Saud Bin Ahsen |
Climate change is one of the complex problems mankind is facing today. It refers to the variation in the Earth’s global climate over time. The harmful impacts of this global warming are already manifesting themselves around the world in the form of extreme weather events like storms, tornadoes, floods, and droughts. Today, it stands not only as a major environmental problem but also as a multi-dimensional developmental issue.
The average temperature over Pakistan during 2000-2012 was 0.7⁰C higher than experienced in the corresponding period of 1985 to 1999.
The impact of climate change on Pakistan has been severe, which is particularly exemplified by the country being consistently ranked as the most vulnerable nation by German Watch in its annual Climate Risk Index since 2010. Pakistan is already facing a number of challenges of environmental degradation, poverty, and institutional weaknesses. Climate change makes these challenges more complicated, which deepens its vulnerability, thereby undermining its prospects for development. It is posing a direct threat to the water, food, and energy security of Pakistan. All major cities of Pakistan face haphazard, unplanned expansion leading to an increase in pollution.
During the last century, the average temperature over Pakistan has increased by 0.6⁰C. More alarmingly, the average temperature over Pakistan during 2000-2012 was 0.7⁰C higher than experienced in the corresponding period of 1985 to 1999. Resultantly, Pakistan experienced more frequent and intense environmental hazards such as floods, droughts, heavy rain, and sporadically high temperatures. Since 2010, the country has faced floods every year causing huge devastation to life and property. The heat wave hitting most parts of Sindh since 2015 has taken thousands of life and has rendered food production and climate unpredictable.
Concerns for Agriculture sector
By 2040, assuming a 0.5 Degrees Celsius increase in average nationwide temperatures, an 8-10 percent loss is expected across all crops, corresponding to PKR 30,000 per acre.
Projections made by the Global Change Impact Studies Centre (GCISC) indicate that the average temperature over Pakistan would increase in the coming decades at a pace faster than the average global temperature and may even exceed it by 1⁰C at the end of the century. These increasing temperatures will negatively impact crop yields whereby the average per acre yield of the wheat crop is likely to decrease by 8% while basmati rice production is likely to dip by 15% at the end of the century.
Pakistan has around 22 million hectares cultivable area. Most of the area is cultivated through a well-developed irrigation system. A majority of the population lives in villages and depends on agriculture for their subsistence hence this sector is of significant importance due to its multidimensional role. Climate change affects agriculture primarily through the production and release of greenhouse gasses such as carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide as a consequence of agricultural activity.
Also, forestation and deforestation reduce or increase CO2 concentration in the atmosphere along with the ability to absorb or reflect heat and light, thus contributing to radioactive forcing. Climate change will therefore greatly affect agricultural productivity in Pakistan. In particular, by 2040, assuming a 0.5 Degrees Celsius increase in average nationwide temperatures, an 8-10 percent loss is expected across all crops, corresponding to PKR 30,000 per acre.
Increasing temperatures will negatively impact crop yields whereby the average per acre yield of the wheat crop is likely to decrease by 8% while basmati rice production is likely to dip by 15% at the end of the century.
Moreover, duration of crop growth cycle is related to temperature; an increase in temperature will speed up crop growth and shorten the duration between sowing and harvesting. This shortening could have an adverse effect on the productivity of crops and fodder for livestock.
The deterioration of productive agricultural land areas due to water logging and salinity is causing another major threat to food security in the country. Soil erosion due to water and wind is universally recognized as a serious threat to cultivable lands. Water and wind erosion is the direct consequence of climatic parameters of high-intensity rainfall, wind velocity, and higher temperatures.
Water security is another grave area of concern. Increasing temperatures in the northern mountains of the country will result in glacial melting, thereby affecting the flow of the Indus River System (IRS). Glacial melting poses a serious threat as it will result in an irregular, sporadic flow to the Indus. The flow would increase for a few decades and then reduce due to fast depleting glaciers.
According to WAPDA, per capita surface-water availability plunged from 5260 m3 per year in 1951 to just 1000 m3 in 2016 and is expected to decrease further with the dual impacts of rising temperatures and increasing demand. In the short run, the accelerated glacial melt is expected to increase water flows in river systems and cause greater incidences of flooding from glacial lakes.
Given this degree of uncertainty, often the best course of action for Pakistan is to adopt “no-regrets” strategies – approaches that provide benefits to farmers regardless of the kinds of climate impacts that will be seen.
The duration of seasons have changed, i.e. winter has shortened while summer has prolonged. The average temperature, both in summer and winter, has increased as seen from the sweltering heat in Sindh and Punjab since 2012. The rainfall received in various regions has declined significantly and became more erratic. Monsoon rains now occur late and are heavier in certain areas especially in Sindh and KP. Winter rains, on the other hand, have drastically declined.
Adaptation – A Way Forward
The concept of adaptation is thus recommended as an effective policy measure to offset the impact of Climate Change. Adaptation can be defined as any adjustment by a system in response to climate stimuli. Adaptation capacity is the degree to which a system has the capacity to generate such adjustments. A system’s vulnerability is determined by its capacity to adapt; the greater a system’s adaptation capacity, the less its vulnerability.
Specific impacts of climate change are largely unpredictable. We know broadly that temperatures will warm, rainfall patterns are likely to change, and an increase in heat will affect soil moisture, crop yields, and animal well-being. Given this degree of uncertainty, often the best course of action for Pakistan is to adopt “no-regrets” strategies – approaches that provide benefits to farmers regardless of the kinds of climate impacts that will be seen. A range of practical “no-regrets” approaches can and should be taken to make farms and farming systems more resilient in the face of unpredictable heat and rainfall.
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Adaptation strategies that build resilience will also build stronger communities and local economies that can better withstand climate shocks. Support for resilience-building, “no-regrets” efforts should be prioritized in national adaptation plans.
Adaptation to Climate Change (ACC) is not a one-time measure. It is a set of long-term activities which collectively contribute to enhancing people’s resilience to unprecedented climatic events. Examples of adaptation measures include watershed management, physical structures for the diversion of floods, earthquake/flood resistant houses, etc.
At the same time, there are other concepts like early warning systems which can be developed for populations which are highly prone to risks such as droughts or floods as part of the preparedness activities. This will not only reduce life losses in case of a large-scale disaster but also reduce costs involved in the case of post-disaster situations.
Saud Bin Ahsen is Post-Grad student of Public Administration at Institute of Administrative Sciences (IAS), University of the Punjab, Lahore. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.