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WWF president calls for brushing aside ‘victim’ mentality to deal with climate change

By Zubair Ashraf
November 27, 2023

Climate change has become an issue of global justice as many countries that are not responsible for heavy emissions of greenhouse gases are bearing the brunt of it.

World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) President Dr Adil Najam said this on Sunday while speaking at a session on the concluding day of the Adab Festival Pakistan 2023.

The session was titled ‘Climate Catastrophes in Pakistan: how to shock proof for the future’. It was moderated by Aisha Sarwari.

Terming climate an existential problem, Najam said that the change is an irreversible issue and must be contained within time. Using the metaphor of car, he tried to explain the phenomenon: “When you park your car with closed windows under the sun, and then come back after a while. You find the vehicle extremely hot, which is because the sun rays have become trapped inside it. 

World Wide Fund for Nature President Dr Adil Najam speaks during a ceremony in this image on October 31, 2023. — X/@AdilNajam
World Wide Fund for Nature President Dr Adil Najam speaks during a ceremony in this image on October 31, 2023. — X/@AdilNajam

Similarly, greenhouse gases have made a layer around the earth, trapping the heat inside the planet and making it hotter. That is the essential science of climate change.”

He said that a way to release the heat from the car is to open the windows, but the planet has not any. He said reducing those gases could mitigate heat and reduce floods and typhoons, however climate change was primarily a global justice issue. “Pakistan accounts for one percent of the global greenhouse gases emission,” he said, adding that the planet is, however, getting warmer everywhere regardless of which part emitted the most gases.

Speaking empirically, he said, developing countries with the least emissions are by default vulnerable to climate change, while developed countries discharge the most gases. He said that is why it has become a political issue.

Najam said that although the argument that those who caused climate change should pay for the recovery is valid, something needs to be done if such countries do not pay for it.

He asked whether we should let the suffering go on and make the life in this world worse if those responsible for climate change were not compensating.

Giving an example of the people in Karakoram ranges trying to recover from the effects of the floods in recent years by reconstructing infrastructures independently, Aisha said it would not be wise to wait for the “rich” people to come and implement their planning for the rehabilitation of the affectees or to say sorry to them for what had happened. “They [the rich] may not be interested, because you may not be a resource for them.”

When she asked Najam to shed light on individual responsibility in recovering from the climate change, Najam replied that when nations had not got compensation for slavery and colonialism, it was futile to hope that they would offer compensation regarding climate change.

He added that the connotation of victims for the affectees of climate-induced calamities was a dangerous thing. He said instead of waiting for help, one should act on their own.

Referring to the $42 billion estimate for the rehabilitation of the recent floods’ affectees in Pakistan, which according to him was a mathematically manipulated figure, he said that only around $1 billion was received from the international donors against the pledge of $8 billion. “They have their own issues; climate change did not happen in Pakistan only”, he said.

He was of the view that climate is always paid for by the working class.

The moderator raised a question before the WWF president about the disproportionate amount of burden the floods put on women. Citing an example from Balochistan, she said the floodwaters did not return from villages and women had to continue work in such a surrounding, which made them and their children sick.

Najam said that on the policy level, people need to be made resilient by tools such as pension fund and health insurance. He added that development creates resilience in society and allows people to make use of difficult times to improve themselves.

He said climate change causes water levels to rise, melt and disappear, causing floods, storms and draughts. Therefore, climate has become a water issue. Speaking of the Indus River, he said 90 per cent of Pakistanis lived on it while the 85 per cent of economy happened on it. Yet, he said, “I cannot tell if we can sustain the Indus in the next 50 years.” He said that is where climate and water come together posing an existential challenge.

To a question by the scribe about the role of corporate sector, which is significantly responsible for greenhouse gases emission, beyond voluntary ‘corporate social responsibility’, Najam said that emerging markets needed to be regulated and businesses needed to come up with climate and energy efficient products.