This year will likely be remembered as the year the global climate crisis finally reached apocalyptic proportions. Unfortunately, it may also be remembered as the year the world continued to ignore the warning signs and fail to act with the urgency the situation demanded. According to experts, this July was the hottest month in human history, with climate disasters reaching an unprecedented scale this summer. From North America to Europe and Asia, this summer saw flooding, wildfires and extreme heat leave scores dead and displaced, push disaster-response systems to the breaking point and cause untold economic damage. Reports say that although scientists have been warning of the extreme impact human-induced global warming would have on the weather, even some of them are shocked by the speed and intensity of the changes we are currently witnessing.
This was the backdrop for the UN’s Climate Ambition Summit 2023, which took place this Wednesday on September 20, on the sidelines of the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly. In his address to the summit, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres struck a tone that brought the urgency of the moment to the fore, claiming “humanity has opened the gates to hell” and that countries’ current level of climate action was far too insufficient to meet the 2015 Paris climate agreement’s target of limiting global temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by 2100. At the current rate, the world is heading for temperatures 2.8 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, with experts saying that we are likely to breach the 1.5 degrees mark by the 2030s. Achieving this target would require countries achieving net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050. However, major polluters like the UK are not on track to meet this target and its government has even announced plans to weaken some green commitments, as per reports. In the US, the world’s largest per-capita source of emissions, reports say that greenhouse gas emissions grew by 1.3 per cent in 2022 despite its commitment to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.
Tied into the rich nations’ struggle to lower emissions is the issue of climate justice, as the countries that have contributed least to global warming continue to suffer the brunt of its impacts. Representing Pakistan at the climate summit, Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar called on rich countries to live up to their promise to provide Pakistan and other developing countries $100 billion a year in climate financing, helping our ability to deal with natural disasters and transition to a greener energy infrastructure. Here too, according to reports, the countries in the world best placed to do more and offer help are dragging their feet with the UN secretary general claiming that the promised financing has not materialized and that costs of borrowing remain too high. For countries like Pakistan, this paints a bleak picture. It seems as if we cannot rely on the developed world to take its emissions or financing commitments seriously, even when doing so is jeopardizing their own lives. However, given our limited economic and technical capacity to deal with the climate crisis on our own it remains unclear what Pakistan and other developing countries can do other than to implore the wealthy nations to do more and set more stringent targets for financing and emissions, even if they are unlikely to be met.