KATOWICE   - “Future generations will ask us one of two questions: why didn’t we act when we had the time or how did we find the moral courage to do the right thing?” said the climate activist and former vice-president of the US, Al Gore, to a packed hall at COP24 in Polish city of Katowice on Wednesday.

His one hour long presentation highlighted the destructive impacts of rising temperatures across the globe, and it included many references to Pakistan which is suffering from heatwaves and floods as a consequence of climate change. He mentioned the town of Turbat in Balochistan which recently set an all time nationwide record of 54 degrees Celsius on May 28, 2017.

In Pakistan “they say summer is coming, let’s start digging the graves before the heatwaves claim their victims” Al Gore said. Those who are the most vulnerable are the poor, the homeless, the elderly and infants/children. He also cited air pollution, caused by the burning of fossil fuels, as another major killer in this region.

The former US president explained that climate change will likely lead to food and water shortages, pandemic diseases, disputes over refugees and resources and destruction by natural disasters in regions across the world. In fact, global warming in large parts of the Middle East and Africa could render some regions inhabitable which will surely contribute to the pressure to migrate. This year the World Economic Forum will designate the climate crisis as the number one risk to the global economy, he said.

He concluded that solutions to the crisis are available in the widespread availability of increasing low cost wind and solar energy and the use of electric vehicles. “We are in the early stages of a sustainable revolution but it is not happening fast enough,” he said.

Under the Paris Agreement the world has to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century but right now these emissions are on the rise. According to the Germanwatch annual report launched at COP24 last week, Pakistan now ranks No 8 globally in terms of its vulnerability to climate change. The Long-Term Climate Risk Index: 10 countries most affected from 1998 to 2017 from climate related disasters listed Pakistan as number 7 last year so there has been a slight improvement in ranking.

According to PM Imran Khan’s Adviser on Climate Change Malik Amin Aslam: “Unfortunately this is not a list that we want to be on”. The report states that Pakistan has suffered 145 disasters with 512 deaths and total losses of $3,826 million over a 20 years period. “We are one of the ‘continuous affectees’ of climate change as over the 20 year period, we are 4th in terms of the number of climate triggered events and 2nd in terms of the total climate losses,” said Aslam.

At a recent side event on climate induced migrations at COP24, Abid Suleri from the Sustainable Development Policy Institute in Islamabad spoke about how 74 percent of labour inputs in Pakistan’s agriculture are contributed by women and with increasing migration of men to cities to find jobs this will place an even greater burden on them. Women will suffer the most from the out-migration of men from rural areas being hit hard by climate change.

Unplanned migration also puts pressure on urban resources, urban poverty and the growth of slums, he said. Migration is always a multi-causal process but will be made worse by climate change. He added: “the local administration capacity should be enhanced to manage population flows”.

Migrant populations would need skills training and jobs. According to experts the world might see 1 billion climate migrants by the end of the century.


Rina Saeed Khan