There will be unparalleled devastation, unless
Pakistan’s climate has become increasingly volatile
Because of the excessive presence of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide in its outer atmosphere, the sun’s rays that bombard our planet’s surface are causing it to retain more heat. Nature appointed these gases to help earth store the sun’s energy to keep the world mostly temperate.
But these excess gasses are disrupting a delicate natural balance. A gradual increase in the average temperature of the planet’s atmosphere and oceans has set in motion what could become permanent changes in the earth’s climate.
If not acknowledged and addressed, the results could be perilous if not downright catastrophic.
For several decades, Pakistan’s climate has become increasingly volatile. A recent World Bank report explains that climate change means our families and friends most assuredly will face several major risks.
- Sea levels will rise
- Glaciers will retreat
- There will be floods
- There will be more earthquakes
- Temperatures will be above average
- There will be more droughts
Climate-model projections from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2014 indicated that Earth’s global surface temperature is likely to rise even further this century — from 0.3 to 1.7°C in the lowest scenario using stringent mitigation, and from 2.6 to 4.8°C for the highest.
Yes, I know, the numbers are boring, but they’re so very important to fully grasp what is transpiring. They also provide a gateway of understanding. Consider this: Experts estimate that Pakistan already incurs annual financial losses of $5.2 billion because of environmental degradation.
February 2016 smashed a century of global temperature records by a “stunning” margin” according to NASA. The United States space agency’s data shows the average global surface temperature in February was 1.35°C warmer than the average temperatures for the same month between 1951 and 1980; a far larger margin than ever seen before. The previous record, set just a month earlier, was a full 1.15°C above the long-term average for a usually frigid month.
The annual growth rate of atmospheric carbon dioxide, as measured at NOAA’s Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii, jumped by 3.05 parts per million during 2015. This represents the largest year-to-year increase in 56 years of research.
Okay, now that I have your attention, what does this fancy research, high-brow terminology and these scary numbers really mean?
Consider that in Pakistan the melting of Himalayan glaciers is posing a threat to the volumetric flow rate of many of the nation’s most important rivers.
In this area alone, millions of people could be impacted.
And because of a failure to achieve national consensus on the use of Hydel Power and constructing dams like Kalabagh, we are burning non-renewable natural resources — oil, gas and coal — to generate electricity, a commodity that is not only expensive but one that adds significantly to our the emission of greenhouse gases.
For proper perspective, here are a few more important numbers:
Government turbines burn gas to produce 39 and 59 megawatts of electricity in Panjgur and Shahdara, respectively, 80 for Korangi, 100 for SITE, 174 in Kotri, 195 for Multan and 244 in Faisalabad.
On the thermal side we burn oil to produce 17 and 35 megawatts for Pasni and Quetta, 150 in Larkana, 316 for Korangi, 850 for Jamshoro, 1,260 in Bin Qasim and 1,340 and 1,655 megawatts for Muzaffargarh and Guddu, respectively.
To meet a growing demand for electricity, in the last few years we have deployed Independent Power Producers – including: Altern Energy Ltd, 29 megawatts, Sitara Energy 80, Southern Electric 110, Saba Power 114, Japan Power 120, Tapal Energy 126, Kohinoor Energy 131, Gul Ahmad Energy 136, Habibullah Power 140, Fauji. Kabirwala 157, Attock Gen 165, Nishat Chunian 200, Nishat Power 200, Saif Power 225, Liberty Power 232, AES Lalpir 362, AES Pak Gen, 365, Rousch Power 412, Uch Power 586, Atlas Power 225, Hub Power, 1,292 and Engro Energy 1,638.
And we are using nuclear energy to produce 137 megawatts (KANUPP), 325 (CHASNUPP-1) and 340 (CHASNUPP-2).
By producing 65 per cent of our energy from fossil fuels, 31 per cent from hydro-electric and four per cent from nuclear sources, national Catalytic Hydrothermal Gasification (fuel production) inventory data shows that Pakistan’s total greenhouse-gas emissions are 310 million tons of CO2 equivalent and comprised in this form: CO2 54 per cent; methane (CH4) 36 per cent; nitrous oxide (N2O) nine per cent; carbon monoxide (CO) 0.7 per cent; and non-methane volatile organic compounds 0.3 of a per cent. The energy sector is the largest source of greenhouse-gas emissions in Pakistan. It accounts for nearly 51 per cent of these emissions, followed by the agriculture sector (39 per cent), industrial processes (six per cent), land use, land-use change and forestry (three per cent) emissions and waste (one per cent).
