Global warming and Pakistan | By Mushtaq Jan

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Global warming and Pakistan

THE International conference on climate change caused by global warming, known as COP27, recently wrapped up at Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt.

Heads of state, delegates, and activists from 200 countries participated. Bilawal Bhutto, Foreign Minister and Shirin Rehaman, Environment Minister, led the Pakistan delegation very aptly at the conference.

Mr.Shehbaz Sharif took part in it initially for a few days. The meeting lasted about a month and concluded on 18 Nov 2022.

The delegates reviewed the progress made thus far on the previously set targets of limiting the emissions of greenhouse gases.

The main topic of interest for Pakistan and other under-developed countries was establishing a Fund to aid the vulnerable countries severely hit by calamities due to climate change.

In a previous conference held in Paris in 2015, the participants had agreed to limit the temperature of global warming below two degrees C by circumventing the emissions of harmful gases.

In another similar previous meeting, the rich countries had agreed to establish a Fund to compensate the affected countries for the loss and damage they suffered due to the devastation of harsh weather.

What is global warming, and why is there so much hue and cry about it and the emissions of so-called greenhouse gases?

Burning fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

These fuels are burnt in power plants to generate electricity and in industrial plants for various processes.

Carbon dioxide covers the earth and entraps its heat, preventing it from getting released into space at night.

That induces a warming effect on the Earth. As this effect is analogous to keeping the greenhouses warm during the winter for growing vegetables and plants, the gases released by combustion are named greenhouse gases.

The warming impact on the Earth, in turn, melts the snow and glaciers in the mountains more rapidly than average resulting in the flooding of rivers.

The warming intensifies the evaporation of rivers and seas and the transpiration of plants and trees, causing heavier cloud formation, subsequently leading to abnormal precipitation.

That was why Pakistan had the worst floods in its history from June to July last year. Though Pakistan was the worst-hit country, the devastation due to climate change happened almost all around the globe.

The developed countries have well-established safeguarding systems against floods, helping them mitigate the damaging effects of bad weather.

However, lacking safeguarding measures, Pakistan and other vulnerable countries suffered severe devastation.

Scientists maintain that the industrialized nations of the West and Asia have been pumping carbon dioxide into the air for more than a century by burning fossil fuels to attain their development.

The Earth has already warmed on average by 1.1CO. If it were not limited to below 2 CO, the Earth would experience much higher devastation.

The industrialized nations of Europe, the US and China, Japan and India are the major emitters of these gases.

China and the USA emit 40% of the global carbon dioxide. These countries earned their scientific and industrial prowess by ruthlessly combusting fossil fuels.

Under-resourced countries like Pakistan, which generated just 1% of the total emissions, faced the brunt of climate anger in heavy rains, floods, heat-waves and droughts.

That devastation ultimately resulted in large-scale infrastructural damage, economic losses, transport disruptions, population displacements and loss of human life and livestock.

Scientists attribute all these calamities to the climate change caused by global warming. Therefore, vulnerable developing countries earnestly contend that the wealthy industrialized countries should reparate vulnerable countries for “loss and damage” inflicted on them due to climate change.

That is what is generally known as Climate Justice. The outcome of COP27 didn’t turn out to be as anticipated.

The lengthy debates could not produce any significant results. On cutting emissions, there was no firm commitment from the industrialized countries.

On establishing the Fund for the affected countries, the rich countries delivered a vague consentual statement to compensate them for their devastation.

They pledged a mere $ 260 million against an estimated $ 200 billion by the group of affected nations.

Pakistan alone has estimated damage of $ 40 billion. The Fund Committee will meet again next year to determine the contribution and disbursement mechanism of the Loss and Damage Fund.

Instead of waiting for the Fund, Pakistan should prudently examine its role in global warming.

Pakistan generates more than 50 percent of its electricity by burning fossil fuels in thermal power plants.

While the major global carbon emitters are successfully transitioning to renewable energies by shunning fossil fuel-fired power plants, Pakistan needs to adopt renewable energies.

The brick-baking kilns in Pakistan burn coal, rubber and other carbon-emitting material that produce deadly black carbon(soot).

Black carbon has a higher heating property than regular carbon missions. It melts the snow faster when it gets deposited on it.

There is heavy pollution from the vehicles plying the roads unchecked in big cities. Pakistan has the five most polluted cities in the world’s top 50 most polluted cities.

Further, Pakistan must upgrade its infrastructure to adapt to climate change to mitigate the devastating effects of floods and droughts.

The country drastically needs to bolster flood defence systems, like reinforcing the river and canal banks with levees and clearing them of silt deposits.

Construct dams to contain the floods by storing extra flood water and releasing it during scarcity.

Implement the transitions from fossil fuel combustion to environmentally friendly energy sources.

Rehabilitate the brutally ransacked forests. Protect the coastal regions against rising sea levels by building dikes.

Pakistan can squarely rationalize Climate Justice when it encounters the climate change fight by cutting its toxic gas emissions and embracing protective measures.

Therefore, we must shoulder the responsibility of global climate protection and chip in our efforts effectively towards achieving the bigger goal of limiting the warming temperature.

That is pertinent as scientists are issuing prescient warnings for an even more frightening situation in the coming years.

The severity of the weather is increasing more rapidly than the predictions made by the scientists’ computer models.

The developed world had taken a more challenging route to industrialization by driving through fossil fuel combustion.

As renewable technologies advanced, they adapted more environment-friendly energy-generating systems to reduce emissions effectively.

For instance, the UK was the pioneer of industrialization and was the highest emitter until the last quarter of the 19th century.

After adopting renewable energies, the UK emits less than 1% of the global greenhouse gases.

Renewable energies like solar and wind are becoming cheaper and at par with coal and other fossil fuel power plants.

Therefore, Pakistan needs to cease further establishment of oil and coal-fired power plants and focus more on solar, wind and hydel-power generation technologies.

The developed nations are on the path to successfully cutting their emissions substantially. Though they still need to catch up with the targets, they have the plans and commitment to do more.

Therefore, all nations must keep the fever of dear planet earth from rising above 1.5 CO. Pakistan must be aware that the loss of economic activities due to a disgruntled climate will further lead to social vices like theft, drugs and terrorism. That will further compound the many problems that are already grappling Pakistan.

—The writer is an engineer and contributing columnist with keen eye on current affairs, economics and technical issues related to power sector.