Unwittingly heading towards a climate catastrophe in a state of slumber

Living in London, I adopted the rewarding routine of a daily run, a habit I decided to maintain upon my return to Pakistan last year. However, I soon realized that this practice was as harmful as smoking multiple packs of cigarettes a day. Karachi’s roads, much like those in most of Pakistan, are congested with trucks, tankers, SUVs, and other high-emission vehicles emitting harmful carbon monoxide fumes.

For those unfamiliar, carbon monoxide is a colorless and poisonous gas that can cause serious illness and even prove fatal if inhaled. This became evident to me as someone who rarely fell ill but began experiencing weight loss, frequent stomach bugs, and intermittent coughs upon my return.

Of course, this issue extends globally, with the climate crisis rapidly approaching a point of no return. Recent discussions at the COP28 Summit in Dubai reached a critical juncture due to the lack of commitment to phasing out fossil fuels. Although an agreement was eventually reached to “transition away,” climate scientists argued that the deal was insufficient to keep global heating below the 1.5°C Paris limit.

The year 2023 has already witnessed unprecedented flooding, erratic weather patterns, and wildfires worldwide. While there have been positive developments, such as further commitments to the Green Climate Fund and the establishment of a $30 billion private investment fund (Alterra) by the UAE, challenges persist.

The global problem, however, hits countries like Pakistan particularly hard. Pakistan faces increased flooding risks from melting glaciers and ranks as the fifth most climate-vulnerable country. Despite admirable targets outlined in the National Adaptation Plan and NDCs, progress has been slow due to dependence on international financing.

Presently, Pakistan stands at the brink of an unprecedented population and environmental disaster, marked by some of the world’s worst Air Quality Indices (AQIs), coupled with critical water and food insecurity. More than 90% of plastic waste is still improperly disposed of, sewage is discharged untreated into the sea in Karachi, and high-pollution two-stroke engines are rampant.

These issues merely scratch the surface of a looming national climate disaster. Despite this, discussions around climate change in Pakistan have largely revolved around leveraging external factors, such as seeking damages or meeting the requirements of large Western textile buyers.

What is urgently needed is a shift in mindset, towards a private sector-led approach and a collective responsibility for the environment. This impacts our homes, families, the air we breathe, and the marine and wildlife that sustain our ecosystem. This is not a problem confined to the developed world; it is unfolding in our own backyard.

The immediate requirement is to mobilize private capital to steer the shift towards a sustainable, green economy, coupled with policies that penalize social externalities. Successful models from Africa and other regions showcase climate-tech venture funds investing in business models driving greenhouse gas reductions, including electric vehicles, IoT, transport, energy, and food and water security. While the clean tech ecosystem is in its infancy in Pakistan, there are promising companies with globally scalable propositions.

Even oil-exporting nations like Abu Dhabi are transitioning towards sustainable, green economies driven by private investments. The spectrum of measures needed to address Pakistan’s climate emergency includes collaboration on population control, incentivizing green ventures, enhanced enforcement, and fostering a sense of responsibility among citizens.

One of the primary contributors is unchecked population growth, leading to increased food and water scarcity, a rising import bill, and heightened use of plastics and polluting vehicles. The author emphasizes the need for measures to control population growth, harking back to campaigns like ‘Bachay Do Hi Achhay’ (Two Children are Sufficient).

While the climate challenges faced may be influenced by external factors, the solutions lie within our reach. Instead of solely relying on external assistance, Pakistan must take proactive measures. Each individual must contemplate whether they are leaving the planet in a better state for future generations, ultimately determining their true legacy.

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