NEWS COVERAGE PERIOD FROM APRIL 27 TO MAY 3RD
NETWORK FORMED TO PROBE CLIMATE CHANGE, VIOLENCE LINKS
The Newspaper’s Staff Reporter April 29, 2020
KARACHI: A network supported by the UK’s Global Challenges Research Fund (GRCF) will investigate the links between violence and climate change in marginalised city communities in Pakistan.
Led by Prof Nausheen H. Anwar of Karachi Urban Lab at the Institute of Business Administration, the Urban Violence and Climate Change Network is one of the 20 Global Engagement Networks launched recently to tackle challenges in the developing world.
The networks bring together UK researchers with collaborators from across the developing world to share expertise and find solutions.
Prof Anwar will collaborate with UK lead Dr Arabella Fraser of the School of Geography at Nottingham University.
The project is bringing together two research communities — those working on violence reduction and those on adapting to climate change — to understand these links in greater depth, and work with practitioners to find solutions to improve urban environments to be safer and more sustainable.
Prof Anwar’s research looks at the power-laden forms of climate adaptation, planning and sustainability practices and policies in Pakistan, with a focus on dynamics of water security and gender, and the violent logics of urban planning that exacerbate inequality and deepen vulnerability.
‘For ordinary citizens, the new normal is a permanent state of crisis’
“We are living in exceptional times today as we witness the covid-19 pandemic unfold amid the crises of planetary, ecological, and social health. This combined with ongoing austerity measures, suggests that for ordinary citizens, the new normal is a permanent state of crisis. In urban Pakistan, the temporariness of work and housing, decaying infrastructures and exposure to institutional and political violence, have altogether made people’s lives extraordinarily difficult.
“With more and more people on the move and heading for cities in search for a better life, we need to urgently address the question of how to plan inclusive cities and build healthier and happy communities,” said Prof Anwar of the department of social sciences and liberal arts at IBA.
Dr Fraser’s research looks at how to build social resilience to climate change in the most marginalised urban communities. She said: “Climate change and violence are growing development challenges, both in regions that are rapidly urbanising and those that have predominantly urbanised. Both negatively affect lives, livelihoods, health, and productivity. We hope that by exploring innovations to reduce the multiple risks that people are facing (and which will include Covid risks and associated responses), we can support efforts towards safer and more secure cities for the most marginalised.”
The network currently has 15 partners in South America, the Middle East and North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and the UK.
The GCRF award will allow Dr Fraser, Prof Anwar and colleagues to build a network of critical researchers from multiple disciplines, working alongside those involved in day-to-day decisions about how to plan for and support vulnerable urban communities.
The network will create a platform for debate as well as sponsoring new research projects to take off in ways that can inform current-day policy needs.
Published in Dawn, April 29th, 2020
TIME TO DEVELOP RESILIENCE PLAN FOR KARACHI AGAINST RISING SEA LEVEL
F.H. Mughal April 30, 2020
KARACHI: Pakistan has a 1,046-km-long coastline that stretches along the border of the Arabian Sea. The Sindh coastline is about 320km long, and runs along Sir Creek on the east to Hub River on the west. The coastline of Karachi is about 70km long, and is located between Cape Monze and Korangi Creek.
Sea levels are rising at a significant rate because of global warming caused by carbon dioxide and other gases being released into the atmosphere in large quantities. Melting of glaciers, the heating and expansion of oceans and the melting of the Antarctic ice caps are contributing to sea level rise (SLR).
Some studies project sea levels to rise by 60 centimetres, or two feet, by 2050 and 110cm (3.6 feet) by 2100. SLR projection is influenced by subsidence, oceanographic effects and mass balance changes with the ice sheets.
According to Nasa’s climate change website, the global rate of change of sea level is 3.3 millimetres (mm) per year and the sea level increased by 240mm (nearly 10 inches) from about 1870 to 2019.
According to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the global sea level has been rising over the past century, and the rate has increased in recent decades. In 2014, global sea level was 2.6 inches above the 1993 average. Sea level continues to rise at a rate of about one-eighth of an inch per year.
Measures can include building of seawalls, dykes, restoration of mangroves, reefs and wetlands
There are large uncertainties in sea level projections. According to some researchers, the SLR projection for Karachi for 95 percentile, is 2.6 metres (8.5 feet), relatively to the level in 2000, by 2100.
A 2019 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate indicates global SLR of 1.1m (3.6ft) by 2100, after including Greenland and Antarctica ice sheets’ mass loss.
Global sea differs from local sea level. Global sea level trends and relative sea level trends are different measurements. Just as the surface of the Earth is not flat, the surface of the ocean is also not flat — in other words, the sea surface is not changing at the same rate globally. Sea level rise at specific locations may be more or less than the global average due to many local factors: subsidence, upstream flood control, erosion, regional ocean currents, variations in land height, and whether the land is still rebounding from the compressive weight of Ice Age glaciers.
