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EDITORIAL: While the world’s major polluters have fallen far short of their obligations to limit greenhouse gas emissions to 1.5C above the pre-industrial levels, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), unlike its past studies directed at governments, in its recent report turns its focus on individuals.

There is a rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a livable and sustainable future for all, it warns, adding that “the choices and actions implemented in this decade will have impacts now and for thousands of years.

” Some of the choices the IPCC suggests to people everywhere include healthier lifestyles such as cycling, walking and diets rich in fruits and vegetables with less use of high-carbon meat. Stating the obvious, the panel of scientists goes on to assert that access to clean energy and technologies improves health especially for women and children. Low carbon electrifications, walking, cycling and public transport enhance air quality, improve health, employment opportunities and deliver equity.

These assertions seem to be aimed at people living in developed countries where they can make such choices. In lower and middle income countries, most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, mass transportation systems are either grossly inadequate or non-existent, forcing people to use private vehicles, exacerbating air pollution. Cycling or walking long distances entails inhaling toxic fumes. Further aggravating the air quality are the activities of some of the world’s worst polluters.

Pakistan, for instance, has repeatedly been experiencing such extreme weather events as devastating floods and heat waves not because of what it has been doing, but due to its eastern neighbour India’s refusal to control deadly emissions.

At the United Nations’ Climate Change Conference of the Parties 26 (COP 26) held in Glasgow, during negotiations of the final agreement, it along with China insisted on ‘phasing down’ rather than ‘phasing out’ its coal-fired power stations. Though China is fast replacing coal with alternative cleaner sources of energy, the world’s third largest greenhouse gas emitter, India, goes on using coal.

Just a few days after the COP 27 meeting last November in Egyptian resort town Sharm el-Sheikh, its environment ministry announced increasing coal output to 50 percent while the minister for coal and mines said coal being an affordable source of energy for Indians “no transition away from coal is happening in the foreseeable future in India.” Pakistan with it less than 2 percent carbon footprint bears the brunt of those activities.

The pledges the developed countries made at the Paris Conference and later renewed at COP meetings for mobilising at least $100 billion per year to assist countries most vulnerable to effects of climate change take mitigation and adaptation measures have not been forthcoming for Pakistan. Part of the problem is our own government’s failure to properly document its priority actions and financing requirement.

It also needs to learn a lesson or two from the example of Bangladesh where locally-led climate adaptation actions have helped to reduce climate risks to a considerable extent.

As for the IPCC’s advice to individuals to prefer cycling and walking over driving cars or other vehicles, it will not look so impracticable in this country if only the government decides to invest in efficient public transport systems for all major cities.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023

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