Monday February 06, 2023

Not ‘reparations’ but climate justice: PM

We are only asking for climate justice, we are not using the word ‘reparations’ at all, says PM Shehbaz

By News Desk
October 20, 2022
PM Shehbaz Sharif. —APP
PM Shehbaz Sharif. —APP

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan will ask international lenders for billions of dollars worth of new loans to rebuild the country after calamitous floods uprooted 33 million people and pushed its cash-strapped economy even closer to insolvency.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has said that Islamabad was not trying to reschedule its external debt, worth about $130 billion, but it did need “huge sums of money” for “mega undertakings” such as rebuilding roads, bridges and other infrastructure damaged or washed away in a deluge scientists have linked to climate change. However, flood-induced losses have been lately estimated at $40 billion.

In an interview with Financial Times published on Wednesday, Sharif said: “We are only asking for climate justice, we are not using the word ‘reparations’ at all.”

The devastation has also prompted environmental activists to call for “climate reparations” that would be paid by richer countries with higher emissions to lower-emitting nations suffering the brunt of climate change.

“We are not asking for any kind of measure [such as] a rescheduling or a moratorium,” Sharif told the FT. “We are asking for additional funds.”

The premier would not be drawn on the exact amount his government was seeking, but repeated the $30 billion estimate of the damage caused by the floods, the worst natural disaster in the country’s 75-year history.

“There is a gap — and a very serious gap — which is widening by the day between our demands and what we have received,” Sharif said at his home in Lahore.

The prime minister also hinted that the failure of the international community to rally resources risked fueling political instability in the nuclear-armed state, where populist opposition leader Imran Khan has been capitalising on widespread discontent.

Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party on Sunday won six out of eight seats up for grabs in by-elections held in three provinces. Analysts said the results bolstered the ousted prime minister’s demand for early elections.

“We are obviously concerned because if there is dissatisfaction leading to deeper political instability and we are not able to achieve our basic requirements and goals, this can obviously lead to serious problems,” Sharif said. “I’m not saying it in terms of any kind of threat, but I’m saying there’s a real possibility.”

French president Emmanuel Macron has promised to host a donors’ conference to boost Pakistan’s fundraising efforts. No date has been set for the conference but Sharif said he expected it to take place in Paris in November. The UN is finalising its own assessment of the amount Pakistan will need to rebuild after the floods.

Sharif, younger brother of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, took power in April after Khan lost a no-confidence vote. His government narrowly staved off a liquidity crisis by securing a $1.1 billion disbursement from the IMF in August as well as pledges of financing from China, Saudi Arabia and other bilateral lenders.

Pakistan has had a long and tortuous relationship with the IMF, which has repeatedly urged the country to abandon unfunded energy subsidies that have cost the state heavily at a time of rising global prices.

Khan introduced a round of petrol and diesel subsidies in his final days in office, which Sharif’s government slashed in June to control spending and mend fences with the IMF.

Then, unusually heavy monsoons this year submerged swaths of Pakistan’s low-lying and normally arid Sindh and Balochistan provinces. The countryside remains chequered with pools of stagnant water that are causing skin diseases, malaria, dengue and other ailments.

Last month the UN Development Programme suggested Pakistan suspend debt repayments and seek to restructure its loans because of a “climate change-induced crisis”. The prime minister said Pakistan had been tapping state coffers to help displaced families and buy provisions such as tents, medicine, food packs and drinkable water.

Islamabad has been making its case for emergency aid on the international stage, including at the UN General Assembly and last week’s Central Asia-Russia summit held in Astana, Kazakhstan. Sharif said Pakistan would also “seek additional funding from wherever we can”.

“We are in a war against climate change-induced havoc, and we have become a victim,” Sharif said. “Tomorrow another country can and we don’t want that to happen.”

Bloomberg, meanwhile, reported that the damage from this summer’s catastrophic flooding in Pakistan is now estimated at $40 billion (Rs8.84 trillion), as much as 25 percent higher than projections a month ago in another blow to the cash-strapped country,.

The new estimate was shared in the first meeting of the Pakistan Climate Change Council, the office of the Prime Minister said in statement on Wednesday, as the government prepares to present evidence of Pakistan’s vulnerability to natural calamities before the United Nations. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres last month said losses from the floods exceed $30 billion.

“We do not have a full overview of Pakistan’s damage and losses from the floods, beyond what Pakistani authorities are continuously sharing, but we can confirm that they will be extraordinary, and that the recovery and reconstruction will require significant resources,” the World Bank said when asked to confirm the latest estimates.

The World Bank said its part of a group initiating a post-disaster assessment along with the Pakistan government, the Asian Development Bank, the European Union and the UN Development Programme.

Earlier on Tuesday, the prime minister directed to constitute an expert committee on climate change which would be advising the federal government with regard to strategies on the issues related to various aspects of climate change such as climate finance, adaptation, and loss and damage assessment.

The prime minister, who was chairing the first meeting of Pakistan Climate Change Council (PCCC) here, commended the initiative of the Ministry of Climate Change with regard to the constitution of the Climate Change Council and praised the minister for climate change for pleading the case of Pakistan with regard to climate change, globally.

He said that the climate change induced devastating floods had caused havoc across the country, especially in the provinces of Sindh and Balochistan. Despite having less than one percent share in the global carbon emission, Pakistan was one of the 10 countries most affected by climate change, he underlined, a press release issued by the PM Media Wing said.

The prime minister urged the need to improve risk mapping, capacity building to access climate finance as well as loss and damage assessment ability. He emphasised on including risk mitigation and adaptation in disaster management strategies to reduce damages in the future.

The prime minister also stressed the need for better coordination among the federating units on environment issues as environment was a devolved subject after the 18th Constitutional Amendment.

The meeting was briefed that this year, Pakistan suffered overwhelming events like severe drought (that dried the delta area of Sindh province), forest fires, heat waves, glacier melting with three times than the average rate, glacial outbreak floods followed by heavy monsoon rains, were induced by climate change.

It was informed that the World Bank had estimated Pakistan’s recent flood losses at $40 billion. Pakistan faced 152 extreme events related to climate change in the last two decades and there was 300 percent increase in Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOF), the meeting was told.

It was further briefed that high intensity heatwave persistence had increased to 41 days per year and Pakistan had the hottest cities in the world for straight three years with temperature rising as high as 53.7 degree celsius.

The participants were further briefed that the upcoming 27th Conference of Parties (COP) under the United Nations, to be held in Egypt in November 2022, would provide Pakistan with an opportunity to present its stance on vulnerability with regard to effects of climate change, water scarcity, food security, sea level rise and increase in climate induced migration. The meeting was apprised that being a chair of Group 77 countries, Pakistan would also be pleading the case of the member countries with regard to the effects of climate change.