Globally, eight of the world’s 10 largest cities are near a coast. The Global Risk Report 2019 says: “Around 90 per cent of all coastal areas will be affected to varying degrees. Some cities will experience sea-level rises as high as 30 per cent above the global mean. Making matters worse, sprawling cities are sinking at the same time as sea waters seep in. This is due to the sheer weight of growing cities, combined with the groundwater extracted by their residents.”
In Karachi, the average mean sea level rose to 1.1mm per year. The land subsidence rates in the Indus delta is around 4mm per year.
According to a report, the Arabian Sea has intruded up to 67 km, destroying large swathes of agricultural land in Thatta and Badin districts by turning it saline. More than 3.1 million acres of agricultural land has been submerged in Badin, Thatta and Sujawal districts.
Major factors that contribute to SLR are thermal expansion of seawater, caused due to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions — in case of Karachi, coal-fired power plants are main culprits in releasing GHGs — and melting of the ice sheets. Melting of Greenland and Antarctica glaciers will increase the sea level by a whooping seven metrrs (23ft). This will inundate about 50pc area of Karachi.
In Karachi, the Sindh planning and development (P&D) department is responsible for preparing strategies and development plans. Alongside mitigating the carbon footprints through reducing emissions, it should develop a resilience strategy for Karachi. Many cities like Bangkok, Los Angeles, New York, Amman, Melbourne, etc, have prepared resilience strategies.
The resilience strategy represents preparedness, addressing emerging resilience challenges and embedding resilience into a city’s operations and systems. Many cities have already started building on the strategies, and translating the plans into actions.
Karachi can take a number of actions to deal with SLR. These include (a) hard engineering projects like seawalls, surge barriers, dykes, breakwaters, barriers and barrages to protect against water intrusion; (b) adopting environmental approaches, like restoration of mangroves, reefs and wetlands; (c) employing soft structures, like beach and shore strengthening; and (d) people-oriented measures including urban design, building resilience and retreating (migration, displacement and relocation).
One can also learn from what other cities are doing. For example, London has the Thames Barrier, designed in the 1970s for future repeats of the 1953 meteorological storm surge in the North Sea. The Thames Barrier has been closed 184 times since it became operational in 1982. Of these closures, 97 were to protect against tidal flooding and 87 were to protect against combined tidal/fluvial flooding.
Dutch coastal cities have bolstered by hard defences including a 3,700km network of dykes, dams and seawalls, including the famous Maeslant Barrier. Rotterdam offers a model for how to manage sea-level rise. The city is 90pc below sea level. Cities like Rotterdam are converting ponds, garages, parks and plazas into part-time reservoirs. They are also revitalising neighbourhoods and improving equity to build social resilience to future water threats.
China and Vietnam have launched ‘sponge city’ initiative. The sponge city is more like a sponge; it actually absorbs rainwater, which is then naturally filtered by the soil and allowed to reach into the urban aquifers. This allows for the extraction of water from the ground through urban or peri-urban wells. This water can be easily treated and used for the city water supply.
Shanghai has constructed 520km of protective seawalls that stretch across the Hangzhou Bay and encircle the islands of Chongming, Hengsha and Changxing. As in the case of Rotterdam, Shanghai has also installed massive mechanical gates to regulate overflowing rivers.
Bangkok has also laid out a 2,600km canal network and central park with a capacity to drain 4m litres into underground containers.
Jakarta is building a massive sea wall with Dutch support, and is planning to relocate 400,000 people from threatened riverbanks and reservoirs.
American cities are investing billions of dollars to bolster their resistance to rising sea levels. New Orleans established the Hurricane and Storm Damage Risk Reduction System shortly after Hurricane Katrina killed more than 1,600 people in 2005, leaving 80pc of the city underwater. The system includes a series of massive dam barriers, reinforced levees and flood walls stretching some 560km around the city. The city also built a living water system of parks, wetlands and other existing features to reduce reliance on pumping and canals. It is one of the largest public works projects in US history and the most expensive flood-control system in the world. Boston, Houston, Miami, and New York City also have similar plans.
—The writer has a master’s degree in environmental engineering from the Asian Institute of Technology, Bangkok
Published in Dawn, April 30th, 2020
RECORD OZONE HOLE OVER ARCTIC IN MARCH NOW CLOSED: UN
Agencies Updated May 02, 2020
GENEVA: Ozone depletion over the Arctic hit a “record level” in March, the biggest since 2011, but the hole has now closed, the UN World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) said on Friday.
The springtime phenomenon in the northern hemisphere was driven by ozone-depleting substances still in the atmosphere and a very cold winter in the stratosphere, WMO spokeswoman Clare Nullis told a UN briefing in Geneva.
“These two factors combined to give a very high level of depletion which was worse than we saw in 2011. It’s now back to normal again … the ozone hole has closed,” she said.
Nullis, asked whether less pollution during the pandemic had played a role, said: “It was completely unrelated to Covid.”
The UN meteorological agency said depletion of the ozone layer, which protects the Earth from harmful levels of ultraviolet radiation, briefly reached an unprecedented level over large swaths of the Arctic in March.
