We can see the future now in Pakistan... we have to react

Where are all the climate leaders? We need a hero, so says Kathriona Devereux, writing in light of the monsoon floods in Pakistan
We can see the future now in Pakistan... we have to react

MISERY: Displaced people with belongings salvaged from their home in flood-hit Sohbat Pur city in Jaffarabad, Pakistan

THERE are 230 million people living in Pakistan and about 1 in 7 of the population, 33 million, have been affected by the recent catastrophic monsoon floods.

It’s hard to wrap our heads around the level of destruction and disruption the inundated country is experiencing. 

If 1 in 7 people in Ireland were displaced by flooding, we would be searching for shelter for about 700,000 people.

The Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said: “The magnitude of the calamity is bigger than estimated”, after visiting flooded regions, and called for international assistance to tackle his country’s national emergency.

The amount of crops destroyed, livestock killed, homes and buildings washed away, bridges and dams damaged is unfathomable. The death toll is likely to rise as disease spreads. The impoverished country faces an enormous task to save and rebuild lives and communities.

Pakistan is familiar with flooding, but this extreme weather is being called a climate catastrophe and comes just months after a record- breaking and deadly heatwave in March and April.

Climate scientists concluded that the probability of an event such as the extreme heatwaves endured by Pakistan and India in early spring has increased by a factor of about 30 because of climate change.

The weather attribution scientists will most likely release similar findings in a few weeks’ time when they have analysed the data of these monsoon rains.

In a way, it seems mad that there is still the need for scientists to say ‘Yes, climate change made that horrendous freak weather event more likely’, when the world weather system is so clearly out of kilter. You don’t really need a supercomputer to crunch the numbers to appreciate that one ;unprecedented; weather event after another around the world is an indication that climate change is not a future possibility but a present reality.

It’s ironic that part of the reason for shoving our heads in the sand for decades denying or ignoring the coming consequences of rising carbon emissions is because we couldn’t imagine the future that climate scientists were warning us about.

A future of extreme weather events, floods, heatwaves and droughts was just incomprehensible.

Now those ‘future’ consequences are facing us square in the face, and we are still struggling to comprehend them because the scale of devastation is so inconceivable.

However, Summer 2022 has been a constant news feed of those heatwaves, wildfires, drought, and floods that were warned about, and the rising death tolls from human-induced climate change is impossible to ignore.

“We’re at ground zero of a climate dystopia,” said Sherry Rehman, the Pakistan Minister of Climate Change, on Channel 4 news. “This is the new normal we will have to adapt ourselves.”

The sad fact is that Pakistan’s people are the least responsible for the carbon emissions in our atmosphere that are heating our planet. It has been responsible for about five billion tonnes of CO? emissions since the start of the industrial age in comparison to the United Kingdom’s 70 billion and the United States’ 400 billion tonnes.

Per capita, a Pakistani person emits less than a tonne of carbon per year, in Ireland we emit 12 tonnes per capita.

So, the people least guilty of emissions and least equipped to deal with the devastation wrought are the very people on the frontline of climate catastrophes like the Pakistani heatwave and floods or the drought at the Horn of Africa facing its fifth failed rainy season.

Sending thoughts and prayers and pledges of international aid are fine, but what happens next year or the year after, as these extreme weather events become the norm?

As the Pakistani Minister Rehman said, hoping for a better season next year is not the way to plan for what climate change is bringing.

Real global climate leadership is so desperately needed, but countries around the world are worried about other, more domestic, issues - inflation, energy crisis, and in Ireland, the intractable housing crisis. Those are all real and important issues, but so is climate action.

Where are all the climate leaders? We need a hero.

And that’s part of the problem, wishing that a Bruce Willis-esque character will arrive to save the day as per the usual disaster movie narrative is not helpful. If only the solution to the climate crisis was as easy as blowing up a fast-approaching comet.

Unfortunately, there is no one silver bullet for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and the current political, economic and social systems seem incapable of taking the urgent action needed to halt warming and avert more climate catastrophes.

As individuals, we can do our bit, but what we really need is immediate government action, with recognition of the scale of the job and commitment to tackle it.

Breaking up with fossil fuels is the job of the decade, of the century, and recent stories that budgets for active travel measures have gone unspent is deeply depressing.

We can’t even get it together to build the infrastructure needed with the money that has been allocated.

Maybe it’s time for a Minister of Climate Action to drive the change needed and push local authorities and other government departments and agencies to drive (pardon the pun) the large-scale transition required.

I know we have Eamon Ryan as the Minister for Environment, Climate and Communications and Transport, but that is a broad brief and perhaps a role dedicated and responsible for climate action alone would help focus minds on the task of our lifetimes.

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