A political decision?

April 11, 2021

The US administration has invited as many as 40 world leaders to the Leaders’ Summit on Climate Change scheduled for April 22 and 23. The list does not include Pakistan

The Biden administration’s failure to invite Pakistan to the Leaders’ Summit on Climate has triggered a debate in the country.

The new US administration has invited 40 world leaders to this summit scheduled for April 22 and 23. The list does not include Pakistan. The virtual summit will be streamed live for public viewing. Soon after his oath taking, President Biden had said his government was committed to the 2016 Paris Agreement —a plan neglected by the Trump administration. Biden had also announced his plan to convene a leaders’ summit to discuss the challenges and the problems to tackle the climate crisis. The event aims to underscore the urgency and the economic benefits of stronger climate action. It is being seen as a key milestone on the road to the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow this November.

The omission surprised Islamabad, not least considering that India and Bangladesh have been invited to the summit. Prime Minister Imran Khan issued a series of tweets, saying, “I am puzzled at the cacophony over Pakistan not being invited to a climate change conference.“ He said his government’s environmental policies were driven “solely by our commitment to our future generations… to mitigate the impact of climate change”. He also said, “Our policies are being recogniszed and lauded. We are ready to help any state wanting to learn from our experience.”

“Pakistan’s landmark initiatives, like the Billion Tree Tsunami, have won international acclaim, including from the World Economic Forum. Pakistan is meaningfully contributing to shape the global climate change discourse, inter alia as the vice president of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and a member of the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change,” an official statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said. It noted that the scheduled Leaders’ Summit would bring together leaders from countries responsible for approximately 80 percent of the global emissions and GDP. Pakistan, one of the ten countries most affected by climate change, is one of the lowest emitters with less than one percent contribution to global emissions.

In response to Islamabad’s reaction, the US State Department said that Washington looked forward to working with Islamabad on the climate crisis at different levels. Meanwhile, the US climate envoy, John Kerry, is also skipping Islamabad during his Asian tour. He is scheduled for talks with Indian, Emirati and Bangladeshi leaders. Pakistan is the fifth most vulnerable country to climate change globally.

Some Pakistanis discussing the matter on social media have suggested that Pakistan has been excluded for ‘political’ reasons.

US-Pakistan relations have been tense for several years. The mistrust between the two countries has grown since the killing of Osama bin Laden in May 2010.

The Biden administration has so far cold-shouldered Pakistan’s push for a reset in ties.

In response to Islamabad’s reaction, the US State Department said that Washington looks forward to working with Islamabad on the climate crisis at different levels.

The US has recently voiced its dissatisfaction with the way appeals in the Daniel Pearl case have been decided.

There is also a feeling in Islamabad that the US sided with India in trying to place and keep Pakistan on the Financial Action Task Force grey list.

Commenting on why the Biden administration may not have considered inviting Pakistan to the summit, Wilson Center analyst Michael Kugelman, has said, “It seems a case of an unfortunate oversight. The US government, to its detriment, looks at Pakistan through a narrow lens largely limited to Afghanistan and hard security.”

“I think the US sees Islamabad primarily through the Afghanistan lens… They are probably not aware of current Pakistan government achievements on the climate front,” says Rina Saeed Khan, a climate journalist who regularly covers UN climate negotiations and is currently the chair of Islamabad Wildlife Management Board (IWMB).

“We have been very active at the UN Climate Conferences from which the US tried to withdraw. In fact, their official delegation has hardly participated at these conferences in recent years.” Khan says this would likely change now that President Biden has decided to rejoin the Paris agreement. “The really important global climate conference is the Glassgow UN Climate Conference which will take place in November this year. This is where the world will operationalise the Paris Agreement. The US is not exactly a climate leader in the eyes of the world after the way they have behaved in the UN climate negotiations in recent years. They now have to prove to the world that they are serious.”

Khan says not being invited to the climate change summit is not a big deal. She says she is quite sure the US will have hold some more summits before the Glassgow COP and that it will probably invite Islamabad to the next one.

In a letter to US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry, Congressman Ted W Lieu, requested him to include Islamabad in the heads of states session. “Pakistan’s absence from the list of 40 nations makes little sense from a climate perspective. First, two of its important neighbours, India and Bangladesh are among those invited. Second, according to the Global Climate Risk Index, Pakistan is ranked as the fifth most climate vulnerable nation in the world, making it uniquely impacted by climate policy,” he said.

The author is a staff reporter. He can be reached at [email protected]

A political decision?