Climate change, food and geopolitics – The diplomat

A recent report by the Office of National Intelligence (US) identified the 11 countries most vulnerable to socio-political and geopolitical instability due to climate change and Pakistan is one of them.

According to various estimates, climate change could cost Pakistan a staggering sum of $ 3.8 billion per year. Considering the importance of agriculture in Pakistan – it contributes 22 percent of its GDP and employs nearly 39 percent of its workforce Along with soaring food price inflation, exacerbating climate change can put its energy, food and national security at risk.

Drawing attention to the asymmetric effects of climate change on countries in the South in his book “The Divide: A Brief Guide to Global Inequality and its Solutions”, economic anthropologist Jason Hickel points out that 83% of deaths linked to climate change occurred in countries with the lowest carbon emissions, while out of 588 billion tonnes of carbon emissions (figures up to 2017), 70 percent came from industrial economies. Pakistan is a case in point.

The future holds difficult choices for the country. On the one hand, the need to switch to cleaner energy sources is necessary and extremely important. On the other hand, as I have argued elsewhere, the inherent limitations of these systems make such a change difficult, to say the least.

Reality makes fun of the ideal. More than 40 million Pakistani people lack electricity and more than 50 percent lack “clean cooking facilities”. Unemployment is of concern as one in 10 people in Pakistan is unemployed with a total rate of around 4.65% in 2020. Pakistan’s per capita income was $ 1,465 in 2020. Recently, the country’s total liabilities have reached $ 283 billion (2021), the highest on record. Finally, a reality check: Fossil fuels still make up 64 percent of Pakistan’s energy mix, with renewables providing a meager 4 percent.

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The worsening climate situation underscores the need for Pakistan to pay urgent attention to several issues. One of those issues is food. Recently, the UN’s World Food and Agriculture Price Index reached 134.4, the highest since 2011. Pakistanis spend nearly 39% of their income on food and 24% of their income. % to other commodities such as rent, gas and water. According to a 2017 estimate, around 68 percent of households receive inadequate nutrition. This recent rise in food prices will only exacerbate this situation, as the price sensitive index hit a 37-week high with an increase of 17.4 percent, while food is about 48 percent higher. expensive than in 2018.

This increase in food prices, among others, has a direct correlation with social unrest and political instability. Research shows that between 2005 and 2011, food riots jumped 250%, sparking protests in Egypt, Libya and Syria. The Arab Spring was also the result of rising food prices.

This question also goes beyond the geopolitical domain. It is instructive to note here that India is building a food corridor, called the India-Middle East Food Corridor, under the auspices of a wider Arab-Mediterranean corridor between India and Europe. According to a recent study by the Singapore-based Institute of South Asia Studies, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are providing multibillion-dollar investments to help India fit into the wider chain. value, from technologies to food production. There is already a platform, Agriota, which helps Indian farmers connect with businesses in the UAE.

The food corridor is expected to create 200,000 jobs with over 2 million Indian farmers as beneficiaries. The overall objective remains to build higher value-added production that integrates farms with retail outlets.

As noted above, given the extreme importance of agriculture to the Pakistani economy and the threat to food security, which can easily trigger social unrest or become a geopolitical flashpoint, the need for Pakistan to work on a similar corridor is both obvious and logical.

While the UAE’s and Saudi Arabia’s financial and administrative support to India apparently violates its principle of identity, it still makes perfect diplomatic and strategic sense. Pakistan has a range of other options – Turkey, Qatar, China and Russia, for example, with whom it has stable or friendly relations – to build a similar corridor. A food corridor with Russia and China could be of particular benefit to us in terms of volume, technological assistance and knowledge transfer. Such an initiative could help Pakistan achieve food security.

Besides this dimension, there are also measures to be taken internally. It is necessary to introduce congestion charges for vehicles entering high traffic areas. Improving the public transport system is also necessary. The tree plantations are good; making factories energy efficient is better. Brick kilns must go. Climate change should be taught in schools.

Studies show an extremely negative impact on Pakistani crop yields as temperatures continue to rise. Pakistan’s vulnerability to disasters and the negative effects on labor productivity will add to existing concerns. As always, the suffering of the poor will be strongly asymmetric to that of the upper class.

Research indicates that the average temperature in Pakistan is already at such high levels that any further increase in consumption will negatively affect living standards due to environmental consequences.

Finally, South Asia is expected to host 36 million “internal climate migrants” as a result of the climate crisis by 2050. This would increase the current migrant / refugee burden for Pakistan.

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Priority must be given to climate change. The problem goes beyond improving the air quality index and the possibility of enjoying al fresco dining; it concerns social unrest, political instability, and geopolitical issues that fuel a country’s foreign policy, as well as diplomatic and economic prowess.

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