The World Meteorological Organisation reported that the spike stemmed from the lingering presence of man-made ozone-depleting substances in the atmosphere and very cold temperatures in the stratosphere that prevented ozone from reaching the northern region.
WMO spokeswoman Clare Nullis said conditions were back to normal again in April, describing the temporary depletion as not a cause for exceptional concern.
Nullis credited an international accord known as the Montreal Protocol, which has sharply curtailed production of substances like chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, that harm the ozone layer, for helping to limit the springtime depletion this year.
The World Meteorological Organisation said that sunlight, wind fields, harmful chemicals and temperatures below -80 degrees Celsius (-112 F) drive the formation of ozone holes. Most ozone depletion in the Arctic occurs in the polar vortex, a region of fast-blowing circular winds, it said.
Arctic ozone loss tends to be far less severe than in the Antarctic.
Published in Dawn, May 2nd, 2020
HEAT WAVES TO HIT CITY FROM 5TH TO 8TH
By RECORDER REPORT on May 2, 2020
The Met Office on Friday alerted the citizens to the heat waves spell in the city from May 5 to May 8, 2020, with a daytime maximum temperature rising up to 42 degrees Celsius.
It said that the heat wave spell will also grip the city’s outskirts, as wind direction will be generally northwest or west turning to the southwest in the evening over the period.
The metropolis temperature on Saturday is expected to range up to 37 degrees Celsius and 80 percent humidity. Overall weather is likely to remain hot and humid.
In the next 24 hours, mainly hot and dry weather is expected in most parts
of the country during the daytime.
However, wind with rain-thunderstorm is expected in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Islamabad, upper and southern Punjab, northern Balochistan Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan during evening/night time.
In the past 24 hours, weather remained hot and dry in most parts of the country. Maximum Temperature was recorded in Dadu 47 degrees Celsius, Shaheed Benazirabad, and Jacobabad 46, each.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2020
NEWS COVERAGE PERIOD FROM APRIL 20 TO APRIL 26TH
Editorial Updated April 22, 2020
This year’s theme is ‘climate action’, but unlike in the past, there will be no vibrant scenes of marches in the streets or large public gatherings.
There will be no packed speaking events inside auditoriums and stadiums.
And there will be no schoolchildren holding special events to celebrate the day, since most education institutes have been closed.
Covid-19 has disrupted nearly every aspect of ‘normal’ life, and while most other issues have understandably taken a backseat in the midst of the pandemic, perhaps it is time to question the conditions we had come to accept as ‘normal’ in recent decades, particularly when it came to our attitudes towards the environment.
When confronted with nature’s absolute power, human civilisation suddenly appears so fragile and helpless.
As a reminder, just before the novel coronavirus grabbed all international headlines, Australia was struggling to contain horrific wildfires that ravaged 13.6m acres of land over a period of eight months, only to be finally extinguished last month.
According to an estimate provided by the government, the bushfires may have released up to 830m tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, exceeding the country’s annual greenhouse gas pollution.
In Iceland, mourners held a funeral for the first glacier lost to climate change.
Meanwhile, floods ravaged parts of Somalia, South Africa, Iran, Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Italy, the UK and the US throughout the foregoing year.
Here at home, besides battling heavy monsoon rainfall and flooding, parts of Pakistan and India were enveloped in a blanket of smog, once again reminding us that (like viruses) climate change does not recognise human-created borders and hubris.
And despite producing only a fraction of the total global greenhouse gas emissions, Pakistan sits in an uncomfortable fifth position in the Global Climate Risk Index 2020.
According to the report released by Germanwatch, between 1998 and 2018, nearly 10,000 people died due to extreme weather conditions, while the economy suffered losses of up to $3.8bn.
In recent months, however, something unusual is being witnessed in the world.
With large-scale lockdowns being enforced and much of the global economy coming to a halt, the skies are clearing up and pollution is lower than it has been in years.
But with the virus-related death count rising with each passing day, doctors and hospital staff being overwhelmed with the sheer volume of patients admitted for an illness that we cannot cure and do not even completely understand, mass layoffs and downsizing resulting in people losing their livelihoods, and the possibility of large-scale hunger looming in the distance, there is little reason to celebrate.
However, if greater wisdom prevails, there are lessons to be learnt, which must extend beyond the virus’s lifetime.
Unfortunately, our collective memory is fleeting, and it is not clear whether we will take a different path.
Published in Dawn, April 22nd, 2020
FIGHT CLIMATE CHANGE LIKE CORONAVIRUS: UN
By RECORDER REPORT on April 23, 2020
The world should fight climate change with the same determination it is showing in the battle against the new coronavirus, the United Nations said on Wednesday.
The UN’s World Meteorological Organization said it was time to flatten the curve on climate change as well, with its impact on the planet “reaching a crescendo” in the past five years – the hottest on record.
The trend is expected to continue, the WMO said on Wednesday, as it marked the 50th anniversary of Earth Day – an annual event to demonstrate support for environmental protection.
Carbon dioxide levels at one key global observing station are about 26 percent higher than in 1970, while the average global temperature has increased by 0.86 degrees Celsius in that time, the WMO said.
