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Why Marching For Climate Justice Is Our Collective Responsibility?

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Just a year ago, a 16-year-old Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thunberg single-handedly took a bold step to protest the lack of political urgency in her country towards combating climate change, unknowingly triggering one of the largest global climate movements to have ever existed.

Since then Greta has inspired millions of children to come out of their schools in hopes of securing climate justice, as the fate of the planet hangs in balance with the looming climate crisis posing the greatest ever threat to humanity and its future.

The latest climate strikes that would start worldwide from September 20 seeks to inspire people from all walks of life to come out of their comfort zones and march at one of the largest environmental protests ever held to demand a global reduction in carbon emissions and an end to the use of fossil fuels.

Pakistan, a country of around 217 million people with a significant percentage of its population (approximately 30 percent) consisting of youth, is also one of the most affected countries from climate change.

According to the 2018 Long-Term Climate Risk Index report, Pakistan is ranked as the seventh most vulnerable country that would be affected by the impending impact of climate change, even though its contributions to the phenomena are the lowest. The country continues to face an ever-increasing onslaught of catastrophic floods, droughts, and cyclones that would annually cost the country over $7 to 10 billion to mitigate its effects.

Advisor to the Prime Minister for Climate Change Malik Amin Aslam has called climate change as the “most severe existential threat facing Pakistan today”. Climate catastrophe continues to displace thousands of Pakistanis and has rendered them as climate refugees within their own country. Many of them belong to the already disfranchised and marginalised groups including women, peasants and fishing communities that remain the most affected demographics due to the effects of the present climate crisis.

Ecologically sensitive areas in the country continue to remain among the most at-risk areas. The Indus delta, for example, is a complex ecosystem comprising of wetlands, mudflats, and mangrove forest. The delta is also home to different fish species and their breeding ground is a crucial stopover for many migratory birds, while it also acts as a refuge for many endangered animal species.

Unfortunately, the problem of upstream damming, coastal development, sea intrusion, pollution, and climate change are all contributing towards the destruction of the fragile Indus delta which remains one of the country’s most threatened ecosystems. The delta plays a significant role in sustaining regional fisheries business while protecting local communities from cyclones and storm surges.

Karachi, a metropolis that is home to around 20 million people, has already faced the wrath of unpredictable climate disasters, the worst being the deadly heat waves of 2015 that killed 1,500 people. Recent flooding in the port city that has adversely affected the poorest residents of the city worsened due to decades of political discontent, administrative decay, and overpopulation. The prevailing problems have been further accelerated by climate change.

The mighty Indus River which once reached the Arabian Sea and acted as an impenetrable barrier for foreign invaders like Alexander the Great during his conquest of India, now hardly reaches beyond the Kotri barrage as it is unable to quench the growing thirst of the dying Indus delta. According to a National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) report, Karachi would be submerged under the sea by 2060, while Badin and Thatta would be claimed by seawater by 2050 if the current trend of sea intrusion along the coastal line continues.

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Jacobabad was recently declared as “one of the hottest cities in Pakistan, in Asia and possibly in the world” by Time’s climate review. The World Air Quality Report 2018 also declared major Pakistani cities such as Lahore, Faisalabad, and Karachi to be amongst the world’s 10 most polluted cities.

The glaciers of Himalayan, Karakoram and Hindukush mountain ranges are melting, thus significantly reducing the inflow of meltwater into the Indus River. Experts have already warned of a dire future with many parts of South Asia, including the Indus basin in Pakistan and many parts of India would make human survival in these areas quite difficult by 2100.

Despite our political differences, our common environmental challenges should unite both India and Pakistan to work towards increasing bilateral cooperation and adopting an apolitical approach to strategically assess and address the climate change issue together.

Across 29 cities of Pakistan, a ‘Climate March’ would be organised by a civil society coalition led by the Climate Action Pakistan to join the Global Climate Strike in its march for climate justice. Around 34 planned events would be held in big and small cities of the country, including Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Multan, Turbat, Mardan, Peshawar, Quetta, Thatta, Faisalabad, Bahawalpur, and Kotli.

The young climate marchers in Pakistan are demanding that a national climate emergency should be declared, national climate change council should be convened urgently, the national climate change policy should be reviewed, climate justice should be ensured through a global coalition, low-carbon economy should be adopted and focus should be shifted towards sustainability as the foundations of our model, while converting to renewable energy, immediately halting coal-fired energy projects and recognising air pollution as a public health issue.

Pakistan was one of the first countries in the world to have established its very own National Ministry of Climate Change in 2012, but ever since its inception, it hasn’t served its purpose of formalising any effective national strategy to combat the climate emergency.

Imran Khan-led government’s initiatives of banning the use of plastic bags and the 10 billion tree tsunami campaign generated a lot of media buzz for a while but failed to address the issue at its core. We must implement long-term, holistic and sustainable strategies to adapt to and mitigate the worst effects of the climate crisis, which for now are not even discussed openly.

The fight for climate justice is a collective struggle against all forms of social inequalities and injustices in our world. We shouldn’t take this fight for granted and just consider it as spectacle advanced by a privileged few because the worst to suffer from the climate crisis are the underrepresented, marginalised and impoverished communities who are least responsible for it.

Leading climate scientists found out last year that humanity would feel the dire effects of climate change if temperatures were to exceed 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. This leaves us with the option to reduce our carbon footprint to near zero by mid-century to avoid the impending catastrophe.

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There are many reasons why we must march. We must march for the people who suffer the most even though their contributions to this phenomenon are the lowest, we must march to give our future generations a planet that is not being killed by our greed and shortsightedness, and we must march to stop people from losing their livelihoods, farms, homes, and lives to climate disasters.

The march is also important to stop the fossil fuel industry from polluting our air, our water and destroying our health. It would help us to push for a future where renewable energy would not be a luxury but a necessity. The world must invest in advancing alternative solutions to generate clean energy. Our collective efforts would help save our fragile ecosystems and declining biodiversity that’s already endangered due to unsustainable development, poaching, and rising pollution.

We as responsible citizens must make our governments realise that our future should not be compromised by corporate greed. We must save our glaciers which are our most valuable source of freshwater that sustains our life, cities and farms downstream

We need to seek justice for those who are most vulnerable to climate change. Our efforts should also be focused on saving our already dying forests (less than 2.2 percent remain in the country) that act as carbon sinks but are being steadily destroyed by powerful land mafias through deforestation and wildfires.

We must march because the future of our next generation is at stake. We also must participate in the march because our children are dying after breathing polluted air. People should also join the march because fossil fuel companies have been lying to us despite knowing about the dangerous impacts of climate change since the 1980s.

The global climate strike should be supported to save thousands of our people from becoming internally displaced climate refugees. We should take this message to universities and businesses to pressurise them to cut down their heavy investments in the fossil fuel industry because we can’t simply let people get rich through the destruction of our planet.

Another reason why we should all participate in the march is to secure the future of our indigenous people who are losing their ancestral lands to deforestation, coal mining and oil exploration. We must march because the science of climate change is real and we don’t have another planet to live on. Therefore, our politicians must act before it’s too late.

Greta Thunberg, while reading a statement before testifying at the US Congress this week, said: “I want you to listen to the scientists. And I want you to unite behind the science. And then I want you to take action.”

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