Why Is Climate Change Adaptation More Important Than Mitigation in Pakistan?

Almost every paper, report, or article (including this one) about climate change impacts begins with something along the lines of how Pakistan’s contribution to GHG emissions is minimal (0.9% globally) and yet the nation is ranked fifth most vulnerable to climate change impacts. This is supposed to establish the incommensurate relationship between emitters and the emission consequences. Despite its minimal contributions to emissions and its high ranking of vulnerability, a review of the Updated Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) of 2021, demonstrates that Pakistan is still currently more focused on mitigation than adaptation measures. Climate change mitigation “refers to efforts to reduce or prevent emissions of greenhouse gases”(1). Climate change adaptation refers to actions taken “to prepare for and adjust to both the current and predicted impacts of climate change”(2).

According to the 2021 updated NDCs of Pakistan, in terms of adaptation actions, the government of Pakistan is focusing on “Indus flood risk mitigation and enhanced water recharge” as well as “increasing protected area cover” (3). Yet, high-priority actions in terms of mitigation have been identified much more clearly with clear targets for renewable energy, transportation, coal usage, land usage change, and forestry. It is only as of March 2021, that Pakistan officially began the process of creating a National Adaptation Plan to build resilience against climate change impacts.

In the fiscal year 2020, according to the World Bank, 40% of households suffered from moderate to severe food insecurity. Continued climate shocks, such as increased temperatures, variations in precipitation patterns, and natural hazards such as floods, cyclones, droughts, landslides, and glacial lake outburst floods, cause crop failures which severely threaten the national food system. With the agricultural sector representing a 19.2% share of the GDP, any disruptions in the agriculture sector will have corresponding consequences on Pakistan’s economy (4). Climate change has already caused major losses in terms of livelihoods, crop productivity, livestock health, and human health due to the sector’s reliance on water and the impacts of climate change.

Year after year, in Sindh and Punjab, flash floods due to heavy monsoon rainfall cause damage to the fertile plains. This year, the combination of historically high temperatures, the war in Ukraine, and the increased cost of fertilizer, had a serious impact on Pakistan’s wheat production and the ability to meet demand (5). Farmers in Gilgit-Baltistan had to sow earlier than in previous years due to the dryness in the soil and unusually high temperatures in March. This affected crops like potatoes, almonds, apricots, and apples. Additionally, recent monsoon rains, which are 87% more than last year, have badly damaged cotton, dates, chillies, cauliflower, onions, and other fruits and vegetables in Sindh and Balochistan (6). In the agricultural sector, the adoption of climate-smart agricultural practices is crucial to maintain a level of production that is up to par with the expected population growth. Some examples of climate-smart agricultural practices consist of the “development of crop varieties and livestock breeds that are resistant to heat and water stresses; practices that improve soil fertility, pest management, and protection of nutritional value in crops” (7).

According to the National Disaster Management Authority, 650 people have died across the country and thousands have been displaced due to the monsoon season since mid-June 2022 (8). Floods in Balochistan have caused damage to nearly 700,000 acres of crops across departments incurring losses as far as US$10 million (9). For the water sector, urban and rural flooding risks need to be managed, and water needs to be utilized and regulated in a manner that is commensurate with the resources present. In terms of improved management of water resources, “water-use efficiency and productivity need to increase, small reservoirs and rainwater harvesting and storage systems need to be built, and water conservation technology and irrigation technology need to be adopted” (10). For disaster preparedness, the updated NDCs highlighted the need for a “hydro-meteorological monitoring system, disaster risk management solutions that reduce the loss of life infrastructure and livelihoods at all levels, and a multi-hazard vulnerability and risk assessment that provides comprehensive risk information”(11).

Due to the climate change impacts that Pakistan has experienced this year alone, food insecurity and inflation are expected to increase. The devastation of floods on communities, property, and economic activity, is something we’ve been witnessing on our screens daily since June 2022. While climate change mitigation efforts certainly bring a host of benefits to the nation and contribute meaningfully to the NDCs and global effort, Pakistan should have an unwavering focus on climate change adaptation measures. The national infrastructure, disaster management systems, and sectoral resilience (especially for agriculture and water), will continue to be subject to stress as the frequency and intensity of extreme climate-related events increases in the global South.

Author: Rida Ahmad


(1) https://www.unep.org/explore-topics/climate-action/what-we-do/mitigation

(2) https://ec.europa.eu/clima/eu-action/adaptation-climate-change_en

(3)(4)(7)(10)(11) Pakistan’s Updated Nationally Determined Contributions 2021

(5) https://southasianvoices.org/climate-change-and-food-insecurity-in-pakistan/

(6) https://www.thethirdpole.net/en/climate/farmers-northern-pakistan-feel-heat/

(8) (9) https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/8/19/left-with-nothing-record-floods-devastate-pakistan-province

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