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Thursday December 01, 2022

A question of justice [Part – I]

September 15, 2022

It is tough to be optimistic at a time when the country is in the middle of multiple crises. Some of the enormous challenges faced by Pakistan include colossal economic damage caused by the Covid-19 pandemic pushing millions into poverty, consecutive high inflation especially on food items since the last four years, rising energy prices, never-ending political turmoil, and ever-increasing domestic and international debt which brought us on the verge of default a couple of months back.

On top of this, Pakistan also has to deal with the devastation caused by climate change-induced unprecedented rains and flash floods, which have resulted in loss of human life and livestock, damaged crops, erased livelihoods, inundated cities and instigated large-scale displacement and damage to infrastructure.

Much has already been written and talked about climate change; I would like to highlight two important facets of the crisis: First, climate change-induced losses and the politics around it, global climate negotiations and loss and damage financing mechanism; and second, a broken governance system and its failure and utter unresponsiveness.

A large majority of the people affected by the recent floods were already living under extreme hardship and food-insecure areas. These people had hardly made up for the losses of the 2010 floods.

Climate change is not a joke; it is a reality, so the argument that these rains are cyclical may not hold true. Pakistan has been identified as one of the top ten highly vulnerable countries to such disasters.

The pattern of the current floods is quite different to the one that occurred in 2010. There was not much river flooding this time. It started with monsoon rains in Balochistan, and then Sindh was hit five times the normal monsoon average. Cloud and glacier bursts in northern parts and the sudden flood in River Swat washed away structures in its way from Kalam to lower Swat, and hill torrents caused havoc in southern Punjab, Balochistan and western parts of Sindh.

Even though Pakistan’s contribution to greenhouse gases (GHG) emission is less than one per cent, climate change-associated floods have been a deadly reality in this part of the world. Pakistan’s rural districts have negligible contribution to global emissions, but they have borne the disproportional brunt of loss and damage – they were just one flood away to be pushed into deep poverty.

Pakistan is already under a heavy debt burden and does not have enough resources to finance this level of loss and damage, which according to initial estimates is close to $10 billion. And while this figure is alarming, it may not even come close to reflecting the full scale of destruction caused in the country and its long-term impacts.

The scope and damage of the current disaster is assessed to be more than what had been caused by the 2010 floods. However, then, the UN had launched a $2 billion appeal, and this time it has appealed for only $160 million. UN humanitarian appeals linked to extreme weather are eight times higher than they were 20 years ago, and over the past five years nearly half of appeal requirements have gone unmet. Therefore, the only option is to demand reparations from carbon polluters.

Rich countries are the most responsible for driving climate change. Early this year, Oxfam research found out that rich countries have contributed an estimated 92 per cent of excess historical emissions and are responsible for 37 per cent of current emissions, despite being home to only 15 per cent of the global population. Between 1990 and 2015, carbon emissions of the richest one per cent of the world’s population were more than double the emissions of the poorest half of humanity, and 71 per cent of emissions since 1988 can be traced to just 100 fossil fuel producers.

It is an issue of climate injustice that the people of Pakistan have to pay a heavy price for a crisis they are not responsible for. Rich countries have resisted for the last 30 years to set up loss and damage financing mechanisms under UN climate deals. At COP26 last year in Glasgow, developing countries’ proposal for a finance facility to address loss and damage was rejected.

COP27 will be held in mid-November this year in Egypt. This important global political event is just two months away; world leaders, UN agencies, scientists and civil society organizations who are witnessing damage in Pakistan should no longer ignore this large-scale destruction. Emerging economies urgently need a UN-led loss and damage financing mechanism.

For decades, developing countries and civil society organizations have been demanding a mechanism for covering loss and damage. The demand finally took centre stage in multilateral climate politics at COP26. This is a massive issue for all developing countries, but it is not clear whether the Egyptian presidency will put it on the agenda for COP27.

The Pakistan government through its climate change ministry must prepare a dossier together with the UN estimating the loss and damage caused by the current floods and share widely ahead of COP27. The country should demand ‘climate justice’, not charity action with a begging bowl. It should be clear that those who have contributed most to the climate crisis must pay for the damage.

Pakistan must urgently reach out to other developing countries and prepare a strong joint position, demanding a comprehensive financing mechanism for loss and damage incurred due to climate induced events. It must reach out to the government of Egypt, urging it to prioritize the loss and damage financing mechanism in the COP27 agenda.

An international conference should be arranged in Pakistan to bring developing countries and international civil society organizations to show them the level of destruction, develop strong solidarity and a joint position on the loss and damage financing mechanism.

Pakistan must also demand climate reparations in the form of debt cancellation. In FY2021, Pakistan paid $13.424 billion on account of debt, and it is estimated that Pakistan’s debt payment in 2022 will be around $15 billion, more than the initial estimated losses of the floods. Therefore, Pakistan must ask for debt cancellation to free up resources to support the affected and restore damaged infrastructure.

The government must work with universities and academic institutions to invest in future capacity to scientifically assess losses and damage from climate-induced disasters and develop a strong database.

To be continued

The writer is an Islamabad-based environmental and human rights activist.

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