Based on current trends, we will emit 500 million tons of C02 by 2030 – 190 million tons more than present. Because of this, experts believe crop yields will dip even more dramatically by 2030.
Such a lofty rise in greenhouse-gas emissions should raise the stake for survival among Pakistan’s citizens, particularly in the areas of water security, food security and energy security.
Data for the first 15 years of this century shows them to be among the 14 warmest years since 1879; only 1998 was warmer than 2012.
In 1949-50, our agriculture sector was contributing 53 per cent to the country’s gross domestic product, which fell to 31 per cent by 1980-81, and 21.4 per cent by 2012-13.
Climate change has brought with it increases in rainfall intensity and sustained dry periods — and Pakistan has suffered more than any place in the world.
We are in the midst of extreme weather events both in frequency and intensity. Erratic monsoon rains are causing frequent and intense floods and droughts. The projected recession of the Hindu Kush-Karakoram-Himalayan glaciers – brought about by global warming and carbon soot deposits from trans-boundary pollution sources – threatens Indus River System inflows.
We already are seeing an increase in siltation of major dams from more frequent and intense floods.
Rising temperatures mean enhanced heat and water-stressed conditions, particularly in arid and semi-arid regions. The latter leads to reduced agricultural productivity, a further decrease in the already scanty forest cover.
The increased intrusion of saline water in the Indus delta, adversely affects coastal agriculture, mangroves and the breeding grounds of fish. Coastal areas are threatened by a projected sea level rise and increased cyclonic activity stemming from higher sea surface temperatures.
There is increased stress between upper- and lower-riparian regions in relation to sharing of water resources.
Each of these brings about increased health risks, suffering, migration and more.
But, at least for now, the future is still in our hands.
Tropical deforestation and emissions from agriculture represent nearly 30 per cent of the world’s heat-trapping emissions. But we can reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 40 per cent by adding a quarter as many trees to our forests. And by reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, we can make food-production practices more sustainable.
In as much as this is the largest contributor to global warming, we must boost energy efficiency when it comes to heating and cooling our homes, businesses, and industries.
Our transportation needs must go “green,” given that this sector’s emissions have increased at a faster rate than any other energy-devouring sector in the past decade. More efficient mass transportation systems must be built and used.
There must be a commitment to renewable energy resources such as hydro-electric, solar, wind, geothermal and bioenergy. Fossil-fuel electricity — especially carbon-intensive coal — must be phased out.
Of course, this common sense is at odds with our “intelligent government,” which is building coal power plants like it’s still 1960, including one in Sahiwal District and another in Thar.
If the use of coal for producing energy is deemed essential, the government should explore options to store carbon emissions underground. While such technology has not been deployed on a large scale — or even proven safe and permanent – the concept has been demonstrated within oil and natural gas recovery.
For the good of our energy sector, our atomic accomplishments can be shifted from building bombs to driving turbines. Because nuclear power results in fewer global warming emissions, an increased share within the energy mix could help reduce global warming. Naturally, a valid question remains: Can safety, proliferation, waste disposal and cost concerns be addressed?
At least these and other possibilities should be explored.
Research into, and the development of, the next-generation of low-carbon technologies will be critical to reaching deep reductions in global emissions. Current research on battery technology includes new materials for solar cells, harnessing energy from novel resources like bacteria and algae, and other promising areas that could provide important breakthroughs.
Pakistan can lead the way by developing and deploying such low-carbon and zero-carbon technologies. Our great country also can provide leadership by acknowledging the scientific data, while leaders of other supposedly great nations prolong the debate.
Let’s become a true world leader in this most-important area by decisively taking action before there is no longer a future for any of us to discuss.
I admit that the truth often hurts, but here it is in a nutshell: Each one of those boring-but-staggering numbers you probably glossed over in this column tells a story of a planet in decline. And these numbers don’t lie.
Read them again, share them with your families and friends, and remember them. Only as an informed citizenry can we begin to chart a more environmentally friendly future.