In the recent years, climate change has emerged as a bigger threat to Pakistan than terrorism, but still there is little realisation of it at public and government levels. Global warming is to inflict more harm than any other problem but it is not at the priority of the government while masses continue to struggle to remain afloat. Floods cause losses of trillions of rupees besides leaving thousands homeless and jobless. Moreover, melting glaciers, reducing water table, ill-timed rains and drought in Thar and Balochistan are some of the manifestations of climate change that has taken heavy toll on masses and economy.
Since its inception in 1947, Pakistan has been grappling with numerous crises, ranging from infrastructure woes to terrorism, which still are damaging the country’s economy as well as living conditions of the masses. However, in the present time, a potentially devastating danger that is lurking in the shadows is climate change. As the adverse impacts of global warming continue to grow, the political and economic instability it may accrue pose a threat to Pakistan’s security.
But, even more perplexing is that Pakistani government has not prioritized its response to climate change in order to mitigate environmental threats and prevent future calamities. Much like the government, the Pakistani people also find it difficult to pay due attention to this global phenomenon. The indifference on the part of Pakistanis can be seen from the fact that in 2007-2008, a survey found that only 34 percent of Pakistanis were aware of climate change, and only 24 percent considered it a serious threat.
However, this perception is changing as global warming starts to impact everyday life. Over the past several years, Pakistanis have witnessed, firsthand, the devastating effects of climate change. Catastrophic floods displaced millions, and severe droughts in Thar and Balochistan portend the damage global warming can cause. The frequency of those floods has increased over the last five years, due to melting glaciers and heavy rainfall. Karachi, Pakistan’s most populous metropolis and the country’s financial hub, suffered a heat wave so severe that it devoured almost 1,200 people. These recent disasters could account for the change in public opinion from the abovementioned survey to the situation in 2015, when Pakistan joined the list of 19 countries where the majority of the population considers climate change a top global threat.
Although there is a National Climate Change Policy in place — which itself took several years to take shape and finally came about in 2012 — unfortunately that has been shelved into the darkest forgotten crevice of government building. Government’s indifference is further highlighted by the fact that it appointed a full-time Minister for Climate Change only a couple of weeks before the 2015 Climate Summit in Paris (COP21). This reflects upon the hurried and poor planning that went into the preparation of the conference. Furthermore, a very brief speech by PM Nawaz Sharif at COP21, which was attended by policymakers from more than 190 countries whereby they pressed for the rise in global temperatures to remain below two degrees centigrade, did not help much nor did it make the case any stronger.
At a time when there is a growing consciousness about the need to combat climate change, the world leaders adopted the Paris agreement, the first universal, legally-binding pact on tackling this global phenomenon. Delegates to the summit went home with their respective programmes to honour the deal in the best way possible, which provides the impetus for every nation to do more to confront the threat of global warming and build a low-carbon future.
Although a signatory to the pact, Pakistan’s seriousness to pursue the ambitious agenda appears sorely lacking, as many pieces of the bureaucratic machinery deployed to handle as delicate a job as environment are found missing. Key departments connected to the Climate Change ministry are working without permanent heads for years, as many senior posts in the ministry’s allied departments are either vacant or being held by officials from unrelated fields. This state of affairs bespeaks our wavering commitment to handling environmental hazards.
The government needs to address this issue with sincerity, dedication and utmost seriousness. Only making national policies, and not implementing them, will not serve the purpose.
The current state of affairs calls for serious efforts and commitment to put in every effort to mitigate the deleterious effects of climate change where humanly possible. And what certainly is humanly possible is dedicating officials well-versed in the field to the job of managing the environment. This will constitute only a small beginning, but will certainly prove crucial to charting our path to a protected environment. A department such as the country’s Environmental Protection Agency, if left headless, will mean giving a free hand to violators to further degrade the environment and preclude the possibility of any action being taken against them. The Paris Climate Deal has set a tall order and obligated nations to do much more. If Pakistan cannot begin putting its house in order by taking such rudimentary steps as appointing officials to key environment-related posts, how it would brace for a harder challenge?
How women can help mitigate climate change?
In Pakistan women, who constitute the majority of the poor, are among the most vulnerable to the detrimental impacts of climate change, particularly in rural areas. However, despite that, they are also vital to solutions to the impact. When we talk about gender dimensions in the context of the impact of climate change, that is also a recognition of the fact that climate change would affect women and men in different ways due to their different roles with regard to use of natural resources, particularly forest and water.
Like in other parts of the world, women in rural Pakistan generally assume primary responsibility for collecting water for drinking, cooking, washing, hygiene and raising livestock. On the other hand, men use water for irrigation, livestock, farming and industries. These work-distributions connote that women and men often have divergent needs and priorities as far as water use is concerned. This knowledge is quite significant in the context of climate change.
For instance, in drought-prone areas affected by desertification, time consumed by water-collection will increase, as women will have to travel greater distances to find water. But this is the time that could be spent in school, earning an income or participating in public/economic life. Walking long distances to fetch water can expose women to different health issues and harassment or sexual assault. What is awful to observe is that women tend to be under-represented in the decision-making on climate change at all levels in the country. This severely limits their ability to contribute and implement initiatives for mitigation and adaptation to fight negative effects of the rapidly changing weather patterns.
Women are predominantly responsible for food production, household water supply and wood-gathering for heating and cooking. We cannot, however, afford to keep women away from the processes of planning and policy, and decision-making meant for tackling the devastating impacts of climate change on different sectors of economy, particularly agriculture, water and health.
There is a pressing need that the country’s planners, policy — and decision-makers realise and ensure that women are an equal part of these very processes. It is imperative that contribution of women is adequately reflected in the planning and decision-making processes aimed at building the climate resilience of the country through mitigation and adaptation plans in all socioeconomic sectors. Moreover, women and gender experts should play their effective part in collaboration with relevant government departments to ensure that they are well informed of the gendered dimensions of climate-sensitive sectors like agriculture, health, education and water.
In a nutshell, all segments of society need to unite for ending existing inequalities between men and women and the ways climate change can exacerbate these inequalities.
Being important natural-resource-users, women have gained knowledge and developed coping strategies over the years that give them a practical understanding of innovation and skills to adapt to the extreme weather events as well as to contribute to the solution. Nonetheless, their knowledge to cope with climate risks or the impact of climate variability on their own remains a largely untapped resource. However, utilising the practical knowledge women have for the boosting of the resilience of a country’s climate, and making them key stakeholders in the planning and decision-making processes for dealing with vagaries of climate change is indispensible.
Women are often grappled with difficulties when it comes to the general accessibility to financial resources, capacity-building activities and technologies required for building climate-resilience or coping with the effects of climate change. This often proves to be the roadblock in the way of women’s empowerment in general and their role in relation to climate change adaptation and mitigation in particular.
Different international studies have highlighted that women are very vulnerable, and most likely to be disproportionately affected by the adverse impact of climate change because they constitute the majority of the underprivileged people anywhere in the world. Women’s traditional roles as the primary users and managers of natural resources, primary caregivers and labourers engaged in unpaid labour mean they are involved in, and dependent on, livelihoods and resources that are put most at risk by climate change.
We, however, need to approach gender and climate from many perspectives to ensure that women are present at all levels and dimensions of climate change policy-making, strategising and action.