You know when a social issue has ballooned to dangerous levels when box standard macroeconomists start talking about it. Otherwise, why would people, who generally argue about real effective exchange rate, inflation-adjusted terms of trade and what not in their dreams, suddenly start talking about something like climate?
Anyhow, its good that they do talk about it, for they are the most politically powerful lot among the economics community whose voices are heard the most in power corridors, where short-term issues and short-term solutions are the most sought after. Otherwise, who is going to listen to the others from the socio-economic community in general, who are mostly treated as sidekicks, or poor environmental economists in specific who are treated as proverbial hippies?
But coming to the main subject, a 2-page special section of the recently released 118-page report on Pakistans annual economy by the SBP deserves a special attention.
Raising its concerns about the impact of climate change on real economy, the central bank warned that the demand for water will increase with rising temperature. Citing a host of studies, the SBP noted that river flows might also surge in parallel, due to more frequent heavy rains and runoff from glacier melt, due to which overall water flows may not worsen in the short-run. However, the flows might decline over long-term due to reduced glacier mass.
The bank also highlighted how change in temperature is also causing a change in yields of crops like wheat, rice and cotton, besides a change in crop pattern, for which farmers need to be trained.
Knowing that agriculture sector contributes around 20 percent of Pakistans GDP, employs over 40 percent of labour, and accounts for around 60 percent of the countrys exports, even the slightest of impact of climate change can wreck havoc with the system, where unexpected droughts are also an important leg of the problem.
Government officials, however, do not seem to understand the urgency of the matter. A national environmental policy was formed two years ago, followed by an action draft late last year. Yet to date, its implementation is nowhere in sight. Much is pending now on the Vision 2025, which, by the way, is long past its due date.
The few who are researching or working on climate change are understaffed and under-trained. Ghulam Rasul, who is one of the most-cited experts by the SBP, highlights that there is an acute shortage of well-trained staff in national organizations who know about the climate change science and dynamics of the climate system.
Writing in the Pakistan Journal of Meteorology, he notes that except one institute in Islamabad, none of the national universities offer such courses at graduate or post-graduate level. Rasul adds that universities that offer social sciences and humanities, medicine and agriculture ought to introduce curriculum related to socio-economic aspects of climate change at graduate and post-graduate levels.
Rasuls suggestion to integrate climate change studies with other fields of study is spot on to ensure an interdisciplinary discourse on the subject. And herein is a related problem.
Ordinarily, people who are most troubled by problems are the most likely ones to find solutions. You know that maxim: necessity is the mother of invention. Yet, despite being one of the worst affected countries by climate change, Pakistans intelligentsia and policy scholars are yet to present a unique solution to the crisis.
Majority of discourse and research papers on the subject revolve around technical issues relating to the identification of the problem. Others revolve around technologies that might mitigate some of the problems, or improving governance structures. These are all good steps, but baby steps.
What is really needed is a discourse that challenges the very conventional economic wisdom that created this climate change problem, one that offers a potential alternative to the conventional economic wisdom.
Climate change is not a global issue; its impact is very local. And local academia would do well to embark upon the task, before the floods wash the fate away, and drought starved whatever is left. In climate change, there is no survival of the fittest.