Pakistan’s effective diplomatic and communication skills positively influenced the agenda
Humans have had a perennial interaction with nature since the Paleolithic period. With evolution, they learned to make technologies to utilise various natural resources. In the pre-industrial world, human population was limited in number. It did not exploit nature the way it has been since the Industrial Revolution. Tragically, however, little meaningful discussion took place to assess the effects of human activity on environment in the Nineteenth or in the first half of the Twentieth Century. If the end of the World War II is a point of reference, then in the past seven decades, there has been a qualitative change in human perceptions of environment in terms of intellectual engagement.
Contextually, then, the 1960s witnessed a wide scale consciousness of interconnections between human life and nature, epitomised by Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring that highlighted the dangers of pesticides accumulating and travelling in ecological systems. The 1970s saw the international community getting more involved in the idea of “the environment”. In 1972, representatives of more than 100 countries gathered in Stockholm at the United Nations conference on human environment. The 1970s could broadly be considered as the decade of environment versus development suggesting a trade-off between the two; if the environment was to be protected there would be less development; if there was unrestricted development, the environment would be destroyed.
In a bid to intellectually and politically reconcile the development-environment binary, a very catchy concept of “sustainable development” was introduced by governments and big businesses of the North in the 1980s. Arguably, sustainable development was a political success more than an environmental one; it proved a public relations tool for Western governments and commercial stakeholders – which were major emitters of greenhouse gases even then – to win political and electoral support from their constituencies.
The 1990s saw more global gatherings including the 1992 Rio Conference on environment, which produced a wide-ranging 800-page document, Agenda 21. The UN-led sessions on assessing anthropocentric thrust in policymaking continued in the 2000s, where more and more countries and private interests came together to discuss the complicated interface between ‘sustainable’ development and environment. In this respect, COP21, held in Paris in 2015, received lot of (social) media attention owing to the fact that the parties agreed, in principle, to restrict global warming to 1.5°C - 2°C, in accordance with the recommendations of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). However, they failed to recognise the social, political and economic factors behind climate change. The US, led by Trump, opted out of the agreement unilaterally.
In the post-COP21 period, the scientific community and climate activists have been warning governments and big businesses to stop GHG emissions in order to prevent further damage to the climate and to ward off the existential threat to humans and other species on the planet. “The scientific consensus that humans are altering the climate has passed 99.9 percent, according to research that strengthens the case for global action at the COP26 summit in Glasgow [in 2021],” observed the Guardian. Indeed, every day the planet and its species suffer at the hands of a tiny minority, which controls the industrial, commercial and political contours of the world where the majority die hapless. Millions inhale polluted air daily in the South; hundreds and thousands routinely suffer from chronic diseases caused by carbon emissions. Moreover, floods are wreaking havoc every now and then. Pakistan witnessed its worst floods this year, in which more than 1,700 people, mostly from marginalised communities, died; material losses exceeded more than $30 billion.
At COP27 which concluded in Egypt last week, the Pakistani delegation, comprising government officials, businesses and climate activists, manifested effective diplomatic and communication skills in terms of positively influencing the agenda. Using its office as the chair of G77 plus China, Pakistan persuasively pleaded the case of the Global South, which has been adversely affected due to climate change and global warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions largely by the Global North. Pakistan’s efforts paid off.
“The establishment of loss and damage fund at the UN climate summit is the first pivotal step towards the goal of climate justice,” said Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif. Federal Minister Sherry Rehman skillfully presented Pakistan’s and the least developed countries’ case. She tweeted, “It’s been a long 30-year journey from demand to formation of the loss and damage fund for 134 countries… We welcome today’s announcement and joint text hammered out through many nights. It’s an important first step in reaffirming the core principles of #climatejustice… Now that the Fund has been established, we look forward to it being operationalised, to actually become a robust body that is able to answer with agility to the needs of the vulnerable, the fragile and those on the frontline of climate disasters.”
Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has shown a deep understanding of diplomacy in terms of projecting the climate catastrophe that Pakistan and other countries are struggling with. In a tweet, he said, “Having experienced firsthand the scale and devastation of Pakistan’s floods, we travelled to the United Nations General Assembly to advocate for climate justice… when I chaired Group of 77 at the UN, Pakistan’s proposal was unanimously adopted to demand loss and damage be part of COP27 agenda.”
Pakistan will play a key role in Global Shield against Climate Action, which is a heavily funded programme to protect vulnerable countries against climate disasters.
While COP27 made a commitment to act responsibly to provide climate relief to affected countries financially, several key stakeholders, particularly from the North, once again, failed to generate political consensus on reducing the use of fossil fuels and to keep global temperatures well below 1.5 degree Celsius. The world leadership must take climate crisis seriously in the larger interest of humanity and the planet.
The writer has a PhD in political science from Heidelberg University and a post-doc from UC-Berkeley. He is a DAAD, FDDI and Fulbright fellow and an associate professor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org