Temperatures are also 1.1 Celsius warmer than the pre-industrial era, it added.
The agency said the COVID-19 crisis was exacerbating the socioeconomic impacts of climate change – for example, making it harder to keep people safe from tropical cyclones.
However, the WMO’s climate monitoring programme has recorded a reduction in key pollutants and improvements in air quality as a result of the industrial downturn during the pandemic. “We estimate that there is going to be a six percent drop of the carbon emissions this year because of the lack of emissions of transportation and from industrial energy production,” WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said.
But he said the drop would only be temporary and “in the most likely case we will go back to normal next year”, adding that failure to tackle climate change could threaten people’s wellbeing, ecosystems and economies “for centuries” to come.
“We need to flatten both the pandemic and climate change curves,” he said.
“We need to show the same determination and unity against climate change as against COVID-19,” calling for action not only in the short-term “but for many generations ahead”.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2020
NEWS COVERAGE PERIOD FROM APRIL 13TH TO 19TH
GREENLAND’S ICE SHEET SHRINKING FASTER THAN EVER: STUDY
BY AGENCIES, (LAST UPDATED APRIL 16, 2020)
NEW YORK: Last year Greenland’s ice sheet shrank by more than at any time since record-taking began, according to a study published on Wednesday that showed climate change could cause sharp rises in global sea levels.
The huge melt was due not only to warm temperatures, but also atmospheric circulation patterns that have become more frequent due to climate change, suggesting scientists may be underestimating the threat to the ice, the authors found.
“We’re destroying ice in decades that was built over thousands of years,” Marco Tedesco, research professor at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, who led the study, said.
“What we do here has huge implications for everywhere else in the world.”
Greenland’s ice sheet, the world’s second largest, recorded its biggest outright drop in what scientists call “surface mass” since record-keeping began in 1948, according to the study.
Greenland lost around 600 billion tonnes of water last year, an amount that would contribute about 1.5 millimetres of sea level rise, according to the study from Columbia and Belgium’s Liege universities, published in The Cryosphere.
Greenland’s ice sheet covers 80 per cent of the island and could raise global sea levels by up to 23 feet if it melted entirely.
Greenland contributed 20-25pc of global sea level rise over the last few decades, Tedesco said. If carbon emissions continues to grow, this share could rise to around 40pc by 2100, he said, although there is considerable uncertainty about how ice melt will develop in Antarctica — the largest ice sheet on Earth.
Most models used by scientists to project Greenland’s future ice loss do not capture the impact of changing atmospheric circulation patterns — meaning such models may be significantly underestimating future melting, the authors said.
APRIL-MAY PERIOD: HEATWAVE LIKELY TO BATTER SINDH, PUNJAB
Posted on Saturday 18th April 2020 by RECORDER REPORT
Heat wave spell is expected to batter cities of Sindh and Punjab but below normal temperature is likely in higher elevations of the country during April-May period, the Met Office has forecast.
In a weather outlook for April-June 2020, it said that temperature is expected to stay below normal in areas of high altitudes, which may also slow down snowmelt process in Northern Areas. Resultantly, the slowdown melting of snow is likely to scale back chances of an increased overflow in Upper Indus basin.
It said that varying north-south temperature may cause dust raising winds in central and southern parts, therefore, farmers should remain alert about irrigating cotton crops. It asked farmers to follow weather forecasts.
Normal rainfall, it said, is expected all over the country with slightly above normal over central and southern parts and slightly below normal over northern and north-western regions of the country during April-June 2020. Frequent westerly weather systems are likely to penetrate in central and upper parts of the country during the season, it added.
The Met said that normal to slightly above normal rainfall is predicted for central and southern parts. However, it forecast below normal rainfall for upper parts of the country. Extreme windstorms and hailstorms may strike central and upper parts during April and May especially, it said.
Daytime temperature, it predicted as below normal for western and upper parts of the country, while above normal for lower half of the country especially in eastern and coastal regions. Varied north to south temperature may cause sandstorm in central and southern parts of the country, according to the Met the average maximum temperature may remain above normal in the country over the period. The expected rise in temperature during April and May is between 2 degrees Celsius and 3 degrees Celsius in lower parts of the country, the forecaster said.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2020
NEWS COVERAGE PERIOD FROM 31ST MARCH TO APRIL 5TH
CLIMATE AND COVID-19
Ali Tauqeer Sheikh March 30, 2020
IN less than three months, the Covid-19 pandemic has engulfed the entire world. As the number of infections and deaths continue to increase, it has brought the global economy to a screeching halt. This pandemic combines an unfortunate triple jeopardy: rapid loss of human lives, fast economic recession, and structural disruption in efforts to combat global warming. Never before had these three factors coincided to determine the gravity of a pandemic. This year was regarded as critical for international climate action, centred on COP-26 in Glasgow, but the pandemic has distracted world attention. Given the fact that climate change is the defining challenge of our time, even as serious a crisis as this should not be allowed to derail the Paris Agreement.
