The climate anomaly
It was quite strange when it didn’t rain even once last December in Pakistan. In the past, December used to be full of rainfall and the situation was quite unusual for climate experts. Some of them even believe climate change to be the reason for this.
Dr. Ghulam Rasul, the director general of the Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD), is one of them. For him, the situation is traumatic, as changes in rainfall patterns can have severe repercussions on Pakistan’s food security. “Not only December… [between] October [and] December, there was no good rain and [nationwide] drought prevailed. Then [the] whole winter season’s snow occurred in January and [there was a] quick jump to spring season in February,” Dr Ghulam Rasul said.
He further testified that a change in temperature is mainly caused by climate change. “Yes, this climate variability may be considered as a climate change indicator. Global warming is a visible fact now and if we look at the ranking of the warmest year, [each subsequent] year is breaking the previous records…”
Dr Rasul summed up this climate anomaly, saying that: “due to increasing global temperatures, [the] summer season is extending and [the] winters are shrinking, as seen in 2016-17. In this process, the spring season is also suffering, as just after the winter chill of January, [the] temperature starts soaring to [the] mid-20s in February.”
2016 set a record for a third year in a row when the highest temperatures recorded ever since recordkeeping began in 1880.
A research paper by Dr Daniele Bocchiola and Guglielmina Diolaiuti titled, ‘Recent (1980-2009) evidence of climate change in the upper Karakoram, Pakistan’, investigated climate anomalies in the upper Karakoram and northern Pakistan, by analysing monthly data to assess precipitation and air temperature. The study indicated an increase in the maximum temperatures, which is directly linked with the rise in global temperatures.
The researchers found that the minimum and maximum winter temperatures are significantly increasing in northern Pakistan. This leads to the assumption that decreased snowfall may occur during this season. Another reason for this is the non-availability of information about winter snowfall. In addition, the spring temperature appears to be increasing, possibly substantiating the view that rapid increases in temperature occur at the end of winter. As a result, snow is likely to melt earlier than usual.
Commenting upon Dr. Ghulam Rasul’s statement, Dr Daniele said: “Of course, specific weather patterns for this year need well-directed investigation, and season-to-season variability may not always be directly related to climate change. However, a general trend can be observed, where temperature increases may lead to shorter winters and heat waves in spring and summer; increased precipitation variability may lead to prolonged and intense droughts, and intense precipitation in [the] flood season; snow season and the subsequent snow cover period may be more erratic, with late winter snowfall and earlier than usual season.”
Dr Qamaruz Zaman Chaudhry, a climate scientist, currently associated with the Asian Development Bank (ADB), as International Climate Change Specialist, also agrees that the erratic nature of weather in Pakistan is a manifestation of climate change.
When asked what the short-term impacts would be faced by the agriculture and water sectors if we assume the shift in weather patterns is a temporary phenomenon, Dr Qamar said that: “[the] present water situation is very serious for agriculture, especially when Tarbela Dam is already on dead level today and Mangla Dam is close to dead level. Further, [the] winter season is not shifting but also shrinking. Early warming in March can result in [the] early and quick ripening of wheat, which means [a reduction of produce by between] 10 and 20 percent”.
Tahir Rasheed, a senior forester and the CEO of the South Punjab Forest Company (SPFC), believes that increasing deforestation in Pakistan is one of the reasons for changes in temperature. According to Rasheed, “trees help to control the climate by absorbing carbon dioxide [and] thus reduce global warming. But the deforestation spree in Pakistan is raging unabated, as confirmed by Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO)’s Global Forest Resources Assessment 2015 report, according to which Pakistan has witnessed deforestation [of] up to 2.1 percent on average from 1990 to 2015. If Pakistan is to reduce its vulnerability to climate change and limit temperature rise, it should increase its forest cover”.
Another important aspect which we tend to ignore is that with climate change shifting the weather patterns, many other facets that are associated with the weather are becoming obsolete.
Abrarul Haq’s popular song ‘Bheega Bheega Sa Ye December hai’ (This rainy December) reminds us that December once used to be full of rainfall. But the situation has pretty much changed. The pop legend now feels that climate change tends to fail his December love song.
“People call and request me to sing ‘Bheega Bheega Sa Ye December Hai’. But with no rainfall in December, this song is losing relevance.”
Abrar says he would rather sing Bheega Bheega Ye February Hai (this rainy February) or Bheega Bheega Ye March Hai (this rainy March). He is open to singing these songs provided the weather does not shift further. He should consider holding back-to-back meetings with the Met department officials before singing a new song about the weather.
However, Pakistan ranks at the 135th position in the list of carbon-polluting countries. Some believe it shouldn’t care about increasing its emissions and should instead meet its energy requirements by installing coal-fired power plants, which will run on indigenous coal and some on imported coal, ignoring the renewable energy prospects in Pakistan. What our policymakers tend to ignore is that Pakistan already ranks 7th on the list of the most climate-affected countries and its vulnerability can further increase, if unsustainable development is preferred over low-carbon development.
We should not forget that last year temperatures increased to 1.1 degrees Centigrade above the pre-industrial levels. It is now an uphill task to limit changes in temperature to two degree Centigrade and, ideally, to 1.5 degree Centigrade, especially when the US has decided to pull out of the Paris climate agreement.
With the third-warmest January and second-warmest February taking place this year (according to Nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies), it seems that greater political will is needed to deal with the climate anomalies or the situation could spiral out of control.
The writer is a freelance contributor with an interest in climate change, deforestation, food security and sustainable development.