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Adaptation over mitigation

All interviews and articles on climate change in Pakistan begin with this epic yet mundane line, ‘Pakistan is ranked fifth among the most vulnerable countries because of climate change’. This obligatory statement gives credibility to the interview or the article. Then comes the second hook; how Pakistan’s solutions to tackle climate change boil down to planting trees. No further details and no depth – end of scene.

Climate change must now become more than a talking point, and we must recognize that planting trees is a tactic, not a strategy, to confront it. Changing weather patterns, recurring floods, deadly heatwaves, rising water insecurity, and looming food insecurity demand that we immediately draft and implement a national adaptation plan for Pakistan.

Adaptation and mitigation, or a mix of both, are critical global strategies to tackle climate change. An adaptation strategy helps build the capacity to prepare and adjust to current and projected impacts of climate change. It could include using genetically modified seeds that can grow in a hotter climate, building early or emergency response systems to tackle heatwaves, or fortifying at-risk rivers to prevent floods. Mitigation, on the other hand, deals with the direct reduction or prevention of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by, for instance, reducing dependency on fossil fuel-run plants.

Before choosing a strategy, we must remember an important fact: Pakistan’s GHG emissions are less than one per cent of the total global cumulative global emissions. This means that we should prioritize adaptation over mitigation strategies as we may deny the right to affordable energy desperately needed for a developing nation.

A large chunk of global GHG emissions come from the US, China, India, and the EU; these regions contribute approximately 60 per cent of the global greenhouse gas emissions. They are the ones which must focus on mitigation strategies immediately. Also, even if Pakistan miraculously figured out a way to let go of its strange obsession with fossil fuels and goes net-zero, the result will be a tiny dent in the fight to reduce cumulative global emissions. Mitigation is important but adaptation should be our priority.

Climate change has no respect and understanding of borders. The high number of emissions coming from the rest of the world will undoubtedly impact the atmosphere, including Pakistan’s. Being one of the most vulnerable countries means we must define, design, and deliver solutions and protocols through a robust national adaptation plan (NAP) to tackle climate change. NAP will help us identify vulnerabilities due to climate change and outline policies toward a sustainable-growth trajectory and save lives.

The recent heatwave was a serious wakeup call with temperatures in parts of the country exceeding 50 degrees Celsius, breaking global records. At least 90 people have reportedly died due to the heatwave across India and Pakistan, and actual figures may be even higher. The melting of glaciers continues to cause massive flooding and infrastructure damage in Gilgit-Baltistan.

Images of the badly damaged Hassanabad Bridge that collapsed due to an outburst of the Shisper glacier in May were harrowing. The overflow levelled the concrete bridge in minutes and damaged nearby power plants and property, bringing the city to a complete halt. Floods and other vulnerabilities due to climate change have led to the deaths of over 10,000 lives, suffered economic losses worth over $4.0 billion, and witnessed 173 extreme weather events in the years between 1998 and 2018.

Recent flash floods in Balochistan have claimed over 127 lives. Experts believe that heavy downpours, glacial outbursts, deadly heatwaves, and threats to our food and water resources will become more common in the coming days. These incidents will increase in frequency and severity and continue to disrupt economic streams, destroy facilities, damage agriculture yield, increase illness, risk water and food insecurity, increase inequality and threaten our way of life.

The local, provincial and federal governments must join forces to screen, identify and tackle local and national vulnerabilities to climate change. Innovative and climate-resilient urban planning, awareness, and adaptation programmes for farmers are critical. Policymakers must also find synergies across ministries, provinces and sectors that can help build adaptive capacity and resiliency.

The new national adaptation plan must outline clear emergency response plans for floods and heatwaves. Establishing relocation facilities for mass evacuation, constructing flood barriers, maintaining national or local productivity, and relocating crucial infrastructure, such as power plants and water and food storage, to higher elevations are just a few examples that NAP should cover.

Being one of the most vulnerable countries, we do not have much time. We need a comprehensive national adaptation plan, not sound bites. A recent UN report estimates that Pakistan will lose $26 billion, which is almost the entire value of our 2021 exports, annually because of climate change.

Climate change will not wait for us to get our act together; it will continue to strike, so we need to build national adaptive capacity and resilience to counter it. The government must prioritize a national adaptation plan over half-baked tactical policies, rally the country in the fight against climate change and be ready to improvise.


Hamza Haroon, "Adaptation over mitigation," The News. 2022-08-02.
Keywords: Environmental sciences , Climate change , Global emissions , Greenhouse gas , Floods , Heatwaves , Agriculture , China , India , GHG