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Before the Flood

Time to Tackle Climate Change

Article by: Eric Shahzar

Former US President George H.W. Bush once famously said his administration would curb the Greenhouse effect through the power of the White House effect. It is fascinating to read this quote from the late 1980s – when very few actually believed in climate change.

More recently, with everyone talking about the perils of accelerated climate change, President Donald Trump had rejected it – by calling it a hoax and a money-making indus- try. It is disturbing how the narratives change at the world stage.

However, today, with Joe Biden due for their inauguration as the new President of the United States, the global climate change narrative is sure to revive. Biden promised to re-join the historic Paris Climate Agreement of 2015 which President Trump had opted out of. Biden’s plan to tackle accelerated climate change has been labeled as the most ambitious of any former US president.

Climate scientist have long argued that human activities are unquestionably the main source of climate change. Today, rising sea levels, intensifying droughts and unprecedented increase in wildfires are all unmistakable indications of accelerated climate change.

In early 1900, burning fossil fuels produced about 2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2). Today, the magnitude of CO2 pollution is nearly 20 times greater. As populations, economies, and standards of living grow, so does the cumulative level of carbon emissions. We live in an era where climate change has reached the tipping point. The future generations will remember our times as the age of climate crisis.

According to a UN report, this year is on course to be one of the three warmest years ever recorded and could even top the record set in 2016. It is indeed astonishing, considering how global emissions had dipped by 17 percent during the lockdown earlier this year.

The global heatwaves are triggering severe droughts and a rapid increase in wildfires. The fires in the Amazonas are one example. Despite the 2015 Paris Accord – where commitments were made to limit average global temperature this century by 2 degrees Celsius – global carbon emissions have gone up – increasing by 2.7 percent in 2018 alone. This clearly – and shockingly – demonstrates how environmental indicators are worsening notwithstanding the global efforts underway to limit global warming. The future trends look even more calamitous.

Recent nationwide events organized by civil society clearly show Pakistan’s willingness to curb the effects of accelerated climate change. Last year, Climate Action March simultaneously took place in more than thirty cities of the country, attracting large audiences. People from all walks of life participated in these powerful demonstrations.

The irrevocable damage caused by climate change is now well-acknowledged by the civil society. The good news is that we are seeing a whopping increase in the number of climate activists. These are constructive developments. On the other hand, the government’s reliance on coal-fired power plants will be detrimental for our already paralysed ecosystem. The authorities have vowed to eliminate Pakistan’s energy crisis by building more coal power plants.

However, dependence on coal will only lead to the rise of carbon emissions.

The romance with coal-fired power plants must therefore end. As a responsible state fighting for global climate security, Pakistan must refrain from coal energy projects. Instead it must initiate country-wide renewable energy programmes, such as solar and wind energy, which are sustainable and profitable at the same time.

Many countries have turned to renewable sources of energy in a bid to restrain global carbon emissions. Take China for example. The country was once regarded as the world leader in emitting carbon into the atmosphere. However, today, China has taken a lead in renewable energy and is now the world’s biggest producer, exporter and installer of solar panels and wind turbines.

Although the Chinese still rely on fossil fuels, they seem to be transitioning to renewables much faster than anyone anticipated. The underlying question however is: can less developed countries make the same transition?

Have we ever wondered how much CO2 is emitted by our own vehicles? A standard passenger car emits about 4.6 metric tons of carbon a year. Traffic flow in major metropolitan areas is on the rise.

The Sindh government, in collaboration with the Sindh Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA), has recently launched a commendable initiative to address this issue. Vehicles that emit smoke and harm our environment will now be fined by the authorities. Moreover, vehicles clearing the test would be given a green sticker. We need this initiative to be followed in the rest of the provinces as well.

We have long had alternatives to fossil fuels but more recently we have actually discovered how to pull carbon out of our deteriorating atmosphere. It gives us a slim hope of reversing climate disruption. The Switzerland-based Climeworks has become the first company to capture CO2 from the atmosphere.

It is estimated that machines can capture around 900 tons of C02 annually. The captured carbon can be used in greenhouses for boosting plant growth. Investing in CO2 removal technology has now become more important than over. We must introduce creative strategies like these for reducing carbon emissions from the atmosphere.

The US re-joining the Paris Accords is a highly welcome prospect for environmentalists around the world. Why is the historic agree- ment crucial for tackling ecological disruption? The target of lowering the global temperature by 1.5 degree Celsius target could prevent island and coastal states vulnerable to sea level rise from sinking. It could ensure millions of people are safe from extreme weather disasters. Moreover, it would reduce chances of an ice-free Arctic in the summer time, something witnessed only this year.

But the Paris Agreement is not enough to tackle accelerated climate change. Today’s world requires a new type of international collaboration where all countries are united in a common framework and are actively involved.

The effects of climate change are undoubtedly global in scope and unprecedented in scale. The world is suffering from severe natural disasters that are becoming progressively more destructive and unpredictable. And all of this is beating scientific projections.

The rise in CO2 will only intensify climate disruption and cause havoc in the globe. South Asia remains one of the most vulnerable regions to climate change. Reversing climate change must be Pakistan’s chief priority.

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