The UN Conference on Climate Change is taking place in Paris less than a fortnight after the attacks there, providing an illustration of the huge difference between the two threats of terrorism and global warming. Terrorism is happening, and everyone agrees that it is. However, one of the most devastating phenomena of climate change, global warming, is disputed by many. This view holds that the climate has not changed as is claimed, and thus there is no need to worry. It claims that the talk of climate change is actually a conspiracy against the developed countries to bring down their rate of growth.

This is probably because those who believe that the earth is heating up also believe that this is because of the careless and conspicuous consumption of the developed countries, which is made possible only by consumption of massive amounts of energy, one of the side-effects being the raising of the global temperature to the extent that there will be negative e consequences for millions of people.

Thus those working to reverse, or at least stop or slow down this from happening, argue that there must be less carbon released into the atmosphere. The main source of release is fossil fuel, burnt to provide transport or generate electricity. Indeed, with fossil gas used in fertilizer manufacture, even the Green Revolution, that has enabled mankind to feed a population that has burgeoned for the last two centuries, has been made possible by fossil fuels. The argument runs that Mankind must turn to renewable sources of energy, like hydropower, solar power, wind power or the like. Holders of this view point out that since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the average global temperature has gone up 1°C. The target to which the Paris Conference wants countries to commit, is to prevent the average global temperature going up 2°C. It was perhaps macabrely appropriate that it was announced just in time for the Conference that average global temperature had reached a new record high in 2014.

This view holds that unchecked economic growth carries consequences, like the destruction of the environment, and those responsible, the developed nations, must do the most to reverse the trend. That would mean that the developed world, which has for long been the largest consumer of fossil fuels, must do the most to solve the problem. Some developed countries argue that this will place unfair barriers to the kind of growth on which their economies depend. Pakistani Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif, in Paris for the conference along with 146 other heads of state or government, supported this view when he said that the developed world should bear the responsibility for the solution.

The increase in the global temperature has already begun leading to one of the consequences predicted for such a rise in temperature: extreme climate events. That has led, among other things, to the water shortages that caused the drought in Syria from 2006 to 2013. That has been mentioned by Prince Charles of the UK among others, as the reason for the Syrian crisis and thus for the refugee problem faced by Europe. Global warming thus opens for the West the prospect of an endless series of natural disasters which will drive refugees towards Europe.

One clear problem is caused by global warming is that of rising sea levels. The traditional pattern of human settlement has been to settle in port cities. Unfortunately, rising sea levels means that sea coasts will be submerged, including parts or wholes of cities. Indeed, there is the prospect of island nations being submerged, and thus, much like Atlantis, disappearing from the face of the earth. Such nations will have to be evacuated by other nations. Indeed, while large populations will have to be evacuated, national navies and coast guards may not be able to carry out the task of servicing their own populations. International efforts will be required. Only then will the real question arise: what to do about the evacuated populations?

A leading example of such a nation is the Maldives, which is an Indian Ocean archipelago which is not just a former British colony, but as a fellow member of SAARC and the OIC, as well as the Commonwealth, a country in which Pakistan takes a particular interest. Several of the island nations at risk were only discovered during post-industrial explorations, and only then received human settlers, and were all first colonies until independence after World War II. That independence means that the colonisers accept no responsibility for their populations after the nations are submerged.

Submersion may not strike entire nations, but some of their most important real estate will go under water. For example, Pakistan is set to lose large parts of Karachi, its most populous city, its industrial and financial capital, and only port. Gwadar is important presently, but will gain in importance at one stage as the country’s only port at the time when Karachi is rendered dysfunctional.

One result of the rise in sea levels will be that the majority of human population will have to retreat inland, at least to the new coast. There will be no guarantee that the new coast will be stable, and thus provide a firm basis for settlement anew. The dislocation to be faced by industry alone will be tremendous, as factories are submerged, and capital needs to be found for new factories. This does not factor in the disruption to be caused by the source of much of the water making sea levels rise, the melting polar icecaps.

One of the immediate consequences of all this is that the crisis is not one that can be tackled by one country, but requires the efforts of all mankind. That is implicit in the holding of a UN Conference. One issue is that every nation brings to it its own national interests. This is perhaps best illustrated by the sideline summiteering by the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan, who focus on the Kashmir dispute, not because of its importance to both countries’ environmental issues, but for the political reasons that have made it a bone of contention since 1948.

Pakistan must recognize that this is not a conference like others, where its diplomacy is to achieve a national advantage that must now seem ephemeral. The creation of a separate Climate Change Ministry must not be treated either as a gesture towards the latest Western buzzword, or a sinecure to park either a loyalist (like Mushahidullah Khan who resigned in disgrace after badmouthing the military) or to accommodate a Musharraf Cabint member (like Zahid Hamid, appointed just in time for the conference). Pakistan’s government must realize that the problem is one that is not only serious but also potentially capable of making all traditional government irrelevant. At the moment, Pakistan is not part of the problem. It must rise above narrow nationalist thinking, and become part of the solution.

 The writer is a veteran journalist and founding member as well as executive editor of The Nation.