Terms such as ‘the environment’ and ‘climate change’ are used interchangeably in development parlance and policy discourses in Pakistan. However, both terms denote entirely different concepts, not only as subject matters of scientific inquiry but also in terms of their implications as development challenges and as components of social policy.
Climate change is about anthropogenic or human-induced changes to the temperature of the earth’s surface that impacts the environment and people’s livelihood, food security and their quality of life.
These human-induced changes to the surface temperature of the earth occur due to the emission of greenhouse gases – particularly carbon dioxide – into the atmosphere beyond the permissible level. This entails a long-term pattern or manifestation of weather and other atmospheric conditions during a period that is long enough to ascertain valid representative values of statistical significance – usually 30 years. Natural cycles of warming and cooling effects which occur in geological times are not under within the purview of the climate change debate.
According to the UN World Meteorological Organization, the hottest temperatures have been recorded for the past 14 out of 15 years since 2000. Nearly 50 years from now, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will reach double its pre-industrial prevalence.
Sceptics of the climate change debate also provide a counter-narrative to refute the issue and declare it a myth. Some of the leading policymakers have denied accepting that the problem even exists in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change held in Paris this year. The convention was aimed at reaching a new consensus to reduce carbon emissions. But it could not achieve its objective as perceptions on the impacts of climate change remained polarised between the proponents and sceptics. In the span of more than 20 years of holding talks on the issue, world leaders have not been able to devise a workable/enforceable international treaty to tackle climate change.
In recent years, scientific inquiries into climate change have been more about establishing the veracity of the issue rather than considering the impact of climate change per se. The contested nature of climate change creates a leeway for policymakers and politicians to ideologise the discussion. This is what happened during the Paris negotiations on the matter this year.
Climate change enthusiasts argue that 97 percent of scientific research on the subject points towards the inherent risks and dangers that could arise if we do not take measures to reduce carbon emissions immediately. As per a survey, climate change denial was at its highest in 2014. According to this survey, 23 percent of Americans said that they did not believe in global warming and 53 percent said that global warming, if it existed, was a natural cycle and not a human-induced phenomenon.
There is a disconnect between scientific research and public debate on climate change that, in turn, influences policymaking. Most of the world’s high-ranking universities churn out huge volumes of research papers on climate change. But these research findings neither translate into public policy nor do they form the basis for action on climate change.
For instance, from a climate change research perspective, the Himalayas are considered to be as the most important mountain system that can regulate the global climate. Since it is the most climate-sensitive region, its impact on biodiversity, food security, livelihood and the overall ecosystem of millions of people and animal species is also significantly high. Climate change in the Himalayas is likely to have implications on food production, agriculture, livestock and the overall quality of life in the mountainous communities.
Climate change has caused irreversible damage to pastures, forests and hydrological resources, including the drying up of natural springs. With the small per capita of landholdings, the communities living in mountains rely on climate-sensitive pastoral resources for their livelihood, which has been adversely impacted by long spells of climate extremities and deforestation. In addition to timber trade, the forest is being converted into agricultural land to meet the increased demand for food and simultaneously respond to commercial intent.
A climate change policy framework should be devised with contextual knowledge and applicability. It must be a blend of cutting-edge technical knowledge and local wisdom. Indigenous perceptions and understandings of climate change can be crucial elements in developing adaptation and mitigation strategies. The knowledge of farming communities in rangeland management and the sustainable use of natural resources and climate-resilient farming are some of the most important factors for an informed and workable climate change policy framework. This was echoed in a workshop held in Bhutan in 2014 where indigenous mountain communities from nine countries formed the International Network of Mountain Communities.
Mountains provide 40 percent of global goods and services in the form of water, hydroelectricity, timber, biodiversity, niche products, mineral resources, recreation and flood control. However, 51 percent of the almost 842 million people worldwide who face chronic hunger are accounted for by six Hindu Kush Himalayan (HKH) countries – Bangladesh, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal and Pakistan. Moreover, recent studies have revealed that the severity of food insecurity in the mountain areas of HKH countries is significantly higher than in plain areas.
Mountains occupy more than one-fifth of the earth’s landmass and are home to approximately 12 percent of the world’s population, with 50 percent of them in the Asia-Pacific region. The nature, causes and factors that influence food and livelihood security in the mountain ecosystem are conspicuously different to those in the plains. In recent times, rapid seriocomic, environmental and infrastructural changes coupled with topographical complexity have aggravated the problems of food security in the Hindu Kush, Himalayas and Karakoram regions. These areas have become vulnerable to increased food insecurity, environmental degradation, natural disasters and social fragmentation.
Pakistan has not been able to devise a context-specific policy framework and institutional mechanism to address these impending challenges to biodiversity, culture and the economy of the mountain people. These areas, with all their vulnerabilities and environmental sensitivities, have great potential for the diversification of climate-friendly livelihood opportunities. The economic potential of niche products – such as apricots, cherries, potatoes, mulberries, apples and dry fruits – can bring good fortune and contribute to improved food security. This economic potential has remained underutilised as 35 percent of the produce on average is wasted before it reaches the market.
Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral will be the most adversely affected areas of the country owing to the construction of CPEC infrastructure that is likely to increase carbon emissions and produce frequent cycles of climate extremities. The Himalayan anomaly of increasing the ice deposits of cooling traps may become the new normal. This is likely to have visible impacts on agriculture, food security and the livelihood of the people.
According to the assessments of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), 200 million more people are likely to face hunger if concrete measures are not taken to develop indigenous and creative adaptation strategies. A majority of these people will be from the disaster-prone mountainous and coastal areas of the world.
Inadequate and inefficient land use makes GB an under-exploited area in terms of food and agriculture. According to a joint report issued by the government of Pakistan and the IUCN report, less than 10 percent of the total cultivable land in GB was used for fruit production and nine percent for vegetable cultivation in 2011-12. Since then, no sizeable increase has been noticed.
The summary of the Annual Development Programme issued by the GB government has unearthed appalling details. According to the summary, a paltry share of 4.9 percent of the annual budget has been allocated for agriculture, animal husbandry and fisheries department.
If we are committed to poverty alleviation in the mountainous regions, we must work on an integrated development programme that includes investment in agriculture, climate change adaptation, technology and the capacity-building of policymaking bodies. There is a strong nexus between climate change and poverty. As a result, an integrated policy framework and the allocation of adequate resource is needed to operationalise it.
The writer is a freelance columnist based in Islamabad.
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