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Post-Event Report of Guest Lecture on “Impact of Climate Change on Pakistan’s National Security”

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On June 8th, 2017, Syed Abu Ahmad Akif, Secretary, Ministry of Climate Change, Government of Pakistan, Islamabad and Mr. Muhammad Irfan Tariq, Director General (Environment & Climate Change), Ministry of Climate Change, Government of Pakistan, Islamabad jointly delivered a lecture on the topic ‘Impact of Climate Change on Pakistan’s National Security’ to IPRI scholars at IPRI Conference Hall. Speaking on the impact of climate change on Pakistan’s national security, the two speakers in their joint presentation said that according to the International Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) any change in climate over time, whether due to natural variability or as a result of human activity refers to climate change. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) refers to change of climate as a phenomenon that is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity which alters the composition of the global atmosphere and that is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods.

Assessing the climate change situation and its vulnerability, the speakers explained that climate change is linked with the use of natural resources. The living patterns are being determined by the climate around us and when climate changes, the humans keep in place the adaptation mechanisms for survival. The two key terms of ‘climate refugees’ and ‘climate hazards’ cover the security aspect related to climate change. The current patterns of climate change indicate the increased human induced changes and increased number of climate change disasters. It was stated that based on the IPCC fifth assessment report 2014, there is a 0.6 ºC increase in average global temperature during the last century. It is predicted that it would increase by 1.8-4.0 ºC over the 21st century. There are large changes (increase and decrease) in the global temperature and precipitation in different world regions. Similarly, there is a considerable increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme climatic events such as cyclonic storms, floods, droughts and heat waves, etc. The sea level has risen by 0.19 mm and will continue to rise during the 21st century. There is also an increase in the ocean acidification which has affected the global water cycle.

While highlighting Pakistan’s vulnerability to climate change threats, the speakers stated that Pakistan is confronting serious threat of climate change at present. There is an increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events i.e. erratic monsoon rains causing frequent and intense floods, heat waves and droughts etc. The frequency and intensity of weather extremes in Pakistan during the period after 1991 is much higher than the period 1950-1990. Pakistan is in the third pole, i.e. the third largest ice mass after the two poles, but there is a high sea level rise due to melting of glaciers. The sea-level rise (SLR) is threatening the coastal areas and it has been reported that the sea line has moved 80 kilometers inward and resulted in the displacement of people around these coastal areas. The sea-level rise in Pakistan is higher on the average as compared to rest of the world. The ocean acidification will affect the fishery and also deplete the metal sheets of our navy ships in Karachi Harbour twice than in the open sea.

The speakers said that the climate change has adversely affected the water availability in Pakistan. In the World Bank Report 2006, Pakistan was classified as a “water-stressed” country. The increased variability of river flows is due to an increase in the variability of monsoon and winter rains and loss of natural reservoirs in the form of glaciers. The Global Change Impact Studies Centre (GCISC) of Ministry of Climate Change, Pakistan has predicted that the monsoon in Pakistan has shifted 100 kms above north and it will decrease the agricultural productivity. There is an increased demand of irrigation water because of higher evaporation rates at elevated temperatures.

The food insecurity has arisen in Pakistan due to reduced productivity of crops because of heat stress. Increased requirements of irrigation water due to higher evapotranspiration at elevated temperatures, an uncertainty in timely availability of irrigation water caused by changes in river flows due to glacier melting and altered precipitation pattern has affected the crop production. The changes in water availability and the timing of water availability for both hydropower generation and thermal power plant cooling has affected the energy sector in Pakistan. There is reduced thermal power plant efficiency at elevated temperatures. The increased transmission and distribution (T&D) line losses and increased occurrence of blackouts are resulting from line sagging. The higher temperatures increase the electricity demand for space cooling, thereby increasing the peak demand and hence requiring additional generation capacity.

