indigenous coal is concerned, the government has decided to produce energy either by “coal to liquid” or by “coal to gas” so that coal doesn’t have to be burned. I am of the considered view that the strategy adopted by Pakistan is beyond reproach and the best option that can be exercised relying on indigenous resources and expertise. Pakistan is the fifth most affected country by climate change and there are many other developing countries like her which are being badly affected by this phenomenon even though they are not responsible for contributing to greenhouse gases in a big way. Pakistan contributes one per cent of the total emissions. In certain cases, the developing countries do not have the necessary financial resources and technical and scientific wherewithal to mitigate impact of climate change.
Climate change is a global challenge, therefore, it is incumbent upon the affluent nations which are major contributors to the emissions of greenhouse gases not only to abide by their commitments given in the international protocols but also to help the developing countries in coping with the problem through financial and technical support. It is an absolute imperative if the future of mankind on earth is to be secured. The UN, surely, has a crucial role in this regard and needs to adopt more proactive approach in ensuring the implementation of the protocols on Climate Change, remove the inadequacies in them and devise a mechanism whereby the developing countries receive the required financial and technical assistance. The developing countries on their own can also unfurl initiatives designed to mitigate the impact of climate change by emulating the Pakistani example.
— The Islamabad-based writer is former Director Administration, Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation.