That Pakistan is a country highly vulnerable to climate change is not exactly breaking news. A Germany-based think tank had already termed the country the seventh most vulnerable nation to climate change in 2017. Before that in 2012, the Worldwide Fund (WWF) for Nature report had stated that average temperatures in the Subcontinent would rise by up to four-degree Celsius by the year 2100. Now there has been another disturbing revelation.
Scientists at the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development — a regional intergovernmental learning and knowledge sharing centre serving the eight regional member countries of the Hindu Kush Himalayas based in Nepal – have warned in a report that 33 percent of the ice in the Himalayas and Hindu Kush will thaw by the end of this century. According to their study, the effects will be disastrous, not only disrupting river flows essential for growing crops, but also reducing the region’s ability to produce hydropower. The study – authored by 210 researchers – specifically mentioned the Yangtze, Ganges, Indus and Mekong river systems as vulnerable.
The Hindu Kush Himalayas are considered the “third pole” because of the large amount of water they store in ice form. According to scientists, if all the ice in this region melted, it could push up global sea levels by a whopping 1.5 metres.
To make matters bleaker, the scientists have stated in the report that this situation is no longer preventable. Meaning that even if Pakistan and all the other regional governments made halting climate change their foremost priority today, the Hindu Kush Himalayas will still lose a third of their ice by the year 2100. This means all the associated problems – including problems with power production, agricultural issues and more frequent floods and landslides – are also not preventable.
Regardless action must still be taken, lest these figures rise even further. The governments of Pakistan, China and India must put aside all their differences and deal with this problem on a war footing. Not only will this crisis economically devastate all three countries, the Hindu Kush Himalayas are home to 250 million people, with 1.65 million people living in the valleys below. In short, the Subcontinent and China could become the site for the biggest environmental refugee crisis in the planet’s history in the near future if proactive measures aren’t started today to deal with the catastrophe.
This report must also serve as a moment for those in Islamabad still insisting on construction of mega hydropower projects, despite mounting evidence on the devastating environmental costs of such infrastructure projects. The authorities must realise that the mega hydropower projects they’re planning aren’t sustainable any longer, considering river flows in the country could completely recreate themselves within the century.
It is hoped that this latest piece of bad news regarding climate change will turn some heads in Islamabad. Global warming is currently the biggest threat facing humanity, and it deserves greater priority than any other issue that may be occupying our government’s attention. That Pakistan alone cannot do much to counter the problem must not be presented as an excuse to avoid it altogether. Instead, we must join other states as well as non-governmental organisations in raising voice against the threats of climate change and pushing global powers to take notice of the threat so that action can be ensured. *
Published in Daily Times, February 6th 2019.