Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Future Food Crisis

Pakistan is an agricultural country where the majority of the population depends upon farming for a livelihood. The agricultural sector accounts for 24 percent of our GDP. 27 percent of our land is under cultivation out of which 80 percent is irrigated. However, lack of sustainable development in the agricultural sector will never make us self sufficient in food production to meet the needs of our rapidly increasing population. We often say, it’s all because of poor policy implementation and lack of proper planning. To some extent this is true, however the way our world eco-system is changing and affecting different regions, including South Asia, is another reason that is increasing our problems manifolds. One of the challenges our country will face in the coming two to three decades will be a severe food crisis.

Food production majorly depends upon availability of water and a suitable environment. According to a study by the Water and Power Development Authority, water resources in the country have declined alarmingly as our population continues to increase in past decade. We must recall the severe drought in 1999-2000, which significantly changed the underground water table. UNDP, in one of its findings say that fresh water availability per person in Pakistan has declined to 20 percent of what of what was available 50 years before.

We have one of the best irrigation systems in Pakistan, connecting five rivers with a well-distributed canal system that irrigates our agricultural lands. However, with the passage of time our rivers have started drying up. Pakistan receives about 59 percent of rainwater from the monsoon season. However, changes in the earth’s ecosystem due to global warming are shifting the monsoon season from this region. We can now clearly observe that rain in Pakistan is not on time.

Crop production, according to the metrological department, have increased in recent years, however in the long term, production will go down as water shortage will ultimately affect food production. We have already observed that massive floods during the past two years destroyed crops over millions of acres of land. Water shortage in the long term, together with heavy downpours and massive flooding that may occur in the coming years will continue to destroy our food production capacity.

Further scientific evidence proves that changes in the earth ecosystem will trigger heavy downpours and long term drought simultaneously. This will pose challenges to our food production. According to the earth hydrological cycle, evaporation causes rain which causes water to go back into the sea, and the cycle continues. Due to global environmental pollution, mainly the burning of fossil fuels, the average temperature of the ocean is also increasing. As the temperature increases, the oceans evaporate more moisture into the sky. Science proves that warmer air can hold a lot of more water vapor, and with each additional degree of temperature, the capacity of the atmosphere to hold water vapor increases by 7 percent. During the last 30 years, water vapors over the oceans have already increased by 4 percent. That’s why rainstorms are now getting bigger, more intense and causing floods.

As the global temperature continues to increase, the earth water cycle gets intensified and there become longer intervals in drought stricken areas between downpours. Water evaporates from the soil more rapidly and makes droughts deeper.

Scientists believe that the two massive floods of Pakistan correlate with the impacts of global warming. Similarly, future trends of water shortage and increasing droughts in many regions, including South Asia will further impact our food production leading to an additional price hike.
Recent studies from UNICEF should alarm our government where people in Sindh are suffering from high malnutrition that is beyond the emergency level and in an even worst situation from many areas in Africa. If our government does not take appropriate adaptation measures and treat this crisis as an emergency, we will be on our way to severe food shortage all over Pakistan.

The blog was originally published in The News International.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Political landscape of the UN Climate talks in Durban and our future

This blog was originally featured on Express Pakistan.

Durban talks are heating up as the UN conference on Climate Change get closure to its conclusion. Ministers are already in the conference and taking over the negotiations to review different proposals on how to tackle climate crisis. Different groups are trying to convince Conference of Parties, keeping in view both the climate and economic crisis. However, due to clear differences in political opinions of certain countries like America, European Union, China and India, a new agreement to replace Kyoto protocol, which will expire next year, seems unlikely.

Kyoto protocol (2008-12) is the only binding agreement in place that set targets for 37 industrial countries and European community to reduce greenhouse gases from the use of industries and burning of fossil fuel. However, America never signed this protocol and always opposed such proposals which do not bind emerging economies like China, Brazil and India on emission reduction. China and India, on the other tells different story and justify their opinion that they have no history of polluting the world environment and cannot be bound equally with America or Europe. China has recently become the biggest carbon emitter in the world. However countries like China, Brazil and India strongly disagree with America and even argue that they should not be asked to enter into such binding agreement until year 2020. They hold industrial countries being responsible for changing the world climate due their long history of carbon pollution.

