Business Recorder: A renowned Climate Scientist, Professor Dr Qamar-Uz-Zaman Chaudhry remained the director general of Pakistan Meteorological Department between 1996 and 2010. He is a research scientist in the fields of Global Warming & Climate Change, Meteorology, Atmospheric Sciences, Hydrology and Seismology.
He has produced more than 70 research papers and articles, published in national and international scientific journals. He is recipient of the National Civil Awards of Sitara-e-Imtiaz (2011) and Pride of Performance (1999,) and also received the Saarc Best Young Scientist Research Award (1993). Here are some excerpts from Dr Chaudhry’s recent discussion with BR Research on climate change:
BR Research: What professional activities have you been undertaking since retiring from PMD and serving as its DG for 15 years?
Dr Qamar-Uz-Zaman Chaudhry: The Government of Pakistan has now appointed me as an Advisor on Meteorological & Climate Affairs to the Ministry of Defence & Ministry of Climate Change. I am currently also the elected Vice President of the World Meteorological Organisation for the Asia region. In this new role, I try to analyse not just the weather of Pakistan, but also the regional and global weather patterns. My areas of interest have now moved on from weather forecasting to climate change, environmental policy making, and studying the inter-linkages between climate and economies.
As an advisor, I have more international focus now, which revolves around capacity building and resource mobilisation for the Pakistan Meteorological Department. Recently, I helped mobilise development grant assistance from Jica worth Rs 1.7 billion for strengthening the Department’s forecasting capabilities.
BRR: Let’s hear your views and thoughts on the issue of Climate Change. What have been the recent manifestations of this issue in Pakistan and across the globe?
QC: The frequency and intensity of droughts and floods has increased in many parts of the world. South-East Asia, particularly Pakistan is experiencing this change in extreme weather events whose frequency has increased over last several years. Either there is no rain, or if there is, it is equivalent to many years of rainfall. Last year’s one month rainfall in Sindh was equal to the amount of rains in previous five years combined. This year there were drought-like conditions in many parts of Balochistan, Cholistan and Tharparkar until a belated spell of rains started in late August. At the same time, still, there were areas across Pakistan that had flash flooding.
Sensitising the authorities is very important – and Wapda and Irsa took some extraordinary management measures this year and disregarded their previous SOPs to fill the Tarbela Dam. They need to be praised for these managerial skills.
There is a huge impact of climate change on global agricultural economy, as output declines or is washed out in extreme climate events. Strategic food reserves are depleted fast even as it becomes more expensive for the grain-importing countries to purchase those commodities at higher prices. Domestic prices increase and there are more incidences of hoarding and smuggling due to food shortages. In 2007-08, there were food riots in around 30 countries across the globe – and interestingly, the food shortages weren’t fundamental but speculative buying was the main reason for the crisis. This time around, due to recent erratic weather across the globe, we may experience real food shortages.
BRR: Can you please highlight the recent impact of erratic weather on food security?
QC: Quite abnormal climate patterns have occurred during the last six months in some of the world’s vital food-producing regions and are now threatening global food shortages. The USA, which is considered to be the bread basket of the world and supplies nearly half of the world’s export of corn and much of its soybeans and wheat, is still passing through its history’s worst drought since 1956. Parts of Russia, Canada, Australia and Brazil are also experiencing drought conditions. Most of these countries have downgraded their harvest outlooks. Russia which exported 23 million tons of grains last year may not be able to export more than 10 million tons, and with a possibility that they may ban export all together as they did in 2010.
This has considerable impact on major crops in these countries. Pakistan is less dependent on monsoon rains than is India. We depend more on irrigation, Pakistan being an arid & semi-arid country. We cannot depend on rainfall alone for our agriculture, as roughly less than 20 percent of our agrarian lands are rain-fed. However, due to delayed rains in the just-concluded monsoon season in Pakistan (resultantly, some dams were not filled up to their capacity by August 20), I had cautioned the authorities that Pakistan may be facing some water shortages in the upcoming winter crop season. Though wheat is not water demanding crop, but lower availability of water, particularly from Mangla Dam, may affect our winter crop especially if the winter rains are not sufficient.
BRR: If climate change is threatening Pakistan’s agrarian heartland where most of the country’s staple and commercial crops sprout from, how is the issue being handled at the policy level?
