The Changes in the Ocean Caused by Climate Change And Their Consequences

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Table of contents

Theoretical Background

This particular section aims to introduce and highlight existing knowledge on the issue of climate change in an attempt to facilitate an in-depth understanding of this phenomenon. Climate is defined as “the typical range of weather, including its variability, experienced at a particular place” and to put it simply, climate change is a lasting modification of these patterns (Khan, 2012). This is a threat to life as we know it and has even been referred to as “one of the greatest challenges of our time” (UN General Assembly, 2015). In essence, climate change does not care for geographical boundaries and presents a global challenge that no country is safe from.

Although the Earth’s climate has witnessed several variations in the past, it is now changing at an unprecedented rate and merely 25% of it can be attributed to natural forces. This sudden acceleration in the process is a direct consequence of an escalation of the Greenhouse effect owing to human-induced or anthropogenic heating up of the atmosphere, and this poses a severe threat on the survival of the social and economic world as we know it today (Crowley, 2000).

Fueled by greenhouse gasses such as nitrous oxide (N2O), carbon monoxide (CO), carbon dioxide (CO2), and methane (CH4), the greenhouse effect absorbs sunlight upon its contact with the Earth’s surface and releases it back into the atmosphere as heat. In the absence of this effect, the Earth’s temperature would be 33°C lower than its present level, and would fail to sustain life. Nevertheless, when the concentration of greenhouse gasses goes beyond tolerable levels, they end up retaining excessive heat (Hardy, 2003).

Since 1990, greenhouse gas emissions have increased by over 50 percent, with the excessive burning of fossil fuels since the industrial revolution in 1750 having acted like catalytic agents (United Nations Development Programme, 2018). For the most part, when comparing the Earth’s temperature with its pre-industrial levels, it becomes apparent that they have increased by a probable 0.7°C. Research by the Intergovernmental Panel has also proclaimed anthropogenic causes as the main culprits behind this (Jamet & Corfee-Morlot, 2009).

An analysis of global climate change patterns paints a very disturbing picture. The average annual temperature in Canada has increased by 1.7°C from 1948 to 2016. To the north of the country, mean temperatures have actually risen by 2.3°C, over this time and in consequence, Northern Canadians are experiencing several consequences of climate change already (Canadian Gridded Temperature and Precipitation Anomalies, 2018).

Unpredictable changes in snow and ice are making traveling more and more dangerous, and permafrost melt is damaging infrastructure too. Moreover, traditional food sources are in danger and drinking water sources are also disappearing day by day. Subsequently, several psychosocial and cultural influences are affecting the country as well (Public Health Agency of Canada, 2017).

Jamet and Corfee-Morlot (2009) further assert that although aerosols have offset around 26% of greenhouse warming in the past, they have a limited effect as while carbon dioxide resides in the atmosphere for over 100 years, their presence does not exceed 10 days. In conclusion, industrial pollution causes short-term cooling which is followed by a longer stretch of warming.

The authors add that the melting of the Greenland and West Antarctic would raise sea levels leading to flooding in coastal regions and emphasize that climate change may increase the intensity and frequency of storms and cause longer droughts.

Extreme atmospheric events, like long spells of high temperature, droughts or heavy storms, can really disrupt agricultural productivity. Moreover, in areas where the temperature is near the maximum limit required for crops to grow, an increase in temperature can be especially harmful (Olesen & Bindi, 2002).

economic and social aspects, such as the loss of agricultural output as agriculture is extremely sensitive to climate (Ranger, How will climate change affect food production, 2012). In their study, Olesen and Bindi (2002) also express that since climate change is expected to affect water availability adversely, this can prove detrimental to agriculture – especially since demand for water demand rises in warmer climate with more severe heat waves.

As climate patterns change, vegetation will shift toward areas with favorable climate conditions and this may cost us natural forests in other regions which can no longer survive in the altered climate. Forest may become more susceptible to wildfires, and outbreaks of insects as a consequence of climate change. Since it is also expected to cause extreme events such as intense droughts and windstorms, this will also bring much harm to the world’s forests, creating both social and economic issues (Kirilenko & Sedjo, 2007).

