In a massive climate action walk on September 20, 2019 that brought together scores of people including students and teachers from the academia, members of government, NGOs and civil society, the Environment Society of the University of Peshawar had urged the government to declare a climate emergency. Following this event, and many others around the world, more than 11,000 scientists in 153 countries declared a climate emergency. Moreover, the UK, Canada, France, Ireland, and New Zealand have officially declared climate emergencies. Pakistan’s parliament has yet to declare a climate emergency to focus on tackling climate change. In doing so, the intent of caring for our future generations will be recorded in the global arena.
Climate change is a big threat to our country as recognised globally; there is no obvious need and reason to delay this declaration. Pakistan’s national legislature is, once again, strongly urged to pass a motion and declare a climate emergency in the country. To spearhead the direction and strongly advocate on this issue, the Environment Society at the University of Peshawar has initiated the Pakistan Climate Emergency Movement. It also proposes a clear road map that begins with how to formulate the declaration. The salient features of the declaration should include: (a) the evidence; (b) the precedents; (c) actions so far; (d) the declaration; (e) the next actions that need to be taken; (f) scope and targets; (g) advocacy; and (h) local issues. This declaration will be a symbolic step to raise pressure for action to combat climate change and will be an acknowledgement of the crisis that we are facing.
This declaration will be based on science. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which is the distinguished scientific body in the world on climate science, has determined that we should take action to avoid a disastrous situation of a 1.5°C increase in the mean global temperature by 2100. With the current rate of carbon emissions, we are on the path to a 3°C warmer world in 2100 according to the recent Emissions Gap Report 2020 of the United Nations Environment Programme. We need to reach net zero carbon emissions sooner than what has already been planned. Recently, the World Meteorological Organization released its 2020 annual climate report, according to which the mean global temperature is set to be about 1.2 °C above pre-industrial levels. It also says that 2020 was one of the three warmest years on record after 2016 and 2019. If such is the case, then it is absolutely necessary to act with urgency.
The declaration of a climate emergency will be in line with the 2015 Paris Agreement, which Pakistan has already signed and ratified in 2016. The agreement calls for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and Pakistan had announced its commitment to reduce its projected GHG emissions for 2030 by up to 20% with the help of international financial support. Furthermore, with this declaration, we will be strengthening and promoting our Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions under the 2007 Bali Action Plan, and our National Adaptation Plan under the 2010 Cancun Adaptation Framework.
As part of this emergency declaration, we should be contributing to the climate change mitigation and decarbonisation efforts possible in our capacity and promoting a circular economy for sustainable development. Such important measures will include utilising renewable sources of energy and taking steps to reduce our emissions even though we are contributing to less than 1% of the global carbon emissions. Nevertheless, we should keep in mind that national emissions will increase due to population, economic, industrial, and urban growth. A major co-benefit of emission reduction will be improvement in our air quality as air pollution levels will be significantly lowered, thus improving health and wellbeing, and reducing air pollution related diseases.
Another important aspect of the emergency declaration will be on climate change adaptation, without which we will observe major environmental disasters throughout the country. In the very first year of this decade, as a consequence of climate change, Pakistan has witnessed a wide range of weather abnormalities and related natural hazards and disasters, including landslides, glacial lake outbursts resulting in flash floods, changes in precipitation patterns leading to riverine and urban floods, and longer term droughts, urban heat islands generating heatwaves, and others. The recent wave of an unusual warmer winter season in the month of December, is a present manifestation of climate change. Hence, climate change adaptation must be a priority for all sectors and should be incorporated in their policies, programmes, and action plans.
As a nation we need to take the issue of climate change with the seriousness it deserves and take urgent action. Pakistan’s government needs to demonstrate through implementation and take a leadership position in climate change mitigation and adaptation. The private sector and civil society should also join hands to have a fully inclusive and coordinated response. In such a holistic way, we will be adopting a whole-of-society approach.
Pakistan has already taken bold and unprecedented flagship climate actions in the country and has achieved SDG-13 10 years before its time. However, as it stands, climate change has not been included in the formal definition of an “emergency” under the National Climate Change Policy 2012 and the Pakistan Climate Change Act 2017. Therefore, this declaration should be passed. It will certainly demonstrate the government’s intention to put climate change at the centre of further work programmes and decision-making. It will also allow Pakistan to gain more momentum on existing climate initiatives. Overall, a meaningful climate emergency declaration will be a huge success and will substantially contribute to the path towards a green economy, as envisioned by the Planning Commission’s ‘Vision 2025 Plan’.