Pakistan’s pursuit of a thriving, environmentally sustainable future is intricately linked to the challenges posed by Arctic warming and the nation’s own climate realities. Despite its considerable distance from the Arctic region, Pakistan’s environmental landscape bears a significant imprint from the consequences of Arctic warming. With a score of 87.83 out of 100 on the Climate Risk Index, the nation finds itself precariously positioned in the face of enduring climate threats. Consequently, Pakistan faces the monumental task of navigating through these environmental perils while pursuing its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Shedding light on this ongoing struggle, recent data from the 2023 Sustainable Development Report rates Pakistan with a score of 58.97, ranking it 128th out of 166 countries assessed on the SDG index.
The domino effects of Arctic warming, though remote, have profound consequences for Pakistan. As the Arctic climate shifts, countries like Pakistan face intensifying vulnerability to disaster risk. Ranked 18 out of 191 countries, Pakistan faces some of the highest disaster risk levels in the world. Its social vulnerability ranking is 37 out of 191 due to its high rates of multidimensional poverty, hence lowering its adaptive capacity.
In Pakistan, these outcomes manifest as heightened vulnerability to intensified flooding, extreme temperatures and drought. These impacts also cast a shadow over Pakistan’s economic growth and sustainability ambitions, emphasizing the intrinsic link between Pakistan’s pursuit of the SDGs and the Arctic.
The Link between Arctic Change and Pakistan’s SDGs Progress
The Arctic is warming four times faster than the rest of the world. The Arctic’s accelerated warming has a ripple effect, disturbing global weather dynamics. If the Arctic loses its sea ice and snow cover, global warming could accelerate by 25-40%, multiplying risks worldwide, including in Pakistan. Nine of the sixteen climate tipping points are in the polar regions with five out of the nine already close to tipping.
While Arctic change alone is not solely responsible for climate shifts across Pakistan, factors such as increased solar energy absorption due to melting Arctic ice and altered jet streams arising from differential rates of warming, have knock-on effects on the country’s weather patterns. Resulting hot and dry conditions can cause heatwaves, floods, drought, and stronger cyclones.
Pakistan is one of eight countries that occupy the Third Pole, a region that contains the largest ice and snow masses outside of the polar regions. Home to more than 7,000 glaciers, Pakistan has one of the highest glacier counts of any country on Earth. By 2018, more than 3,000 glacier lakes had formed in there due to melting. Like India, climate change-induced glacial melting in Pakistan’s Himalayan region is causing flash foods and endangering lives. In 2022, one third of the country was submerged due to torrential rains during the monsoon, which claimed the lives of more than 1,700 people.
Such disruptions damage agriculture, infrastructure and hinder education, further exacerbating challenges for vulnerable communities in Pakistan. These challenges are barriers to Pakistan’s achievement of its SDG targets.
Climate Crisis Intensified by Arctic Melting: Socioeconomic Concerns for Pakistan
The SDGs are a global blueprint to bolster social welfare, targeting 17 vital areas that include education, health, gender equality, and social inclusion. However, Arctic warming exacerbates the climate crisis and poses a significant threat to Pakistan’s SDG achievement, which can lead to cascading socioeconomic ramifications. Three fundamental pillars crucial for socio-economic progress—infrastructure, human capital, and standard of living—find themselves under pronounced stress from climatic alterations underscored by Arctic phenomena.
Infrastructure is vital for economic growth. However, Pakistan’s infrastructural advancement is at risk due to erratic weather patterns that result in flooding. Markedly, the 2022 and 2023 monsoon season each wreaked havoc on Pakistan’s housing, agriculture and livestock, transport and communications sectors. The 2022 floods resulted in damages and economic losses of USD 30 billion and reconstruction needs of over USD 16 billion. Flooding destroyed 410 bridges, and damaged more than 13,000 kilometers of road and rail networks. The damage hampered viable economic activities requiring infrastructure for market reach. A study has attributed the flooding to global warming.
Standard of Living:
Agriculture plays a crucial role in Pakistan as most of its citizens are employed in the agricultural sector, which consists of 37.54% of the workforce. In 2022, about 4 million acres of farmland were inundated and 800,000 cattle killed. As of March 2023, 1.8 million people were still surrounded by stagnant floodwater from the 2022 flood. This resulted in many farmers missing the winter season crop, leading to a decrease in agricultural output. This has resulted in food and water insecurity that affected more than 7 million people. Additionally, an estimated 1.9 million Pakistani households are at risk of being pushed into non-monetary poverty. This could lower the standard of living and hinder socioeconomic prosperity.
Human Capital: A healthy, educated population drives a nation’s progress. However, climate-induced disasters can cause displacement and disrupt education, compromising Pakistan’s human capital. The fallout from these challenges, including restricted access to education, impedes progress of SDG 4 (Quality Education). The 2022 flood damaged 34,204 schools, affecting 2.2 million children across 126 districts. Additionally, 8 million people were displaced, affecting productivity and ultimately human capital.
Pakistan stands at a crossroads, facing the dual challenges of Arctic-intensified climate change and the pursuit of its SDG commitments. Understanding the global implications of Arctic shifts is pivotal for Pakistan to frame effective, proactive strategies. By recognizing and addressing these intricacies, Pakistan can chart a new course towards a future that synergizes economic growth with sustainable and resilient development in the face of ever-evolving climate challenges.
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The following gauges show up-to-date data regarding key indicators in the Arctic. These indicators clearly point to the crisis at hand.