Moreover, an increase in temperatures by 1.5°C could lead to a 7m rise in sea levels and if this rise in temperature reaches 2.5°C, it would cause an additional 5m rise in sea levels which would have disastrous consequences for coastal areas leading to large migration flows (Corfee-Morlot & Jamet, 2009).

Marine life is also not safe from the adverse effects of climate change. Over the past 50 years, approximately 90% of the excess heat, and almost 1/3 of all anthropogenic Carbon dioxide produced, has been absorbed by the oceans. This raised the average sea-surface temperatures by 0.7 ºC and caused the average pH of the ocean to drop by 0.1 units, causing acidification at a rate unheard of in the past 300 million years. Additionally, warming of waters has altered the depth at which species can thrive and many of these are forced to move deeper towards shallower waters in search of cold waters (Simpson, Blanchard, & Genner, 2013). Ocean acidification does not just corrode shells of marine life; it also makes the water uninhabitable and steals away the molecules necessary for organisms to thrive. Coral, shellfish and crustaceans are at great risk from the aforementioned ills and the fact they serve as important food sources for several other marine species means that they are of immense importance for the stability of sea life. If their levels were to be harmed, it would jeopardize the entire ecosystem (Tembo, 2017).

Even minor changes in the ocean temperature may result in mass extinctions of species and cause serious economic and societal issues (Yao & Somero, 2014). Consequently, this puts the livelihood of 36 million people at risk, along with the food security of over 1.5 billion people who rely on fish for over 20% of their dietary needs. As food prices reflect scarcity, a hike in pries of fish due to a fall in their breeding levels may lead to an inability to afford them and cause malnutrition and stunting in certain communities (Badjeck, Allison, Halls, & Dulvy, 2010).

Climate change is already wreaking havoc on national economies, and owing to its global nature, it is proving to be a nuisance for the entire world. As can be deduced from the aforementioned studies, greenhouse gasses emissions are currently at their highest levels, and owing to increasing temperatures, sea levels are also on rise. Weather patterns are facing unusual and unpredictable variations, and weather events like floods and droughts are becoming more and more extreme with time. There is thus an urgent need for action against Climate change before these consequences worsen.

Status of the Problem in Pakistan

Faizan Rafi (2016) expressed that climate is becoming excessively volatile and although Pakistan annually contributes just 1% to the total global greenhouse gas emissions and is ranked 135th in per capita GHG emissions, this has doubled in the last two decades. Currently, Pakistan stands as the 7th most vulnerable country at risk due to climate change, especially since it lacks the technical and financial capability to adapt.

Farooqi et al. (2005) states that a country like Pakistan whose economy is heavily dependent on climate sensitive sectors like agriculture and forestry is likely to be highly endangered by climate change. Climatic data from 1951-2000 was used to see how overtime the country’s climatic conditions have changed. Results indicated that the country’s annual average surface temperature has been showing a positive trend since early 20th century.

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It was seen that overtime there was an increase in the mean temperature by 0.6-1.0 °C in arid coastal areas, arid mountains and hyper arid plains. Furthermore, the coastal belt region saw a decrease in both summer and winter rainfall by almost 10-15%. One of the major sources that feed the river system of Pakistan is glacial melt water and a drastic decrease has been noted in recent years of glacier cover along the eastern slopes of the Himalaya. The total cover is said to be close to reaching the lowest experienced in the past 10,000 years. Scientists have even predicted the loss of all central and eastern Himalayan glaciers by 2035. This significant decrease in glacial water is affecting our Indus Basin as a decrease in glacial cover has led to a decrease in downstream flow volumes. Mohsin Butt et al. (2009) asserted that although approximately 13700km2 of Pakistan’s area is covered by glaciers, it has been observed that glaciers in the Himalayan region are melting at a faster pace than the rest of the world, and if it continues at this rate then it is expected that these glaciers would disappear by 2035. The study concluded that in between time period 2000-2006 Pakistan saw an increase in temperature during summers but a decrease in it over the years during winter season.

