Climate Change

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From the North Pole to the South Pole, the world is warming and the consequences of rising temperatures are not waiting for a far-flung future, the effects of global warming are occurring right now. The consequences of climate change have been felt in every corner of the world in 2020, from unprecedented wildfires across the US to the extreme heat of Siberia. The heat is melting glaciers and sea ice, changing the patterns of precipitation and setting animals on the move. Many people think of global warming and climate change as synonyms, but when discussing the dynamic changes currently impacting the weather and climate systems of our world, scientists tend to use “climate change.” Climate change not only entails rising average temperatures, but also severe weather events, shifting wildlife populations and ecosystems, rising oceans, and a host of other impacts. As humans continue to introduce heat-trapping greenhouse gases to the environment, all of these changes are arising.

Ice is melting worldwide due to climate change, particularly at the poles of the Earth. This entails glaciers in the mountains, ice sheets covering West Antarctica and Greenland, and sea ice in the Arctic. The number of glaciers in Montana’s Glacier National Park has decreased to fewer than 30 from more than 150 in 1910. Most of this melting ice is contributing to the increase in sea levels. Global sea levels are rising by 0.13 inches per year, and the rise in recent years has been at a faster pace. Wildlife and their ecosystems are being threatened by rising temperatures. Vanishing ice has challenged species like the Adelie penguin in Antarctica, where some populations on the western peninsula have declined by 90 per cent or more. Many animals are on the move as temperatures change. Some butterflies, foxes, and alpine plants have migrated further north or to higher, cooler areas. On average, precipitation (rain and snowfall) has risen around the world. Yet some areas are experiencing more extreme drought, raising the risk of wildfires, crop losses, and shortages of drinking water.

In 2020, the volume of CO2 in the atmosphere reached record levels. The last time CO2 levels exceeded 400 parts per million was about four million years ago, during the Pliocene period when global temperatures were 2-4C warmer and sea levels were 10-25 metres (33-82 feet) higher than they are now.  This past decade has been the hottest on earth. The year 2020 was more than 1.2C hotter than the average year in the 19th Century. It was the hottest year ever in Europe, though globally 2020 tied with 2016 as the hottest. The unusually warm temperatures in the US states of California and Colorado triggered the largest wildfires ever reported, and the “black summer” of fires in eastern Australia. The rise in heat is nowhere more deeply felt than in the Arctic. The temperature reached 38C in eastern Siberia in June 2020, the hottest temperature ever recorded inside the Arctic Circle. In the East Siberian and Laptev seas, the heatwave intensified the melting of sea ice and postponed the normal Arctic freeze by nearly two months. Permafrost, the ground that stays frozen year-round for two or more years is gradually warming across the northern hemisphere. Permafrost contains a significant amount of greenhouse gases including CO2 and methane that is emitted into the atmosphere as it thaws.  The planet has lost 178 million hectares of forest since 1990, an area the size of Libya. The annual deforestation rate for 2015-20 was 10 million hectares or about the size of Iceland.

If the warming persists the sea level is predicted to rise between 10 and 32 inches or higher by the end of the century. It is possible that hurricanes and other storms may get stronger. Floods and droughts would be more frequent. By 2100, large parts of the globe will face a greater chance of decades-long “megadroughts”.  There would be less fresh water available, as glaciers store about three-quarters of the freshwater in the world. Some diseases, such as malaria transmitted by mosquitoes, can spread and ecosystems will also continue to change.

Mountain ranges, plains, glaciers, deserts, rivers, seas, and links to the oceans are topographical features of Pakistan. Such vital habitats and features, however, also mean that drastic environmental changes would make the country even more vulnerable. The area of South Asia is very susceptible to severe weather events such as heavy monsoon rainfall resulting in floods and high heat waves, glacier melting, as per the Global Climate Index. A degraded environment and a changing climate will pose direct threats to the region’s economy, human health, agriculture, and biodiversity, as per the nature of the South Asian revenue generation sectors. Pakistan has lost 9989 lives to extreme weather conditions, including floods, droughts, and heatwaves, in the past twenty years. A total of 152 severe weather events have occurred, and Pakistan has lost a total of 3.8 billion dollars as a result of climate change. A large amount, given that the country is struggling to restore stable economic growth. Monsoon instability, glacier recessions, increased siltation of downstream water reservoirs, floods, droughts, heatwaves, saltwater intrusion in the Indus Delta, and increased cyclone activity are some of the future threats that the country faces. The socio-economic challenges posed by these effects include increased poverty, migration, diseases and socio-economic inequality. It cannot afford all of these, considering the country’s situation right now. If the planet is to stave off the worst consequences of climate change, governments have little time to act.

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