As Pakistan drowns, better climate planning needed to reduce risk

Punjab Emergency Services Department/Facebook

LONDON – A third of Pakistan is under water, with at least 1,100 dead – including 380 children – but monsoon rains “on steroids”, likely fueled by climate change, are not the only cause of the misery of the country.

As with many of the world’s increasingly common disasters, issues related to lack of investment in warning systems for building homes in hazardous areas and lack of political will to reduce the use Fossil fuels are key factors, analysts said.

“Disasters are not natural. We contribute to it through our actions and our inactions,” said Zita Sebesvari, who leads work on environmental vulnerability at the United Nations University (UNU) in Germany.

The good news – as the increasing use of fossil fuels leads to stronger floods, heat waves, droughts and wildfires in almost all parts of the world – is that “there is much to do reduce the impacts of a disaster,” she said. .

The UNU on Wednesday published a study suggesting that measures ranging from better nature protection to reducing inequalities, strengthening early warning systems, reducing overconsumption and improving planning for growing risks could have huge benefits.

A wide range of scientific and economic studies now claim that the increased losses caused by climate change will soon far exceed the costs of building resilience and reducing emissions to curb disasters, Ms Zita said.

In Pakistan alone, losses from the current floods have been estimated at $10 billion, a figure the government expects to rise with more rain in the forecast.

“The financial arguments are on the table. The scientific case is also on the table” to act now to reduce the risk, Ms Zita told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Johan Rockström, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, warned that “pretending business as usual (will) eventually end the status quo”.

Apart from endless monsoon rains this summer, dramatic heat waves in April and May were a major contributor to Pakistan’s drowning, scientists say.

Heat waves – which were 30 times more likely to occur due to climate change, scientists from the Global Weather Allocation group found – accelerated melting of the country’s vast mountain glaciers, leaving waterways fuller than normal.

When months of heavy monsoon rains then poured over streams and rivers already swollen with large volumes of water, flooding was the inevitable result, they said.

Analysts said the government’s lack of consistent efforts to strengthen preparedness and reduce risk also contributed to the losses.

After heavy floods between 2010 and 2012 drowned large parts of the country, the Pakistani government promised new glacier melting monitoring systems and flood early warning systems to help avert such disasters. in the future.

But while some early warning systems have saved lives this month, Pakistan has seen five changes of government since 2010 and not all plans have been implemented, the debt-ridden nation’s limited cash flow not being systematically prioritized for such efforts.

Globally, spending to reduce climate risk is rarely a top priority for countries, analysts say.

“We’ve seen with the COVID-19 pandemic that we can unlock quite remarkable amounts of money if (an issue) is prioritized,” Ms Zita said, pointing out that this hasn’t happened with climate change for most.

“I wonder if the losses that we are suffering and seeing now will push us to do this,” she added.

International finance to help at-risk countries like Pakistan build resilience to climate threats and embrace clean energy has also largely failed to emerge.

The United States has said it will provide $30 million to support Pakistan, and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres this week appealed for $160 million in aid.

“The people of Pakistan are facing a monsoon on steroids – the relentless impact of historic levels of rain and flooding,” he said in a video address.

But as disasters – many of which are at least partially caused by climate change – multiply globally, aid groups are increasingly failing to mobilize the necessary resources, with gaping deficits growing.

In addition, the $100 billion a year by 2020 pledged by the rich countries responsible for most of the emissions that cause climate change to help the poorest countries deal with climate change is still undelivered. , despite promises that it will happen soon.

Efforts to create a global fund to help poorer countries cope with growing ‘loss and damage’ from climate-related disasters have also failed – although Pakistan is likely to help bring this to the fore in the UN climate talks in Egypt in November.

“The cost of long-term recovery for a cash-strapped country like Pakistan will be enormous,” said Teresa Anderson, climate justice manager at charity ActionAid International.

“The floods in Pakistan clearly demonstrate why the UN climate talks must urgently agree on a new funding mechanism,” she said in a statement, noting that “there is more than time for the rich, industrialized countries that have done the most to heat the planet to step up”.

Rockström of the Potsdam Institute agreed that “there will probably be drama” at the upcoming UN summit in Sharm el-Sheikh after such dramatic losses and damage in Pakistan.

One way to make money to further reduce risk is to make sure the money spent looks at more than one threat at a time, the UNU report notes.

The university examined 10 disasters in 2021-22, from floods in Lagos to an unexpected heat wave in British Columbia and food shortages in Madagascar, and found that common issues such as the destruction of nature, inequalities economics and poor planning have contributed to many of them.

In Madagascar, for example, deforestation has contributed to erosion, sandstorms and worsening drought, suggesting that efforts to protect forests could also reduce risks to food security and inequality. , said Ms Zita, lead author of the report.

Worsening global inequalities, biodiversity loss and climate change all require special attention, but “if we try to solve them individually, we will fail”, she predicted.

Likewise, countries saving money by limiting their options – from European countries overly dependent on Russian gas to Tonga, which lost its only undersea communications cable to an undersea volcanic eruption in January – might need to invest in more diversity to build real resilience, Ms Zita noted.

“If you put your money into a solution – like Germany on Russian gas – it’s pretty cheap as long as it’s actually available,” she said. “Diversifying your basket… it’s sometimes more expensive at first but it can pay off.” — Thomson Reuters Foundation