While our prime minister is intent on switching over to coal, one of the dirtiest fossil fuels in the world, by converting the country’s oil plants to coal power, in the US and China (both considered the top polluters in the world when it comes to carbon dioxide emissions) something interesting is happening. Last month, both the US and China announced serious new plans to curb their pollution levels — it seems that the momentum is indeed building ahead of next year’s critical Paris climate summit where a global deal curbing carbon emissions is to be signed.
The UN’s scientific body on climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in its latest report has put considerable emphasis on the need for investing in more renewable energy, including solar, wind and hydropower. According to one of our top national climate change experts, Dr Qamaruzzaman Chaudhry (who wrote Pakistan’s National Climate Change Policy which is currently placed on a shelf), “The (IPCC) report has rightly highlighted the importance of moving away from coal-based power generation… surely the indications are that the time may not be far when the countries not following the green energy path would be penalised, as with a carbon tax on exports, etc.” He advises that the government of Pakistan should “be cautious when considering any lock-in in coal power generation technology for next 25-30 years” and to go for a “mix of power sources with increased reliance on hydro/renewable and less on fossil fuel, particularly on coal.”
We might not heed his advice, but it seems that the rest of the world is now paying serious attention to what the UN is saying. There are three crucial points to remember about climate change as it was explained to me at the UN summit held in Copenhagen in 2009: “It is happening way faster than scientists expected 10 or even five years ago; the decisions we do — or don’t — take in the next few years could have effects far into the future, for example on the prospects for the world’s ice sheets remaining intact; and climate change can feed on itself, as when a feedback process melts, ice and snow and makes warming happen even faster.”
Scientists have warned us to look out for ‘tipping points’ which are feedback loops, where climate change feeds back on itself and causes rapidly accelerating, catastrophic consequences. Last month, we reached a tipping point in Antarctica. Scientists say they have collected enough observations to conclude that the retreat of ice in the Amundsen Sea sector of West Antarctica is unstoppable. This will lead to major consequences and might cause the sea levels will rise one metre worldwide. What’s more, its disappearance will likely trigger the collapse of the rest of the West Antarctic ice sheet, which comes with a sea level rise of between three and five metres in the next two centuries that could displace millions of people. The scientists say there “is no red button to stop this process. Slowing down climate warming remains a good idea, however, the Antarctic system will, at least, take longer to get to this point”. In Paris next year, the world will come together for an agreement to embark on a greener and cleaner future. Pakistan should do its homework for Paris and someone needs to brief the prime minister about it.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 2nd, 2014.