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Sound Bytes: ‘Climate change is a bigger threat to Pakistan than terrorism’

Marked by smog in Punjab and fog in Sindh, winter this season was delayed for at least a month across the country, a phenomenon being observed along with other climate variations for the past few years. In the case of Karachi, the month of December for many seemed like an extended part of summer. And just when they were about to lose hope, they were pleasantly surprised when the weather suddenly turned cold and was later accompanied by rains.

Faiza Ilyas spoke to Dr Qamar-uz-Zaman Chaudhry, presently serving as International Climate Change Specialist at the Asian Development Bank, to ascertain if these weather patterns are a part of climate change, and if there is a national or provincial strategy in place to tackle the impact of climate change.

Dr Chaudhry is also the former special adviser to the secretary general of the UN World Meteorological Organisation for Asia and the lead author of Pakistan’s National Climate Change Policy.

Q: Is the current season any different from the previous winters?

A: It’s not different from what we have been experiencing for the past five to six years, that is, delay in the start of winter season and then rains. But, the pattern is quite different from the long-term normal weather patterns.

Fog and smog both have a lot to do with prolonged dry weather. Extended dry periods normally make lower atmosphere stable that causes increased concentration of pollutants — local and trans-boundary — in the lower atmosphere. Low temperatures caused extended smog conditions in Punjab. These pollutants disperse only when rain cleans the atmosphere or at least a wind pattern reduces the concentration of pollutants.

Q: How is climate change affecting Pakistan, particularly Sindh?

A: I am fully convinced that climate change is a bigger threat to Pakistan than terrorism, and Pakistan can experience severe impacts of extreme climate disasters, with water stress affecting food and energy security.

Severe drought and catastrophic floods in different parts of the country are becoming a norm. Additionally, the intensity and frequency of these events has also increased over the last 10 to 15 years.

As far as Sindh’s changing climate is concerned we can expect drier, hotter and erratic rainfall events in the future.

Q: Is there any recent study to assess the threat from melting glaciers?

A: The recent analysis of ice samples by the Pakistan Meteorological Department suggests a significantly higher presence of local and trans-boundary black carbon deposits on glaciers.

These black carbon layers accelerate glacier melting by absorbing higher solar radiation. Further, the temperature record of the last 100 years indicates that warming trend in northern Pakistan is higher than the country’s plain areas.

The Hindu Kush-Karakoram-Himalayan (HKH) glaciers are the main source of water in the Indus river system supplying above 70 per cent of available water. The present warming trend, which is part of global warming, is likely to accelerate the melting of our HKH glaciers.

This scenario suggests floods in the short term and water stress on a long-term basis threatening the country’s water security, food security and energy security.

Q: Do we have any strategy in place to face climate change?

A: The National Climate Change Policy 2012 of Pakistan recognises the climate change risks that include projected recession of the HKH glaciers due to global warming and carbon soot deposits from trans-boundary pollution sources, threatening water inflows into the Indus River system.

It also speaks of the rising temperatures resulting in enhanced heat and water-stressed conditions, particularly in arid and semi-arid regions, leading to reduced agricultural productivity.

While Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have developed drafts on their respective climate change policies, Sindh and Balochistan are trying to follow the federal climate change policy and are in the process of developing climate change action plans.

The federal ministry of climate change has recently developed the ‘Framework for Implementing the Climate Change Policy (2015-2030).’

Q: Can you list a few areas for immediate intervention?

A: We desperately need steps for water conservation, especially use of high-efficiency irrigation systems, energy efficiency and conservation, and increased use of power generation through renewable energy.

The establishment of a reliable natural disaster early warning system, creating awareness on climate change, and developing capacity of communities to deal with extreme climate events are equally critical.

Newspaper. Sound Bytes: ‘Climate change is a bigger threat to Pakistan than terrorism’. Dawn, January 26, 2017.

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