China, Brazil and India claim that their emerging economies are still standing at early stages to support millions of poor families. America, however think differently than China that global carbon emission has now no boundaries and that emerging economies are now also significantly contributing in global carbon emission. The fights continue with the argument of China as it presents quite responsive environment friendly policy that practically promotes growth of renewable energies in the country.

This lack of climate consensus not only prevails between countries like America and China but also among China, G77 and the Least Developed Countries (LDCs), mostly from Africa. LDCs consider their position an extremely vulnerable and totally reject the claims of countries like America and China during the Durban talks. According to LDCs, delay in climate action and reach binding agreement will put those vulnerable countries in worst situation. Such group proposes that delay in agreement till 2020 will make climate change irreversible as supported by climate science. In fact, LDCs advocate that average global temperature should not exceed 1.5 degree C, rather than 2 degree C which America, China, South Africa and India agreed during their so-called Copenhagen accord in 2009.

Agreement on Green Climate Fund (GCF) is another important agenda in the Durban conference. During the 2009 Copenhagen conference, member countries agreed to establish GCF fund with the starting amount of $3 billion per year from 2012 and raise it up to $100 billion per year by 2020. This proposed fund will support poor, developing countries to build their resilience and adapt to climate change. However, GCF is still not functionalized. Pakistan during the Durban conference is actively advocating for the establishment of GCF and its distribution mechanism for poor countries. The LDCs are also demanding that rich countries should not drag money from the already pledged development funds in order to mobilize resources for GCF.

Despite all these different political arguments in Durban talks, science is however, very clear in explaining the consequences of changing climate if world leadership delays binding agreements on climate change. We are already witnessing disasters likes flooding in Pakistan and Australia, heat wave in Russia, cyclones in Philippine and severe drought in China. International Energy Agency (IEA) even warns a week ahead of Durban conference that if the world does not control global carbon emission, impacts of climate change will become irreversible in coming five years. The consequences will be more frequent and disastrous weather extremes, diseases and deaths. In fact science should drive the UN Climate Change conference, rather than the politics. We are accountable to our future generation who will ask us what we did with our planet and what we left for them.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The UN Conference on Climate Change in Durban

This article was originally published on The News International and

The United Nations Climate Change Conference that commenced day before yesterday in Durban, South Africa is scheduled to continue on till December 9, 2011. The conference holds much importance, seeing as a number of countries, including Pakistan, have recently faced extreme weather conditions which have disrupted the lives of millions of people across the globe. Pakistan has been victim to two recent climate catastrophes: the massive floods of 2010 and 2011 that impacted about 25 million people. Although weather related disasters have significantly increased in different parts of the world, it is unfortunate to note that the Durban conference is unlikely to reach any binding agreement due to the absence of strong political will. This situation is particularly alarming for the countries that are at the mercy of climate change. Many countries, including Pakistan, simply can’t afford any further delay in reaching a binding agreement amongst nations of the world to stop global warming.

Science is very clear in explaining the impact and cost that we will bear if world politics does not take concrete action to fight global warming. Ignoring the burning of fossil fuels, allowing industrial pollution and leaving deforestation unchecked is making the world a dangerous place to live in. We are already witnessing floods, rising sea levels, droughts and diseases due to global warming. The role of developing countries thus, becomes very vital during the two week negotiations taking place in Durban. Furthermore, it is very important that Pakistan also supports the new slogan emerging from pro-environment groups that: science, rather than politics should lead the conference.

We have observed during past UN conferences (such as those in Copenhagen and Cancun) that both the developed and developing nations failed to reach binding agreements. These conferences have always remained under the political influence of a few powerful nations that refuse to recognize the vulnerabilities of poor countries as a result of climate change. Representatives from developing nations can really make a difference in these negotiations. Recall the historic words from the representative of Tuvalu (the fourth smallest country in the world), who very boldly rejected the Copenhagen non-binding agreement. Representatives such as these give other developing nations the courage to stand up for themselves.

Following suit, Pakistan should play a stronger role in influencing the conference by demonstrating the same courageous attitude which Tuvalu showed during the Copenhagen conference in 2009. Pakistan has to take many steps on its part and to be honest we are not fully prepared, as we lack measures at a core national level. The truth is we have to go beyond the measure of just passing our recent National Climate Change Policy by the cabinet. We need not only participate in such conferences, but also need to make climate change our key priority and take practical steps to prove it.