While Covid-19 is affecting humans directly and its impact is tragically visible, climate change is affecting the ecological system within which humans live and upon which their very survival depends. Perhaps Covid-19 will forever change our globalised lifestyles — something climate change has so far not been able to do, despite its seriousness.
The pandemic has significantly reduced carbon emissions released into the atmosphere. Ironically, it has cut emissions faster than 25 years of global climate negotiations. According to the New YorkTimes, the reduction of emissions in China since January has surpassed the total emissions of New York City for a year. NASA’s monitoring satellites have shown a dramatic fall in nitrous oxide, a pollutant emitted from fossil fuels. This abrupt reduction has an illustrative value of what the world would need to do to stabilise global temperatures at less than 2°C.
Similar past events, such as the 2008 recession, did not affect the overall atmospheric pollution because of the carbon stock that had already been released into the atmosphere. As the pandemic is contained, hopefully, in the coming months and the world economy begins to resurge, global emissions will also pick up as factories will be expected to make up for lost time. The recent sharp decline in oil prices, however, has provided a rare opportunity to fast-track energy supplies from renewable sources to propel climate compatible development.
The pandemic has made a bad situation worse, but has also provided a rare opportunity.
Under the Paris Agreement, all signatories are expected to announce new pledges to reduce emissions. The pandemic has already disrupted the crucial negotiations process ahead of COP-26. Preparatory meetings have been called off, potentially derailing climate negotiations at a critical juncture. Additionally, Covid-19 threatens to hamper policymakers’ ability to make ambitious commitments to climate financing and emissions reductions. It is important to note that economic measures being taken in response to the pandemic will have a long-term bearing on addressing climate mitigation and adaptation. Covid-19 has made a bad situation worse. But it has also provided a rare opportunity to make some hard decisions.
For decades, the scientific community has listed seven broad areas in which climate change will affect health: temperature-related death and illness, air quality, extreme events (such as disasters), vector-borne diseases, water-related illness, food safety and nutrition, and mental health. Several WHO studies have predicted climate-induced endemics and pandemics.
Unlike past pandemics, Covid-19 and the climate crisis go hand in hand. There is no scientific evidence that the pandemic was caused by global warming, yet it is too early to rule out that it was not ignited by climate change. There is growing scientific evidence that changing weather patterns are driving species northward, towards higher altitudes, potentially putting them in contact with diseases for which they have little immunity. We have witnessed this in Pakistan as both malaria and dengue have steadily moved towards higher altitudes.
A watertight demarcation between these two crises is not desirable. Yet, the parallels between the response to the coronavirus and climate crisis are compelling: we have known about the adverse impacts of climate change for at least four decades, whereas the arrival of coronavirus is sudden, almost overnight. Yet, most governments, including Pakistan’s, have made response plans on an emergency basis — an urgency that is, ironically, still absent from the climate change arena.
While pandemics affect everyone, the most immediately exposed to Covid-19 are elderly people, mostly men, and the middle classes (and those working with them) that are more closely tied to the global economy through international travel, trade, production, supply chain, and public, cultural, religious and sports events — mostly in urban and crowded areas. Climate change, on the other hand, also affects everyone, but immediately vulnerable are the poor, marginalised, women, children, elderly, and people living off nature, in low-lying coastal areas, islands and high-altitude glacial terrains, or engaged in subsistence agriculture. In other words, while the pandemic has a stronger bias against the urban elite that has shared and defined the size of the ecological and carbon footprint over the last half century, victims of climate change are often those who have contributed little to climate emissions. Climate-induced disasters visit them often, though, and hit them hard through extreme events such as droughts, floods, heatwaves, and seawater intrusion; these people mostly fall in the realm of poverty and adaptation.
Urgent action to prevent Covid-19 is, of course, necessary. While the pandemic poses many challenges and threats, there are hardly any long-term opportunities. On the other hand, a systematic response to climate change would provide many co-benefits: ranging from green jobs, clean air, renewable energy, affordable transportation, to protected ecosystems and biodiversity. If climate change represents an existential threat, why, then, is the same sense of urgency absent from policy circles?
The global drive to start reducing carbon emissions before 2030 gives a 10-year window to begin decarbonising the world economy. The deepening global recession offers an opportunity for Pakistan to pursue a green economic corridor with China, work with the IMF and other development partners to manage economic and budgetary contraction, and to protect itself from climate threats. All government policies will now be seen through the prism of Covid-19. A similar climate lens should be applied to mitigate climate risks. Our ability to manage Covid-19 will show that it can be done.
The writer is an Islamabad-based expert on climate change and development.
Published in Dawn, March 30th, 2020
COVID-19 LOCKDOWN: LAHORE ENJOYS DRASTIC DROP IN POLLUTION AMID LOCKDOWN
By Muhammad Ilyas Published: March 30, 2020
LAHORE: Known for its toxic smog, Lahore appears to be rehabilitating from years of choking air pollution. With life at a virtual standstill to prevent the spread of Covid-19, it seems the provincial capital is finally making a recovery on the Air Quality Index (AQI).
