Over the past two decades it has become increasingly clear that climate is changing across the globe. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its first assessment report in 1990, highlighting this aspect. Since then, its subsequent reports have continued to provide further and increasingly stronger evidence that human induced climate change has immense effects on societies and ecosystems, especially forests and coastal areas, both of which are crucial for human societies. Extreme events are also expected to increase in magnitude and frequency, putting human lives in danger. This is already happening as typhoons and other climate related events increase. In 2014 typhoon Hagupit swept across the Philippines, which devastated forests and coastal areas and adversely impacting a large human population. Changes in rainfall and runoff patterns will result in decrease in the availability of water in many parts of the world's forested watersheds, thus decreasing the goods and services they provide.
The United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC) was formulated as a response to this and the countries that have ratified this, meet every year to discuss courses of action to deal with climate change. Pakistan signed the Convention in 1992 and became a signatory in 1994. The latest Conference of Parties took place in December, 2014 (the same time as Typhoon Hagupit). Generally, the focus of these conferences has been to reach agreement to curb emissions, however it has increasingly become clear that adapting to climate change is an important strategy (among others) to cope with a changing climate and its impacts. This is because even with current mitigation efforts the climate does and will continue to vary. This means urging countries to adjust human and natural systems to become more resilient and to be able to cope with the harmful effects of climate variability.
It is worth noting that Pakistan does not contribute extensively to global emissions (0.7%). However, its carbon emissions continue to increase with the transport sector being a significant contributor. Due to the increase in global emissions Pakistan, like other developing countries, stands to be adversely impacted. A warming climate will increase glacial melt in the Himalayas thus leading to excessive flooding and will also affect water resources further. Sea levels will rise and flooding will also be experienced from the Arabian Sea. Therefore, it is crucial for Pakistan to implement effective strategies to adapt to such eventualities, in order to deal with the expected mortality rates due to flood and drought situations (as can already be seen in Thar). One of the reasons for such a huge loss of life in Thar has been due to lack of preparedness.
The Lima conference has laid great emphasis on adaptation in developing countries. However, there were deep disagreements between rich and poor countries over national responsibilities, which almost derailed the talks. An extremely "watered down" deal was reached in the early hours of the morning on the final day. Extensive issues remain regarding funding commitments from developed nations to help developing countries to adapt to climate change. However, the stage was set for a new climate agreement, which will be struck next year in Paris. Agreements were reached to curb emissions and funding was pledged to the Green Carbon Fund, which will assist countries such as Pakistan to achieve low-carbon growth.
The one and only time Pakistan submitted a National Communication to the UNFCCC was in 2003, which highlights significant climate related changes in (among others) water resources and agriculture, the country's mainstay. Sea level rise in the coastal zone was estimated to be 1.1 mm annually, which does not bode well for Karachi, the economic hub.
At the time of the submission of the National Communication, adaptation plans were still in the planning stage. Various international and national NGO are working to build capacity for climate adaptation. But if Pakistan is to develop economically, an extensive effort needs to be made by the government to increase the adaptive capacity of its rural as well as urban population. Importantly, Pakistan has to play an important role in the UNFCCC negotiations if it is to have any say in future deals.
Saima Baig is a Karachi-based environmental economist, climate change consultant and a freelance writer. Follow her on Twitter