On Monday, 9th August, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a scathing report which UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres referred to as “code red for humanity”. The Asia Pacific region is facing a disastrous increase in floods, storms, heatwaves, droughts and air pollution. “Code red” is certainly being witnessed now in full force and we must account for the unequal impact of climate change around the globe, particularly on the most vulnerable communities concentrated in the Global South.
Of these, Pakistan is currently among the worst-faring with regard to the climate crisis. In 2020, the New York Times referred to Pakistan as the “fifth most climate vulnerable nation in the world”. Furthermore, the Climate Risk Country Profile — a joint study conducted by the World Bank and Asian Development Bank earlier this very year — concluded that Pakistan is facing an increasing rate of annual warming, even greater than the global average.
With climate now a frontline crisis, we must consider those most harshly affected by present and future disasters i.e. children. Apart from being the worst affected group, children are also the most marginalised since they have least say in policies related to a crisis that is and will continue to affect them in times to come. Without immediate action to create more awareness and empower children in Pakistan, the possibility of maintaining a liveable world for them is bleak. So how can this be achieved? Key investments need to be made in the education sector with special emphasis given to climate change in a modern context. This type of education has now become a necessity and should ideally be structured according to the IPCC’s findings on modern-day climate issues plaguing the Asian Pacific region and Pakistan. Climate education should also include sustainable development solutions. Even the most well reputed of educational institutions at the secondary or even higher level in Pakistan do not yet offer any in-depth study of modern environmental issues and sustainability especially in a localised context. It is imperative for the Ministry of Climate Change to work alongside schools to develop a climate curriculum specific to each age group. This should include basic science of climate change, sustainable alternatives, and the humanitarian and political side of the crisis as well.
Small steps are certainly underway as of late in Pakistan. In June, the Ministry of Climate Change announced its partnership with Save the Children Pakistan in launching its Red Alert campaign about climate change and environmental conservation in the country. Pakistan also hosted the World Environment Day 2020 this year and highlighted some of its key initiatives taken to combat the effects of climate change. These included the 10 Billion Tree initiative to restore mangroves and forests, and plant more trees in urban areas. So, it is not to say that Pakistan’s efforts have gone amiss, but in light of the most recent IPCC report and the lack of children’s representation, a more targeted plan must be made. For this, inclusive and informative activities for children should become more widespread and regularly convened at the national level for state and private schools. Campaigns of writing, research, art and music paired with activism are easily implementable. Local organisations such as “Climate Action Now” have already been successfully piloting youth-led climate marches in Pakistan. Collective initiatives with such bodies can help create a sense of “informed activism”. This will be a great way to attract young minds towards climate-related issues of the day.
More than anything, campaigns and activities along with formal education should teach children that it is their right to demand their own protection. Creating a liveable planet for today’s children will begin only with informing and including them in the fight against climate change.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 25th, 2021.