QC: A dedicated ‘Ministry for Climate Change’ has been created in the Federal Government and is being headed by a very energetic Minister, Rana M Khan Saeed. The Ministry is now highlighting the vulnerability of Pakistan to climate change in international conferences and other fora. This problem is not created by the developing countries like Pakistan: our carbon emissions are one of the lowest compared to the developed world. Yet we are on top of the countries experiencing climate change with all its negative effects and damages.
The government of Pakistan has now approved the ‘National Climate Change Policy’, which I was the lead author of. Now the Ministry of Climate Change is trying to tackle how climate change will affect our water availability, agricultural output, energy sector, and how can we develop our capacity to deal with the increasing impact of extreme weather events. Climate change is a global issue – not even a regional issue – therefore it has to be tackled at a national level, as a federal subject. The Policy was formed after extensive consultations with the provinces. Ultimately, it has to be implemented by the provinces – federal government will only be co-ordinating on climate change with provinces and the international donors.
BRR: What are the salient features of the Climate Change Policy that you authored?
QC: This comprehensive policy highlights the vulnerabilities of Pakistan to climate change. We are expecting erratic monsoon rains, increase in extreme weather events like droughts and floods, decrease in our glacial reserves (a major source of fresh water for Pakistan), increase in frequency of heat waves (and untimely heat waves), etc. What policy measures we take are going to be important.
The Policy gives the direction of how we should be moving in the water sector, agricultural sector, and how much emphasis must be given to forest areas, coastal areas, biodiversity, and ecosystem. On the mitigation side, issues like energy conservation, emission reductions from the transportation sector, etc have been tacked in the Policy. Water is a foremost area where we must have an adaptation policy for climate change. We need to have additional reservoirs, better water management practices, water conservation measures, etc.
BRR: This climate change mitigation agenda seems ambitious. Is there a roadmap for this policy to be implemented?
QC: After the formulation of the Policy, we are now working on a ‘National Climate Change Action Plan’ to translate the policy framework into actions in all those areas. For instance, since 80 percent of our water resources are being used in the agricultural sector, the action plan would identify the activities that can mitigate water wastages across the irrigation system (wastages are as high as 30 percent). Efficient irrigation techniques (like drip and sprinkle irrigation) will also be identified and given a way forward to be implemented. In households, water wastages could be tackled through using recycled water (not fresh water) for toilet use and gardening purposes. It is suggested that each municipal corporation should, therefore, have a water recycling plant. Pricing of water is another area that is under consideration.
For its part, the federal government has shown a strong resolve to move forward on climate change agenda. The action plan is also being prepared with close co-ordination and consultation with the provinces. To move forward with the plan, it is important that the provinces’ capacity and limitations are well understood.
There is a need for the strategies and specific actions to be mulled over together, because different provinces have different sets of issues. For instance, in Balochistan, a hyper-arid area, underground water is being exploited 10 times more than it is being recharged. These water reservoirs, which took over a century to recharge, are not going to last long if this practice continues. We have highlighted this in the Policy, and actions will now be outlined.
BRR: Where will the funding for the climate change action plan come from, considering that the federal government is perennially resource-constrained and provinces have their individual development priorities?
QC: We are facing government funding issue in the implementation of the programme, but I believe that we should at least have a workable plan to implement the policy. It is apparent that we need to supplement national resources with international donor support to fund climate change initiatives.
A viable action plan can help us secure international funding. The case of Bangladesh is instructive to highlight here. Whenever their government is looking to establish water supply schemes in coastal areas, it is linked with climate change. Linking the rising sea levels and increasing salt concentration in water with such water schemes makes sense, and hence, they are able to receive international climate funding for such projects. Pakistan is undertaking many such projects which can be directly linked to climate change, but they haven’t been related to it. Now, the ‘National Climate Change Action Plan’ would make sure that we highlight our suffering from climate change.
I foresee that most of the funding in future is likely to be channelled in through the climate change issue. If we are not aware of that and not inform the global community as to the level of our sensitisation to the issue, we will lose out on the global front. Developed countries have agreed to establish a ‘Green Climate Fund’ – a hundred billion dollars per annum fund by 2020 – for the developing countries to deal with the issues of climate change. First step is to adapt to the change and then try to mitigate it. Now we need to develop our capacity to claim our share from funds like the GCF and the capacity to utilise it.
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