“People are not complaining about the shortness of breath, stinging eyes, and nausea from thick, acrid smog that has haunted the city for so long,” said a senior pulmonologist.
For several years in the row, the hazardous pollutants across the provincial capital’s skyline have caused residents respiratory difficulties, eye irritation, and cardiac complications, among other ailments. The government, according to environmental experts, has been helpless in reducing pollution in the city. “Lahore is certainly competing with India’s capital for the distinction of the world’s most polluted city. Pollution levels are down, temporarily due to the lockdown in the city,” said one environmental expert.
According to the data collected by the Express Tribune, the city’s AQI has improved significantly since the government has limited activity. Over the past 48 hours, the AQI readings have varied between 18-65 which experts say is way below the hazardous range Lahore has crossed several times in the past. During the summer, the city routinely crosses the pollution red line, with AQI readings higher than 300, which is very unhealthy, and in most cases, hazardous for humans.
Dotted with factories that emit toxic fumes, Lahore also suffers due to vehicular diesel fuel that frequently sends air pollution levels skyrocketing like clockwork. Commenting on the situation, Director Department of Environment, Mohammad Naseem, credited the lockdown for the improvement in the AQI. “The air quality has improved because of the limited human activity in the provincial capital,” said Naseem.
He blamed the emission of toxic fumes from vehicles for 43% of the pollution in the city. Rapid industrialisation, tree slashing, and increased crop burning and coal plant emissions from neighbouring India, according to experts, were other factors contributing to the elevated levels of pollution in the second-largest city in Pakistan, which is home to more than 11 million people.
The environment remains one of the most important issues on Prime Minister Imran Khan’s agenda. On his orders, the city recently conducted a survey to determine the sources that contribute to the pollution levels.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), in 2015, almost 60,000 Pakistanis died from a high level of fine particulate matter in the air, making it the highest death tolls in the world from air pollution.
Solutions to address curb the rising air pollution are slowly emerging. Prime Minister Imran Khan’s administration has unveiled a large-scale tree plantation programme.
While residents have every reason to breathe a sigh of relief, without drastic interventions, experts predict that Lahore’s air pollution may worsen in the coming years.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 30th, 2020.
WHAT THE CORONAVIRUS MEANS FOR CLIMATE CHANGE
Lockdowns and distancing won’t save the world from warming. But amid this crisis, we have a chance to build a better future.
By Meehan Crist
Ms. Crist is writer in residence in biological sciences at Columbia University.
March 27, 2020
Something strange is happening. Not just the illness and death sweeping the planet. Not just the closing of borders and bars and schools, the hoarding of wipes and sanitizer, the orders — unimaginable to most Americans weeks ago — to “shelter in place.” Something else is afoot. In China and Italy, the air is now strikingly clean. Venice’s Grand Canal, normally fouled by boat traffic, is running clear. In Seattle, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Atlanta, the fog of pollution has lifted. Even global carbon emissions have fallen.
Coronavirus has led to an astonishing shutdown of economic activity and a drastic reduction in the use of fossil fuels. In China, measures to contain the virus in February alone caused a drop in carbon emissions of an estimated 25 percent. The Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air estimates that this is equivalent to 200 million tons of carbon dioxide — more than half the annual emissions of Britain. In the short term, response to the pandemic seems to be having a positive effect on emissions. But in the longer term, will the virus help or harm the climate?
To be clear, the coronavirus pandemic is a tragedy — a human nightmare unspooling in overloaded hospitals and unemployment offices with unnerving speed, barreling toward a horizon darkened by economic disaster and crowded with portents of suffering to come. But this global crisis is also an inflection point for that other global crisis, the slower one with even higher stakes, which remains the backdrop against which modernity now plays out. As the United Nations’ secretary general recently noted, the threat from coronavirus is temporary whereas the threat from heat waves, floods and extreme storms resulting in the loss of human life will remain with us for years.
Our response to this health crisis will shape the climate crisis for decades to come. The efforts to revive economic activity — the stimulus plans, bailouts and back-to-work programs being developed now — will help determine the shape of our economies and our lives for the foreseeable future, and they will have effects on carbon emissions that reverberate across the planet for thousands of years.
How hopeful you feel about the direction this response is taking may depend on how long ago you refreshed your news feed. Just last week (which feels like a hundred years ago), a friend suggested that there may be a sort of Freudian transference from coronavirus to climate — that the fear and sense of urgency will be lifted from the faster-moving crisis and settle on the slower one, becoming a catalyst for much-needed action. So far, it seems any transference is working in the opposite direction: Lockdowns and social distancing are providing a litany of necessary actions ripe for the transferal of nebulous climate anxieties and fears. In this context, consumerism perversely provides some relief — you can finally go buy dry goods to prepare for the apocalypse.
