ISLAMABAD: Climate change will have serious direct and indirect effects on the agriculture sector of Pakistan, said the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in its report titled, “Climate Risk Country Profile Pakistan”, released here on Monday.

The report said that direct effects include alterations to carbon dioxide availability, precipitation and temperatures.

While indirect effects include impacts on water resource availability and seasonality, soil organic matter transformation, soil erosion, changes in pest and disease profiles, the arrival of invasive species, and decline in arable areas due to the submergence of coastal lands and desertification.

On an international level, these impacts are expected to damage key staple crop yields, even on lower emissions pathways.

Tebaldi and Lobell (2018) estimate 5% and 6% declines in global wheat and maize yields respectively even if the Paris Climate Agreement is met and warming is limited to 1.5°C.

Shifts in the optimal and viable spatial ranges of certain crops are also inevitable, though the extent and speed of those shifts remains dependent on the emissions pathway.

A further and perhaps lesser appreciated influence of climate change on agricultural production is through its impact on the health and productivity of the labor force.

Citing a study the ADB said that Dunne et al (2013) suggests that labor productivity during peak months has already dropped by 10 percent as a result of warming, and that a decline of up to 20% might be expected by 2050 under the highest emissions pathway.

In combination, it is highly likely that the above processes will have a considerable impact on national food consumption patterns both through direct impacts on internal agricultural operations, and through impacts on the global supply chain.

Agriculture employs 38.57% of the Pakistan’s workforce and contributes 22% to gross domestic product (GDP), making potential climate impacts and adaptation needs in the sector a high priority.

The five most important crops in the country, wheat, rice, cotton, sugarcane, and maize, are grown predominantly by subsistence farmers, and a large proportion of the nation’s agricultural land is degraded.

Around 80% of Pakistan’s agricultural production area is irrigated.

Damage to key cash crop yields, such as cotton, is a particular concern.

Pakistan is the fifth largest producer of cotton in the world—the industry contributes 10% of the country’s GDP and employs approximately 30% of the country’s farmers, many of whom are rural women.

The impact of extreme climate events on the agricultural sector in Pakistan can be very significant, raising concerns regarding any increase in their frequency attributed to climate change.

Floods inundate fertile land, kill livestock, destroy standing crops, and reduce or eliminate yields.

This was demonstrated in the major flood of 2010, during which an estimated 2.4 million hectares of un-harvested crops were lost, worth approximately $5.1 billion.

Droughts can be equally devastating to rural livelihoods.

From 1999–2002, droughts in the Sindh and Baluchistan provinces killed two million livestock and necessitated emergency relief to provide drinking water and food aid to farming communities. Even minimal changes in precipitation patterns over prolonged periods can alter the country’s food production by placing greater pressure on the water resources the country’s irrigation network depends on. 

The report talking about the climate change impacts on urban life and energy said that Pakistan faces increases in average temperatures significantly above the global average. Cities in its northern regions will be strongly impacted.

These rises add to already high baseline temperatures.

Under higher emissions pathways the number of days per year with temperatures over 35°C may rise from around 120 to over 150 by the middle of the 21st century.

These changes will place extreme pressure on urban environments, and the energy systems which support them. Changes should be seen in the context of the increasing impact of the urban heat island effect, driven by urbanisation, and identified in cities such as Lahore and Peshawar.

The talking about the Climate Change Impacts on Communities said that Pakistan holds considerable social vulnerability to disaster. High poverty and malnutrition rates prevail and many communities and minority groups are marginalised by socio-economic status, location, and political circumstances.

Pakistan stands at 125th out of 169 countries on the Human Development Index.

Pakistan’s high exposure to multiple natural hazards and its likely exposure to above average climate changes should be seen in the context of its vulnerability. Over decadal timeframes mortality attributable to natural hazards is dominated by Pakistan’s exposure to earthquakes.

However, in recent years flooding has also had a very significant impact. Approximately 2,000 people were killed by the major flood in 2010, with 12 million homes and 2.2 million hectares of crops damaged or destroyed.

The high temperature increases projected for Pakistan present particular challenges in a nation where the agricultural sector remains the largest employer.

Ahmed and Gautam (2013) estimate that only 17.5% of the people below the poverty line in Pakistan are in urban areas.

Rural groupings include those who are owners of small farms (20%), those who are landless farmers (10%) and agricultural laborers (12%) all of whom are likely to be among the most affected by the above pressures. The report further warned that the climate change may also severely impact on the human health, heat related mortality and spread diseases

Following are the key findings of the report: (i) Pakistan faces rates of warming considerably above the global average with a potential rise of 1.3°C–4.9°C by the 2090s over the 1986–2005 baseline.

The range in possible temperature rises highlights the significant differences between 21st century emissions pathways.

(ii)  Rises in the annual maximum and minimum temperature are projected to be stronger than the rise in average temperature, likely amplifying the pressure on human health, livelihoods, and ecosystems.

(iii)  Changes to Pakistan’s rainfall and runoff regimes, and hence its water resources, are highly uncertain, but an increase in the incidence of drought conditions is likely.

(iv) The frequency and intensity of extreme climate events is projected to increase, increasing disaster risk particularly for vulnerable poor and minority groups.

(v)  An increase in the number of people affected by flooding is projected, with a likely increase of around 5 million people exposed to extreme river floods by 2035–2044, and a potential increase of around one million annually exposed to coastal flooding by 2070–2100.

(vi) Projections suggest yield declines in many key food and cash crops, including cotton, wheat, sugarcane, maize, and rice.

(vii)  Temperature increases are likely to place strain on urban dwellers and outdoor laborers, with increased risk of heat-related sickness and death likely under all emissions pathways.

(viii) All of the above should be seen in the context of high and persistent levels of undernourishment and deprivation. There is an urgent need for further research and delivery of effective adaptation and disaster risk reduction measures.