The heat turns up on Pakistan’s climate crisis

The heat turns up on Pakistan’s climate crisis

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Pakistan is experiencing a particularly harsh summer – one of the worst in living memory – with forecasts for a heatwave that will be nearly ten degrees above average for the remainder of May and possibly into June. This coupled with surging demand for electricity and increasing power outages means that tens of millions are severely impacted, raising the spectre of a humanitarian crisis.

Pakistan is not alone in this. The region comprising the sub-continental states of Pakistan and India are facing some of their worst environmental conditions in recent decades. From drought to floods, hundreds of millions are affected. Now the region, including Pakistan is in the middle of a debilitating heatwave that is breaking records. A few weeks ago, Pakistan recorded its warmest March in 60 years. On May 1, mercury shot up to 49.6 degrees centigrade, the highest temperature on the planet so far in 2022!

This is about to get worse from this week onwards, according to official weather warnings. Millions of people, including those trapped in the ten cities in Pakistan with a population of over one million (including two over 10 million and three over five million people) are affected.

While primarily an environmental issue grounded in the global climate crisis, this is also a governance issue. Pakistan has seen rising demand and falling supply of power flowing into homes and factories due to the financial crisis. The circular debt – unpaid bills across the entire power production and supply chain has climbed to nearly Rs2.5 trillion, which is double the national development budget and one-third of total tax collected.

The impact is debilitating. While reduced power supply is threatening economic growth, more importantly, it is threatening to undo a painstakingly built energy grid that has the capacity to meet all of Pakistan’s power needs but due to non-payments (hence circular debt), the independent power producers (IPPs) are forced to under-generate.

This is also a growing irritant in Pakistan’s ties with China as its IPPs are left frustrated by their reduced capacity to recoup their heavy investments in power plants due to non-payment. Islamabad will have to pay up arrears to the Chinese IPPs soon to prevent them carrying out their threats to shut the plants altogether and thereby exacerbating what is already an energy nightmare.

While primarily an environmental issue grounded in the global climate crisis, this is also a governance issue.

Adnan Rehmat

Beyond the power blues and issuing warnings of the heatwave, authorities seem unprepared – there is almost no word on state resources mobilized to minimize harm for Pakistan’s millions of daily wage earners braving dwindling work caused by a sizzling summer. Even the still-young summer in parched Cholistan desert straddling northern Sindh and southern Punjab regions is causing massive suffering – thousands of livestock have died of thirst and finding potable water for humans is a challenge.

An ongoing political crisis caused by a thorny transition in power means the state is distracted from attending to the climate challenge and growing humanitarian disaster. With media also preoccupied with hard politics, the irony is that most citizens impacted may not even be aware of a new landmark report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicting what they are already facing: “intensity and frequency of hot extremes, such as warm days, warm nights, and heatwaves; and decreases in the intensity and frequency of cold extremes, such as cold days and cold nights across Asia…. But things will be worse in South Asia [including Pakistan] where “more intense heatwaves of longer durations and occurring at a higher frequency are projected”.

As always, Pakistan is reaping the whirlwind of decades of self-indulgent, short-sighted policies – and mostly inaction. Being one of the worst ten countries on the planet affected by the global climate crisis, Pakistan must place climate crisis management at the centre of its political, development and governance agenda because its affects everyone.

How? This must begin with a national plan – a good start would be to merge its currently separate climate and disaster preparedness and mitigation ministries, policies and resources. While policies can flow from the federal level, resources and implementation must be at the provincial and district levels to inject efficiency and relevancy to mitigation efforts. Renewable energy sources must take priority over power generated through imported expensive fuel.

Climate must become one of the top three priority agendas of the Council of Common Interests, a federal focal body that deals with inter-provincial coordination on devolved policies, powers and resources. After all, what could be a greater common interest than mitigating climate-induced humanitarian disasters and preventing them becoming routine?

– Adnan Rehmat is a Pakistan-based journalist, researcher and analyst with interests in politics, media, development and science.

Twitter: @adnanrehmat1

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view