But personal consumption and travel habits are, in fact, changing, which has some people wondering if this might be the beginning of a meaningful shift. Maybe, as you hunker down with cabinets full of essentials, your sense of what consumer goods you need will shrink. Maybe, even after the acute phase of the coronavirus crisis has passed, you will be more likely to telecommute. Lifestyles that include, for example, frequent long-distance travel already seem ethically questionable in light of the climate crisis, and, in an age irrevocably scarred by pandemic, these lifestyles may come to be seen as grossly irresponsible. Maybe among the relatively wealthy, jumping on a plane for a weekend away or for a destination wedding will come to seem unthinkable.
Sweeping changes in individual habits — particularly in wealthy countries with high per capita consumption — could lead to lower emissions, which would be an unequivocal good. But personal habits may matter less because of direct reductions in carbon emissions and more because of “behavioral contagion,” a term from the social sciences that refers to the way ideas and behaviors spread through a population and can, in terms of climate action, lead to changes in voting and even policy.
Which is to say, in order to be meaningful for global emissions, changes in consumption habits as a result of the virus would need to extend beyond individuals to the larger structures that shape our lives. In China, it wasn’t telecommuting or grounded planes that led to the 25 percent drop in emissions. It was the abrupt halt of industrial manufacturing. (The concept of the “personal carbon footprint” was popularized by BP in a 2005 media campaign costing over $100 million — a campaign that, research has indicated, deflected responsibility for climate change away from the corporation and onto the individual consumer.) This is not to say that personal consumption is meaningless — a significant reduction in air travel could decrease aviation emissions. But aviation accounts for only about 2.5 percent of global emissions, an amount that looks downright puny in the shadow cast by heavy industry.
If anything, the short-term positive effects on the climate that we’re seeing today serve as a dramatic reminder that changing personal consumption habits will mean very little going forward if we also fail to decarbonize the global economy.
Of course, there’s good reason for concern that despite the clean air and canals of the past three weeks, coronavirus will be a disaster for the climate.
According to the oil-trading firm Trafigura, coronavirus may lead to global oil demand seeing its biggest contraction in history, perhaps by more than 10 million barrels per day. While this may be good news for carbon emissions now, it signals a human disaster of epic proportions without any guarantee that emissions will remain low.
Yes, we could see a sustained emissions drop as economies stagnate and people struggle with the harsh daily realities of a global recession. But there were also dips in emissions during the 2008 financial crisis and the oil shocks of the 1970s, and emissions bounced back as economies recovered. The current crisis is different, to be sure, but after the acute phase passes, industrial production and carbon emissions are likely to ramp back up.
A global recession as a result of coronavirus shutdowns could also slow or stall the shift to clean energy. If capital markets lock up, it will become difficult for companies to secure financing for planned solar, wind and electric grid projects, and it could tank proposals for new projects; renewable energy projects around the world are already stumbling because of disruptions to the global supply chain. (A huge share of the world’s solar panels, wind turbines and lithium-ion batteries are produced in China.) Going forward, a shutdown of trade between China and the United States — for economic or political reasons — would also hit these projects hard. The clean energy analyst BloombergNEF has already downgraded its 2020 expectations for the solar, battery and electric-vehicle markets, signaling a slowdown in the clean energy transition when we urgently need to speed it up.
If oil prices stay low, that could be bad news for the climate, too. Falling demand has converged with skittish investors spooked by the pandemic and with an oil price and production war between Russia and Saudi Arabia. Cheaper energy often leads consumers to use it less efficiently. Low prices could help depress electric-vehicle sales and make people less inclined toward projects like retrofitting homes and offices to save energy.
Coronavirus is bad for the climate even on the most macro levels. Lockdowns and social distancing have slowed climate research around the world or ground it to a halt. NASA is on mandatory telework. Research flights to the Arctic have been stopped, and fieldwork everywhere is being canceled. No one knows how much climate data will never be collected as a result, or when research might be able to start up again.
Gatherings of world leaders to address the climate crisis also have been delayed or canceled, and the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow planned for November could be next, meaning that the pandemic will very likely slow already sluggish international action. This could derail climate talks at a time when, under the Paris Agreement, countries are supposed to announce new pledges to reduce emissions. Such a derailment would make it even more likely that countries would blow past warming-limit goals. Going forward, public attention is likely to be diverted from the climate by ballooning fears over health and finances, and climate activism that depends on large public protests is being forced indoors and online.
There is a world in which stimulus measures could outweigh short-term impacts on energy and emissions, driving emissions up over the long term. This is what happened in China after the 2008 global economic crisis. Already, China is indicating that it will relax environmental supervision of companies to stimulate its economy in response to coronavirus shutdowns, which means that astonishing 25 percent cut in carbon emissions could evaporate, followed by even more emissions than before.
In the United States, we could see similarly shortsighted recovery packages aiming to ramp up the economy to pre-pandemic levels that double down on soaring carbon emissions. So far, the American government’s aid legislation has failed to address clean energy or the climate. The $2 trillion stimulus bill passed by Congress this week, the largest fiscal stimulus package in modern American history, includes direct payments to individuals, expanded and extended unemployment benefits, and $500 billion in loans to bail out affected industries. It does not include relief for renewables, such as crucial tax credit extensions for solar and wind.
