Climate justice and accountability for Pakistan
Climate Change is now safely in the territory of Climate Emergency. Several countries in the world — rich, poor, developing nations, emerging economies, all — all have been impacted directly by it. In this wake-up call, Abdur Rehman Cheema argues that while ‘loss and damage’ funds are important, they alone cannot mitigate, nor solve, the long term work that is needed at the grassroots level to control and reverse the impacts of climate change.
The global climate change governance regime must make a radical turn by embracing the call for climate justice in its true spirit. Developing nations and emerging economies need financial aid to help them reduce Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions, adapt to the multiple impacts of climate change, and most importantly, deal with huge losses caused by droughts and floods that climate change is making significantly more frequent and intense.
Science is loud and clear with the warnings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that global GHG emissions must halve by 2030, and reach net zero by 2050. However, practical actions and particularly those pertaining to the provision of financial aid to developing nations for climate change adaptation and mitigation remain elusive. Those who might agree to pay (particularly from Europe) apparently have no money due to the Russia–Ukraine war and the consequent rise in energy prices, coming close on the heels of the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has hit large and small economies of both the North and South.
The recent catastrophic floods in Pakistan have affected a third of the country with over 1,600 people being killed, and a little under 13,000 injured since 14 June 2022. Rainfall in July 2022 was disproportionately above average in Balochistan (+450 per cent) and Sindh (+307 per cent), the wettest ever in the past 62 years according to the Pakistan Meteorological Department. The affected areas are in fact arid or semi-arid in normal times. World Weather Attribution Report has confirmed that climate change played an important role in this extreme flooding, causing damage worth an estimated US$32 billion.
This is nearly a perfect case against those nations responsible for the largest amounts of GHG emissions, historically.
The people of Pakistan, with only 0.5 per cent of the global share of CO2 emissions, and those living in mud houses in Sindh and Balochistan provinces have virtually no emissions at all but suffer the most due to the climate sins of the world-rich polluter nations.
The world’s most polluting economies and especially those with a historical precedent to increased emissions and carbon pollution, but also the history of colonialism and extraction of resources, must be held accountable. The COP 27 Summit in Sharm el-Sheikh concluded in November last year with no concrete actions and commitments to stop global warming by reining in fossil fuels. Perhaps the only silver lining for low and middle-income countries was an agreement to set up a new ‘loss and damage’ fund which will provide funds to restore some of the losses incurred due to extreme climate change disasters.
Global climate change governance is in extremely bad shape and remains toothless in the absence of an implementation mechanism to ensure compliance with the commitments made by wealthy nations. Nonetheless, that should be no excuse for the government and people of Pakistan to do whatever they can to reduce the impact of climate change by reducing the proximity of urban and rural settlements, infrastructure, and agricultural land to flood plains.
National elections are due this year in Pakistan, but climate change adaptation remains entirely missing from the key slogans of any single political party at the national or sub-national levels. This is extremely worrying. No amount of financial and technical assistance from bilateral or multilateral donors can substitute the impact of some of the key reforms that are overdue in the way of building a climate change-resilient Pakistan.
I mention the top three here:
- increasing water storage;
- shifting to climate-smart agriculture; and finally
- dwelling on existing government outreach at the grassroots.
This last measure, of community mobilisation, is an entirely ignored aspect of climate change policy and practice. Fundamental to building awareness is empowerment through knowledge that while ‘floods are acts of God but flood losses are largely acts of men’, in the words of Gilbert White, one of the pioneers who underpinned the social–ecological nature of so-called natural disasters. This is essential to change the political narrative of hiding their inaction and corruption, and to mobilise citizens to hold the incumbent governments for putting them in harm’s way.
Within community mobilisation, local community leaders like teachers, imams, and women health workers should be sensitised. This local leadership can be employed to transform and break down some of the huge body of scientific knowledge on climate change adaptation into simple and easy-to-follow steps. The disconnect between science and practice remains most severely manifested in climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies. Those who need this knowledge are not invited to this conversation, nor reached out to either. In Pakistan, community-based religious institutions have great potential to bridge this gap.