Qamar Uz Zaman Chaudhry (2017) released a report on climate change profile in Pakistan. Results of the national Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Inventory of Pakistan showed that total greenhouse gas emissions for the year 2011-2012 were 369 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2 e). Of this 44.8% share was from agriculture and livestock sector, 45.9% from energy sector, 3.9% share was from industrial processes, and 2.6% share of land use change for forestry sectors. The figures below show percentage shares of greenhouse gases contributed by various sectors during the year 2008 and then 2012.

From 1901-2000 a notable change of 0.57°C was seen in Pakistan’s annual mean temperature. Then another upward rise of 0.47°C was seen from 1961 to 2007. This warming up of temperature is mainly attributed to increase in temperature during winters. A change in weather conditions during summer and winter season was observed as heat wave days per year increased by 31 days during 1980 to 2007 and intensity of cold waves decreased in southern and northeastern parts of the country, but increased in northwestern and western regions.

Saif Ullah (2017) mentioned in his study that Pakistan is ranked 12th among all other countries that are expected to be immensely affected due to climate change. From the above analysis, we see that climate change is set to have a great impact on Pakistan. Over the years, the country has already seen variation in its temperature across various regions. These changes are in turn affecting various sectors of the economy, the ecosystem and making day to day living harder. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), involve 17 “Global Goals” which invite the world to take action against concerns surrounding poverty, hunger and education. They also aim to protect and conserve the Earth for the sake of ensuring peace and prosperity for all.

The issue of Climate Change has very far reaching impacts. It is directly related to Goal 13 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – which aims to “take urgent action to combat climate change and its impact.” To elaborate, among other things, the targets under this aim emphasize on embracing mechanisms which will facilitate an increased capability for effective climate change in developing countries, and limit the adverse effects of this threat.

The links between climate change and sustainable development are very strong indeed and this is why most of its goals are impacted. Moreover, if timely action is not taken against it, developing countries like Pakistan will be the ones most vulnerable to the effects these changes will bring for their social and economic systems, since they lack the modern technology the developed world has.

This issue is indirectly related with several other SDGs as well. For instance, the issue of climate change has dire consequences for Goal 14 of the SDGs, that is, Life below Water. This goal is indirectly related to the issue of climate change. Among other things, this goal aims to protect and conserve marine life form the adverse impacts ocean acidification and discussion in the first section of this assignment has already clarified the link between Climate Change and this phenomenon. Excessive absorption of Carbon dioxide leads to this acidification which can prove very detrimental for the health of marine life.

Moreover, goal 15 that life on land, is also related to climate change as conserving forests is an integral part of this and forests cannot escape being severely impacted by it. While climate patterns fluctuate, vegetation tends to shift in order to find tolerable climate conditions, and several areas became hostile to sustaining forests. The series of extreme events caused by climate change like droughts and hurricanes will prove to be very damaging towards this goal and as discussed earlier, forests will also become more vulnerable to wildfires and insect outbreaks. The adverse effect on birds and other wildlife that rely on fish for their dietary needs can also not be ignored – wildlife may also suffer immensely as forests die out, as these are often their habitats. Moreover, the earlier discussion regarding fish moving towards colder waters can be extended to animals as well. While migration of wildlife causes issues, some have nowhere to go and are unable to migrate; these unfortunate beings eventually die out.

The economic costs that climate change imposes are estimated to be over billions of dollars, this threatens the achievement of the very first goal from the SDGs, “No Poverty.” This goal aims to bring the world’s population out of poverty and as people lose their jobs and livelihood due to losses in agriculture and fishing, the status of achieving this goal receives a major setback.

Achievement of the second goal that is “Zero Hunger”, which aims to eradicate malnutrition and promote agriculture, is also put at risk. This is because changes in weather and water availability due to climate change adversely affects agriculture (including livestock rearing) in certain areas, and yield from fishing falls as well. Fall in availability of food will drive up the prices and result in malnutrition and even starvation for a lot of people; it will eventually make the achievement of the first goal harder too.

