ENVIRONMENTAL experts and scientists in increasing numbers around the world have come to recognize that climate change is one of the greatest threats facing the planet earth. The earth is warming up and adversely affecting the living environment. With increasing global warming, all kinds of species and their habitats are on the retreat and ecosystems essential to the survival of human life on earth are collapsing. The planet we live on is finite, and cannot accommodate a constantly increasing demand on its resources. Global warming is already causing damage in many parts of the world. Since 2002, the US has experienced numerous outbreaks of worst wild fires and dust storms across the land. Extreme heat waves have caused more than 50,000 deaths in Europe, India and other parts of the world over the last decade. And in what scientists regard as an alarming sign of events to come, the area of the Arctic's perennial polar ice cap is declining at the rate of 9 percent per decade. As compared with the past, hurricanes and storms have become stronger and more dangerous.
Many global issues are climate-related, including basic needs such as food, water, health, and shelter. Changes in climate may threaten these needs with increased temperatures, sea level rise, changes in precipitation, and more frequent or intense extreme events. Scientists studying global warming agree that a highly dangerous situation is likely to develop if current trends are not arrested. Melting glaciers, early snowmelt and severe droughts will cause more dramatic water shortages around the world. Rising sea levels will submerge coastal cities.
Over the last few years Pakistan, too, has seen extreme weather conditions and been repeatedly battered by floods and droughts. We are increasingly witnessing unpredictable rainfall, increased temperatures and season changes. Changes vary by region, such as increased rainfall and extreme weather events in Punjab and Sindh and decreased rainfall in Balochistan. In August 2010, record monsoon rains flooded large tracts of land in Pakistan. The floods forced 6 million Pakistanis to flee their homes and affected about 20 million people in some way. NASA images in 2010 showed the river Indus 14 miles wide or more as compared to only 0.6 miles in 2009.
Environmentalists and scientists agree that drastic action is needed to tackle the threat of global warming and climate change. In 1988, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was created by the United Nations Environment Programme to assess the scientific knowledge on global warming. The IPCC concluded in 1990 that there was broad international consensus that climate change was human-induced. That report paved the way for an international convention for climate change called the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), signed by over 150 countries at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992. The Kyoto Protocol, which was signed in Japan in December 1997, implemented the objective of the UNFCCC to fight global warming by reducing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere. The Protocol puts the obligation to reduce current emissions on developed countries on the basis that they are historically responsible for the current levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The renowned development expert, Martin Khor, says that that taking historical emissions into account, the rich countries owe a carbon debt because they have already used more than their fair quota of emissions. So far, however, rich nations have done very little within the Kyoto protocol to reduce emissions by any meaningful amount, while they are all for negotiating a follow-on treaty that puts more pressure on developing countries to agree to emissions targets.