Bonn of contention
I recently attended COP 23, the UN Climate Change Summit, along with 33,000 dignitaries, environmentalists, development workers, businessmen, scientists and activists. The summit was hosted in Bonn this year and was presided by the island of Fiji.
Passionate about environmental issues and as the recently-appointed chair of the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Climate Change, my goal has been to create awareness regarding the urgency of this issue. Climate change discussions need to be mainstreamed within our debates on development and security. Arguably, this is Pakistan’s most important national security challenge and must be accorded top priority and budgetary allocations. Events like COP23 are integral in determining global cooperation and finance to enable countries to tackle this challenge.
The big question looming in the air at COP23 was: who will fill the global vacuum left behind with the US deciding to pull out? French President Macron took this question head-on when he suggested that Europe (France in particular), and American businessmen (those who don’t subscribe to their president’s values), should rise to the occasion to fill this vacuum. This message was greeted with thunderous applause. Ironically, the meeting took place in the New York Room at the venue. But I suppose that was also appropriate in a way as Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York, has been one of the most vociferous critics of US President Trump’s policies (or the lack thereof) on climate change.
Now why does all this matter to Pakistan? As the seventh most vulnerable country to the impact of climate change, Pakistan is no stranger to its scale of devastation. Only a few years ago, we were ranked in the third position of countries most affected by extreme weather events, according to Germanwatch. Floods, droughts, heatwaves, water scarcity and the recent smog that has engulfed Lahore are a testament to the fact that Pakistanis live with the adverse impacts of climactic changes on a daily basis.
But Pakistan is also one of the lowest emitters of greenhouse gases. Pakistan, as part of the G77 (a group of 77 developing countries) plus China, was there to make the case that sufficient funds should be allocated for adaptation as well as loss and damage as these areas are particularly relevant to developing countries. Adaptation helps communities become more resilient to climate change. Loss and damage refers to liability (particularly of developed countries) for climate-related events and compensation to developing countries.
At an inter-parliamentary union (IPU) event on the sidelines of COP 23, I articulated Pakistan’s desire for the immediate implementation of the Paris Agreement (which encapsulates adaptation as well as loss and damage) and urged developed countries to fulfil their pledge of $100 billion for the Green Climate Fund, which they are far from doing at the moment. Only around $10.3 billion has been raised until now.
According to official figures, Pakistan requires $40 billion to mitigate and another $14 billion annually to adapt to climate change. Global finance in the climate change context is morally and politically quite different from borrowing money from the IMF and World Bank as we have done in the past due to poor governance at home. Since developed countries have emitted a vast quantity of greenhouse gases over the last few decades which has increased the incidence of global warming, it is their moral responsibility to contribute financially and technically to mitigate the damage – which, unfortunately, is felt most severely by the developing world where the majority of the poor and vulnerable population resides. Such international support is a requirement of global justice.
Despite the push by the G77 and China group, COP23 ended without any promising commitments on adaptation as well as loss and damage. Both these issues are extremely important to Pakistan and many other developing countries. These discussions will now take place at COP24 in Poland next year, which means the most vulnerable nations of the world would have to face another year of hurricanes, floods and other severe weather impacts without any resources to adequately address these concerns.
Leading developed nations have been unable to live up to what was expected of them at COP23. The US followed its new policy direction and blocked financing in critical areas (a pledge of $3 billion annually had been made under the Obama administration). Australia has started investing more in coal. The EU was unable to follow through on the grand responsibility that President Macron placed on its shoulders at the high-level segment of COP23 while it seems that negotiations on forming the new government in Germany had inhibited Merkel from taking any daring steps (though for the record, Germany is one of the largest contributors to the Adaptation Fund). Canada and the UK launched an alliance to phase out coal. But the funding needs put forward by developing countries still largely remain unaddressed.
The irony is that despite the presidency of COP23 being in the hands of a small island country such as Fiji – for whom loss and damage are the most relevant aspect of climate change – developed nations failed to grasp and deliver on this front. This is despite the fact that Article 8 of the Paris Agreement 2015 clearly recognises the importance of loss and damage.
The door is still open for these discussions. As a result, the group of developing countries will have to work much harder to realise these climate finance goals at COP24. A small victory achieved by the G77 group, including Pakistan, is an agreement on the Pre2020 Ambitions, which requires developed countries to be more transparent about their emissions and the steps they are taking to reduce them until 2020 (when the Paris Agreement comes into force).
Meanwhile, Pakistan must make climate change action a priority at home. A stronger internal drive will translate into a more effective articulation of our stance internationally. Since climate change doesn’t know traditional boundaries, we must strengthen – or create new – regional platforms that work exclusively on climate change action, coordination and adaptation with all of our neighbours. Pakistan, China and India are, more or less, on the same page with regard to international climate diplomacy.
Whatever Global Climate Finance is available at the moment, we must tap it more effectively as we have a strong case on merit as one of the most vulnerable countries. At the moment, the Green Climate Fund is financing a project in the northern areas of Pakistan to curtail Glacial Lake Outburst (GLOB) flooding to the tune of $37.5 million. Pakistan and other developed countries argued in the Green Climate Fund meetings at Bonn that access to these resources should be made more easily accessible. There is considerable scope for Pakistan to gain a lot more and channel these funds towards the uplift of our people. In order to access climate finance and meet its conditions in the years to come, we need to start developing sustainable and lower carbon pathways in the long run.
The writer is a PML-N MNA. He chairs the Standing Committee on Climate Change.