Climate change also has several consequences for maintaining good health and wellbeing, which is goal 3 of the SDGs. Extreme weather like heat waves and flooding, can impact health adversely, and it can even cost us many lives.

Climate change represents the most significant challenge of the twenty-first century and poses risks to water and sanitation services. This is because intense weather events like flooding, and the loss of water resources due to droughts and declining rainfall can exhaust the supply of water. An indirect relationship is thus established between Climate change and goal six of the SDGs, “Clean water and Sanitation.”

While damage caused by weather events to infrastructure contaminates the quality of water, it also effects the achievement of goal 9 of the Sustainable Development Goals which is based on the promotion and enhancement of “Industry, innovation and infrastructure.” This is because roads and electricity grids cannot escape the impact of extreme weather events. These events, and the unpredictability of weather also disrupt Industries, as must not be forgotten that changes in forests, fish and agriculture can causes many problems for their smooth functioning. Climate change is thus considered to be a greater threat for the achievement of Goal 8, which aims for the promotion of economic growth and the provision of jobs for all. It is a sad reality that as industries fail, the employment levels will fall and so will economic growth. The issue of climate change can thus prove to hinder achievement of this goal.

Critical Review of the Policy in Pakistan

In 2012, Pakistan’s Ministry of Climate introduced The National Climate Change Policy as a framework to address the issues that the country is facing or is bound to face in the future due to changing climatic conditions. Furthermore, this policy provides a detailed framework for the development and implementation of actions plans to help combat these effects on a national level, to incorporate this in the socially and economically vulnerable sectors of the economy, and to help steer Pakistan towards climate resilient development.

The policy laid down a set of objectives, like to reduce risks due to change in intensity and frequency of extreme weather events, to merge climate change policy with other inter related national policies, to focus on long term sustainability and conservation of natural resources, and to ensure a sustained economic growth by responding to the prevailing climatic changes. The policy addressed various aspects of the economy that are being or will in some future time period be affected by climate change.

Under National Climate Change Policy, the Ministry covered almost all bases where the country could be vulnerable due to changing climatic conditions. In total, it had 120 recommendations which focused on both adaptation and mitigation. But, so far no implementation of these policies has been seen on a large scale. Take for example depletion of the country’s water resources. Mudassaar Jehangir (2018) point out that according to IMF, Pakistan is at 3rd number among the list of countries that face acute water shortages. Similar statistics were revealed in a report by UNDP, which further stated that by 2025 the country will reach a level of absolute water scarcity. Climate change is being deemed as one of the major reasons for this scarcity. Monsoon season across country has become unpredictable, winter season has shrunk from four to two months in many areas, and the country cannot even save floodwater due to lack of dams. At its birth in 1947, 5% of Pakistan’s area was covered by forests but over the years this figure has dropped to just 2%. Reduced forest area means reduction in precipitation, and higher levels of Carbon dioxide in the environment due to lack of trees to absorb the greenhouse gas. During summers, hearing news of people dying due to heatstroke has become a common norm. Saad Syed (2018) reported that 65 people were killed in Karachi due to high temperature, which was said to have gone as high as 44°C. In 2015, another heatwave had hit the city and its morgue and hospitals were overwhelmed and almost 1,300 people mostly sick and elderly died. The Edhi morgue was said to have run out of freezer space after roughly 650 bodies were bought there in a span of few days.

Muhammad Zahid Rifat (2018) discussed the Prime Minister’s Green Pakistan Program, under which 100 million trees will be planted across the country in a time period of five years. In order to increase forest cover new strategies are being made which include teaching locals ways to manage and conserve forest areas.

In 2016, the Senate passed the Climate Change Act 2016. This bill establishes a policy-making Climate Change Council, to prepare and ensure the implementation of projects to help Pakistan become resilient to climatic changes. So far, the country has only created reports and passed bills but no solid outcome has come out of them. A developing country like Pakistan still has a long way to go before it can combat these extreme changes. But, time is running out and unless the government takes quick and proper action against it, future generations will suffer due to the carelessness of today’s generation.


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