All Fogged In…

The recent cold wave across the country not only made temperatures plunge, but also blanketed most of the Punjab, Sindh and Khyber Pukthunkhwa provinces in thick fog. While the residents of Lahore are used to the annual winter fog that starts in December, this year it spread all the way up to Islamabad and Peshawar and down to Sukkur and Larkana divisions. This is certainly unusual, but in keeping with what climate change scientists have warned us about “extreme weather conditions” in the years to come. According to Dr Qamaruz Zaman Chaudhry, local climate change expert and Vice-President of the World Meteorological Organisation from Asia, “Normally, January is the winter rain season but this year the dry period was extended which might mean a change in climate patterns…

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Pakistan pushes ahead on climate policy but action still lags

Pakistan faces a range of threatening climate change impacts: changing monsoon patterns, melting glaciers, seasonal flooding, rising sea levels, desertification and increasing water scarcity.

But concrete action to address climate threats has been relatively slow, critics say, and a convoluted process of devolution of power to Pakistan’s provinces and then the reorganisation of federal ministries hasn’t helped speed up the process – though a new federal Ministry of Climate Change may help change that.

“The time for talking is long past,” said Shafqat Kakakhel, a former U.N. Environment Programme official and a member of Pakistan’s original task force on climate change set up by the government in 2008. “What we need to see are projects on the ground. Pakistan is lagging far behind other countries in the South Asian region that are already addressing climate change through concrete actions.”

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Bussing it for a change

Bus Rapid Transit system in Istanbul, Turkey

This December, as I noted on my short trip to Lahore, many people I encountered had a short, rasping cough – a byproduct of life in a crowded, growing industrial city. Lahore is where traffic jams have become the norm and where December is known for its thick blanket of smog. I live now in Islamabad, where the air pollution levels are much lower and it made me think about how my home city, the Lahore of lush gardens, has become one of the most polluted cities in Asia. Read more on:

Is the world running out of time?

To make matters worse, in 2011 poorer developing countries have been hit much harder by climate change, according to the new edition of the Germanwatch Global Climate Risk Index. The ranking, which was also presented in Doha, concludes that Thailand, Cambodia, Pakistan and El Salvador are on top of those countries that suffered most from extreme weather events in 2011. According to Germanwatch, “Recent science results also tell us that climate change is an increasing factor in the occurrence of very heavy events. In Doha, we need serious progress in the negotiations on cutting greenhouse gas emissions, on increasing support for adaptation, and the kick-off for the development of an international mechanism to address loss and damage”. It looks like Pakistan is going to be one of the most vulnerable countries in the world — in 2010 it ranked as No. 1 on the Global Climate Risk Index and in 2011 it ranked No. 3. Without serious cuts in emissions, which seem unlikely from the goings on in Doha so far, it looks like the world is all set to get warmer. The World Bank also recently issued their report entitled “Turn Down The Heat: Why a 4°C warmer world must be avoided”, which spells out what the world would be like if it warmed by 4°C (which is what scientists are nearly unanimously predicting by the end of the century, without serious policy changes). The 4°C scenarios are devastating: the inundation of coastal cities; increasing risks for food production potentially leading to higher malnutrition rates; many dry regions becoming dryer, wet regions wetter; unprecedented heat waves in many regions, especially in the tropics; exacerbated water scarcity in many regions; increased frequency of high-intensity tropical cyclones; and irreversible loss of biodiversity, including coral reef systems.

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Planted Glacier Now Threatens Valley

Today, high above the rocky Bindu “Gol” or valley in Chitral, which is located on the way to Mastuj, lies the manmade Bindu glacier. “This was an artificially seeded glacier that was made in 1840 by our forefathers”, explains Siraj, a local villager. “There was no water in our area and so they decided to grow a glacier a hundred feet above the settlement”. He says there is no one left in the village with the knowledge of how to grow a glacier today, but in the past they heard that “cow manure, salt and straw” were combined to “plant” the glacier. “It took three years for it to grow into a glacier and then it kept growing”. Now it is so big that there was a Glacial Lake Outburst Flood (GLOF) in August 2010, which ended up blocking the Chitral River below the valley for twelve hours since so much debris had come down with the flood.

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The GLOF from the Bindu glacier damaged orchards and fields

Sandy and Other Freak Weather Events

A colleague who had been covering the climate negotiations for several years said something prophetic as the Copenhagen Summit began packing up. “It will take a couple of hurricanes to hit New York before the Americans wake up and realise the reality of climate change and decide to do something about it”. Well, last week Hurricane Sandy hit New York City, and finally the American media was full of talk about climate change.

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Dengue under control

Although the monsoon rains have come late this year, the dengue outbreak in Lahore appears to have been controlled. Around this time last year, the city was gripped by fear with people largely staying indoors in the evening and each home reeking of the fumes of mosquito repellents. Dengue, which is usually not fatal unless you are bitten twice in the same season, is spread by the Aedes Aegypti mosquito, a day-biting insect that feeds on human blood.

The outbreak of dengue seems to have a link with climate change.

The green mountain

Where else in the world can you find Shitake mushrooms from East Asia, Kiwi fruit from China and red chilli peppers from Bhutan growing on the same mountain? Nowhere except the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD)’s field station, which is located in a place called Godavari, just outside Kathmandu in Nepal.
An entire degraded mountain side has been rehabilitated by ICIMOD’s researchers and scientists since 1992 and turned into an experimental field station. It is hard to believe that the lush green area, spread over 30 hectares, was once denuded of trees.