The climate change in Pakistan has an impact on human health as well. As human beings can survive in a narrow belt of temperature, there would be an increase in the heat-related mortality as experienced recently in Karachi. There are also greater chances of outbreak of dengue fever since higher air and water temperatures are favourable to reproduction rates of many types of flies and other vectors of diseases, an increase in infectious diseases like malaria, pneumonia, heat strokes, cholera and dengue etc. is expected in Pakistan. The speakers said that there is an unexpected increase in temperature trends in Pakistan as compared to global temperature trends. The accelerated jumps in the mean temperature trends after 1950s over Pakistan are much higher as compared to the global change, for example, the warming of Pakistan is twice as fast as the global mean change.

Explaining the economic and political impact of climate change in Pakistan, the speakers stated that the environmental degradation costs 6% of GDP i.e. Rs. 365 billion per annum and the government of Pakistan is spending 7% of its GDP on climate related expenditures. The country has suffered heavy losses because of floods owing to climate change. 22.8 % area and 50 % population in Pakistan is at risk due to the impact of climate change. According to the World Bank report, there are US $ 3.86 billion losses annually due to climate change in Pakistan. The German watch has ranked Pakistan among the ten most vulnerable countries consecutively since 2010. The negative impact of climate change is likely to steer public emotions leading to street disturbances which can in some cases be problematic for the government. Indirectly, it has the potential to be a security threat: a terrorism multiplier” triggered by climate refugees and economic deprivation. The climate change can also become a source of cross-border conflict owing to shared water resources coming under extreme stress.

The guest speakers then discussed the impact of climate change on the national security of Pakistan and said that the security implications of climate change need to be examined in the context of pre-existing social, economic and environmental threats, or stresses, which are key factors in the security of individuals, communities and states (General Assembly Report 2009). The climate change is a threat multiplier while the non-climate factors which contribute to security threat are: poverty, governance, presence of mechanisms for conflict management and regional diplomacy. Pakistan needs to shift focus from a narrow to a broader security perspective. The climate change has an impact on economic security, food security, health security, environmental security, personal security, community security, and political security. The main elements of threat in Pakistan due to climate change include: resources scarcity e.g. water, food, energy, lack of opportunities e.g. economic, basic needs, etc. and disasters e.g. floods, droughts, cyclones, health and climate change, migration driven by climate change due to lack of livelihood opportunities and the climate impact on human and military security. The human security encompasses social, economic, natural resources and environment, while military security comprises of direct threat to military infrastructure, preparedness, and operations. The military security can alter the international borders.

Referring to the climate change initiatives by the government of Pakistan, the speakers told that the GCISC, the research arm of Ministry of Climate Change, Pakistan has been established since 2003. There is a Prime Minister’s Committee on Climate Change established in 2006 and Planning Commission’s Task Force on Climate Change established in 2008. There is a National Climate Change Policy 2012 also and Pakistan is among the pioneer countries which have the climate change policy. Pakistan’s climate change policy is comprehensive in nature as it includes both mitigation an adaptation sectors. There is also a framework for implementation and operationalization of National Climate Change Policy. The government has also introduced Climate Change and Cities Initiative and conducted Vulnerability Study of Islamabad. Pakistan Climate Change Act has also been passed by the Parliament.

In the end, the speakers said that at international level, under the obligations of United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Pakistan is working with national communications and UNFCCC Climate Technology Centre. Pakistan has almost finalized the technology, which it should acquire to address the impact of climate change. To deal with the threat of climate change in Pakistan, the government is engaged both at domestic and international levels.

Pakistan is confronted with a serious climate change threat at present. There is also a need for mainstreaming the climate change and its impact in Pakistan. Pakistan needs to work at domestic and community levels to create climate change awareness. There is also a need for social behavior modification regarding climate change. The climate change should be an integral part of Pakistan’s national policy. The government should invest in mitigation and adaptation as it can avert big losses in future.

Disclaimer: Views expressed are of the speakers and are not necessarily reflective of IPRI policy.

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IPRI is one of the oldest non-partisan think-tanks on all facets of National Security including international relations & law, strategic studies, governance & public policy and economic security in Pakistan. Established in 1999, IPRI is affiliated with the National Security Division (NSD), Government of Pakistan.


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