Resilient agriculture, water reservoirs crucial for Pakistan – scientists

Leading climate scientists in Pakistan have called for the development of high-temperature-tolerant, climate-resilient, genetically modified crops and the construction of huge water reservoirs to mitigate the effects of climate change.

Speaking after the launch of Pakistan’s National Climate Change Policy (NCCP) last month, Ashfaq Ahmad Chattha warned that rising temperatures due to climate change were leading to reduced water supplies and affecting crop production.

“A one (degree) Centigrade rise in temperature could result in the loss of 1.2 million tonnes of wheat production,” warned Chattha, who heads the climate cell at the University of Agriculture in Faisalabad in northeast Punjab.

Chattha suggested that the country redefine agro-ecological zones to cope with climate change.

“We have to … use models for forecasting, make adjustments to planting time, densities and sowing method, change cropping pattern and cropping intensity and choose suitable varieties,” he said.


The NCCP is based on recommendations issued in early 2010 by a government-sponsored task force on climate change, which warned that Pakistan would have to deal with increasing incidents of heavy rains, flash floods, disease and rising temperatures. Since then, the country has suffered two rounds of disastrous flooding, in the summers of 2010 and 2011.

The United Nations Development Programme partly funded the development of the new policy, which was ratified by the Pakistani cabinet in September 2012. It sets a framework for mitigating the effects of climate change by focusing on water resources, agriculture and livestock, forestry, human health, disaster preparedness, transport and energy. 

Zahir Ahmad Zahir, a scientist associated with the Institute of Soil and Environmental Sciences, said climate change could not be avoided but anticipatory and precautionary adaptation would be more effective and less costly than emergency adaptation or retrofitting.

A major adaptive response could be the introduction of heat- and drought-resistant crop varieties adapted to new climatic and atmospheric conditions, he said.

Calling for the implementation of the climate change policy in Pakistan, Arshad Ahmad Khan, an irrigation and drainage expert, advocated more efficient irrigation, local rainwater harvesting, and the construction of water reservoirs in the upper catchments of the Indus.

The NCCP also advocates the promotion of renewable energy sources and efficient mass transport systems.

“The goal is to ensure that climate change is mainstreamed in the economically and socially vulnerable sectors of the economy and to steer Pakistan towards climate-resilient development,” Javaid Ali Khan, director-general for environment in the Ministry of Climate Change, said at the policy launch.

However, the NCCP has come in for criticism from some observers.


“Where will the resources for implementation come from?” asked Shafqat Kakakhel, a former U.N. Environment Programme official and a member of the original climate change task force.

“It is a framework document, not an action plan,” Kakakhel said. “What we need is implementation.”

According to a National Economic and Environmental Development Study, published by the government in 2011, climate change adaptation measures in Pakistan will cost around $6-14 billion between now and 2050, and mitigation efforts during the same period will require a further $7-18 billion.

“Without proper funding, the policy might meet the same fate as dozens of other good-intentioned policy documents prepared by successive governments and (which) are now gathering dust,” said Rina Saeed Khan, an environmental journalist based in Islamabad.

The NCCP does envision the setting up of an implementation committee, but it is to be staffed with bureaucrats while the need is for technocrats, she added.

Federal climate change minister Rana Farooq Saeed Khan said the government had consulted with the provinces and other stakeholders before finalising the policy and would help them implement it.

Marc-André Franche, country director of the United Nations Development Programme, said the government could not afford to be slack.

“Pakistan’s record on implementation is hardly enviable,” Franche said. “But the climate change clock is ticking too fast and the time (to act) is here and now.”

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