This isn’t likely to be the last stimulus. Already, there is talk of the next phase of economic relief, and climate and clean energy advocates are looking to future legislation that might aim to relieve specific industries.
The two biggest wild cards for climate going forward are how policymakers respond to the threat of a global recession and how the pandemic changes political will for climate action around the world. Prime Minister Andrej Babis of the Czech Republic has already said that the European Green Deal, a new policy package that commits European Union member states to zero emissions by 2050, should be set aside so that countries can focus on fighting the pandemic.
This week has seen a chilling shift in conservative rhetoric around the virus that echoes all-too-familiar patterns of climate denialism, suggesting that a more dangerous sort of transference is taking place. As the climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe wrote on Twitter, “The six stages of climate denial are: It’s not real. It’s not us. It’s not that bad. It’s too expensive to fix. Aha, here’s a great solution (that actually does nothing). And — oh no! Now it’s too late. You really should have warned us earlier.”
There is another world in which policymakers and politicians planning for economic recovery decide to make building a carbon-neutral society a priority. Because while the new reality could easily drain political will and funding from efforts to address the climate crisis, it could also inject a sense of urgency at a time when politicians are suddenly willing to spend vast sums of money. In this world, governments would create meaningful jobs in areas such as education, medical care, housing and clean energy, with an emphasis on “shovel-ready” projects that put people to work immediately.
The U.S. government, for example, could continue to provide jobs as needed — the program would expand during recession and contract when the economy recovered and people could find work elsewhere. As Kate Aronoff writes in The New Republic, “One possible benefit to such a program is that it could provide an alternative to low-paid work bound up in carbon-intensive supply chains like those at McDonald’s and Walmart — currently the only employment on offer in many communities around the country.” This approach would address the climate crisis with the urgency it demands while also addressing the immediate needs of workers who will be laid off or have hours reduced because of shutdowns.
Rather than seeing the clean energy transition stall, such an approach could jump-start it, while also stimulating the economy. Governments drive more than 70 percent of global energy investments, and recovery plans could shift those investments as well as include new large-scale investments to turbocharge the development, deployment and integration of clean energy technologies. As Fatih Birol, the executive director of the International Energy Agency, recently pointed out, the drop in oil prices also offers an opportunity for countries around the world to lower or remove subsidies for fossil fuel consumption, which disproportionally line the pockets of wealthy individuals and corporations with money that could go to education, health care or clean energy projects.
There are, of course, more radical policy interventions that could improve the health of the planet, our communities and our lives. Adopting a 32-hour workweek in the United States could lower emissions and vastly improve the quality of American life. It’s unlikely we will see a four-day workweek anytime soon, but the profound disruptions of the pandemic provide a rare opportunity, even in the midst of great suffering, for rewiring our sense of what is possible in American society. Maybe the rupture caused by “shelter in place” orders provides a glimpse of what work is “essential” to society — care work, education and food distribution. Maybe it offers a glimpse, distorted though it may be, of what life might be like if we all went to work a little less.
A best-case outcome might include a rethinking of the social contract that helps protect and provide for the most vulnerable members of society at a time of increasing risk. We need to ask: What does a government owe to its people? The climate crisis has already demonstrated that the way our societies and economies are organized is unsustainable on a planet of finite resources. And as people face increasing and unevenly distributed climate risk, it is reasonable to wonder what sort of support we can expect from our government. When your community is in crisis, how will your government respond? The pandemic is a gut-wrenching reality check.
The crushing blows of the coronavirus pandemic, like those of the climate crisis, will be felt hardest by our most vulnerable populations — the poor, the elderly, the homeless, the stateless, the incarcerated, and the precariously employed — while international corporations driven by the logics of profit and endless growth to seek new markets, cheap labor, and what the sociologist Jason Moore has called “cheap nature,” thereby connecting the world and helping create the conditions for crisis, will most likely remain relatively protected.
The new coronavirus spread through the activity of global markets, and it remains to be seen whether we can respond to this crisis without relying on and reinforcing the same market logics that got us into this mess. Rather, to face the profound challenges of pandemics — of which this coronavirus will not be the last — as well as the threat of climate change, to survive and even flourish on this interconnected planet, we have to learn to subordinate the needs of the market to our own needs.
It is tempting to say that humans are a pox on the Earth. That where we recede, nature rebounds. When images of dolphins and swans supposedly appearing in newly clear Venice canals popped up on social media, it was easy to believe (though it was not entirely true) that the virus had forced people indoors and “nature” had recovered in our absence. This is the wrong climate lesson to take from the pandemic.
Humans are part of nature, not separate from it, and human activity that hurts the environment also hurts us. In China, just two months of reduced pollution is likely to have saved the lives of 4,000 children under the age of 5 and 73,000 adults over the age of 70, writes Marshall Burke, an assistant professor in Stanford’s earth system science department. Perhaps the real question is not whether the virus is “good” or “bad” for climate, or whether rich people will take fewer airplane flights, but whether we can create a functioning economy that supports people without threatening life on Earth, including our own.
Meehan Crist is writer in residence in biological sciences at Columbia University.
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