Dubbed as a “necessary evil”, Germany has planned to reactivate its network of 21 coal-powered plants to escape President Vladimir Putin’s energy chokehold. Germany needs warmth to survive the next two winters, and energy shortfall has forced the state to produce this heat at the expense of warming up the whole planet.
Although Germany’s move is the most recent and extensive in terms of scale, states such as France, Italy, Austria and Netherlands have all announced plans to reactivate old coal power plants under the same rationale. China, climate’s biggest coal worry, has been burning more coal than the rest of the states combined. China’s coal consumption rose 4.6 percent in 2021 – the strongest growth recorded in a decade, with the number expected to rise even further in years to come.
Climate shall change, the vulnerable must suffer, but what else must rich state facing energy-crisis do?
One state’s emissions are another state’s disaster. In 2020, the Global Climate Risk Index placed Puerto Rico, Myanmar, Haiti, Philippines, Pakistan, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Thailand, Nepal and Dominica in their list of top ten states which are most vulnerable to climate change. It is safe to assume that the more energy-secure the rich states come to be, all the more susceptible to climate change the poor states will become.
This susceptibility has never been more evident than it is today. Pakistan, which stands fifth in the ranking above, is currently facing one of the most catastrophic flood events in history. ‘’In the blink of an eye, tens of millions of people in Pakistan have lost their homes, their crops, their livelihoods or their lives to flooding… Communities in Pakistan have done little to cause the climate crisis, but they are the ones who are now enduring the tragedy and bearing the cost,’’ says Teresa Anderson, global lead on climate justice for ActionAid International. The number of affected people stands at approximately 33 million today. According to Anderson, it’s past time that the rich states take ownership of this ‘fundamental injustice’ which their emissions are causing, and agree to a financial mechanism that helps to address it. She identifies loss and damage (L&D) funding facility as the much needed financial instrument to cover the costs, and COP27 as the appropriate platform where it must be agreed upon.
With lungs choked on the unjustness of this world, flood-hit communities of Pakistan appeal desperately for support. Are international institutions ready to dive-in and deliver?
Conference of Parties (COP) is the focal international decision-making body responsible for monitoring and reviewing the implementation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). So far, 26 COP events have occurred. COP21, held in 2015, was historic in its outcome – the Paris agreement was signed. The Paris Agreement, the first international climate agreement, mobilised all signatory states in taking action to decrease GHG emissions with an agreed goal of staying below a global average temperature increase 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels. It also requires each state to share action plans reflecting how they propose to get there – Pakistan submitted their action plan (NDCs) in 2016, followed by an updated version published in 2021. Pakistan delivered, and continues to do so.
Pertinent to dissect here are COP19 and COP26 events. It was COP18, in 2012, where states decided that the role of the Convention would be to promote approaches to address L&D. The momentum was carried forward to COP19 which resulted in the establishment of Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM) for L&D. WIM’s primary functions are i) enhancing understanding of approaches to address L&D, ii) strengthening dialogue, coherence and synergies, and iii) enhancing action and support to address L&D. Despite repeated pleas from developing states, the WIM has focused much of its work on enhancing understanding and strengthening coordination, with very little of substance to enhance action and support to address already occurring loss and damage.
The inaction has continued ever since. COP26, held in Glasgow last year, excluded L&D from its agenda. But despite the exclusion, Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS) pushed it up for discussion. Financial contributions for L&D were also made by developing states and CSOs to pressure developed states into establishing the Glasgow L&D Facility. However, the US, along with Australia, Canada and EU, strongly resisted the demand. Establishment of such a facility would concretise the onus of climate disasters on developed states (rightly so), which they do not wish to carry.
More distressingly so, the rich states argue “it is better” to cut emissions (which most are not doing) and to facilitate vulnerable states in strengthening their national adaptation plans to make the loss and damage smaller. Is adaptation without L&D facility really the better approach? The historical analysis of 2022 floods in Pakistan states otherwise. After the 2010, 2011 and 2012 floods in Pakistan, a number of substantial adaptation-focused measures were developed and implemented across Khyber Pakhtunkhwa – especially in areas of Charsadda and Nowshera. These measures included development of robust early warning systems (EWS), improvement of flood protection infrastructural works, and formation of district-level flood protection plan to name a few. Yet, in 2022, much has been lost and damaged. The adaptation-focused measures helped save lives, but direct economic and non-economic losses have exceeded far beyond reparation. Lives saved have no life left to live.
“Deferred not derailed”, the momentum gained on the L&D issue at COP26 was considered to be a success nevertheless. Could 2022 be the year when L&D is taken up as a high priority agenda point? Sadly, again, it is not. The recently published agenda for COP27 by UNFCCC excludes L&D from its agenda.
Two concerns have emerged so far: 1) Developed states are falling back on coal even though they have continuously “agreed to phase it down” in recent COP events – particularly COP26, and 2) Inclusion and mainstreaming of “loss and damage” continue to face resistance from rich states despite having robust scientific evidence to back its need and validity.
To address the former, it may be argued that the matter is not of hypocrisy, but of reductionism. The COP’s discourse remains anchored in the reductive idealistic assumptions that i) there will always be peace, and ii) developed states must always be willing to compromise their socio-political and economic status in the international arena. Assumptions, worn by COP as blinkers, over-simplify the discourse for the sake of pushing forward. Take the blinkers off: the situation is far more nuanced than it seems. COP27 must discuss climate action, not just in the case of peace but in crisis as well. Rich states must be made aware of their roles and responsibilities in the times of crises so they may be held accountable in the future.
As for the latter, by excluding loss and damage from the agenda, COP has sent a clear message to the vulnerable states such as ours: save yourselves. Although science has repeatedly identified the cause, causer and the casualty, rich states are not ready to take responsibility. What then? It’s time to think regional: climate change is a borderless issue and must require borderless thinking to solve it. Pakistan must no longer just wait and suffer. Vulnerable states must unite, align, and pave collaborative thought-ways to amplify their voice in the international arena. Pakistan must lead the collaboration as it does in suffering. In an environment where peer-pressure is the principle accountability tool being used, to hold ground, we must carry weight. Alone we can be so little; together we can be so much.
The writer is a senior technical specialist at Climate Resourcing and Coordination Center