Reparations for climate

Editorial Board
Monday, Sep 12, 2022

Keeping in view the damage the Global North has done to the climate across the world, it is in all fitness of things that the Global South demands reparations as compensation for the devastation southern countries have been experiencing as a result of climate change. Facing the worst flooding disaster in its history, Pakistan is justified in putting forward its expectations for compensation from the rich countries who are mostly responsible for causing climate change. Federal Minister for Climate Change Sherry Rehman has said multiple times that Pakistan makes negligible contribution to global warming but has been among the most vulnerable to climate change. With the current floods claiming nearly 1,500 lives already, and causing economic damage worth billions of dollars, rich nations must be held accountable. They owe reparations to countries such as Pakistan for the consequences of climate change. Though it appears to be a long shot at the moment, if all developing countries put their voice together and are assertive, a time may come in the near future that the principles being invoked become fairly well-established.

There was a time – in a not-too-distant past – in which even decolonization seemed impossible; but the colonial powers had to accept the demands of their subjugated nations to withdraw from their colonies. Now this is a case of environmental jurisprudence that Pakistan should not be fighting on its own; the entire developing world must insist on setting up an international mechanism for financial compensation. Most of all the small island states, and countries such as Pakistan with one of the largest number of glaciers in the world need compensation for loss and damage that climate disasters are causing. Unfortunately, climate change negotiations held internationally have not paid much attention to this issue. There must be new platforms available to the affected countries to ask for justice.

It is an accepted principle in national and international law that anyone who causes a certain damage is liable to pay the cost. Similarly, the polluters must pay for the cost of remedial action and also for compensating the victims of the damage. Greenhouse gas emissions have not taken place without any cause; the industrial revolution and the resultant age of rapid industrialization in the past two centuries have transformed the climate of the globe. Industrialized countries have contributed nearly two-thirds of all emissions since the turn of the 20th century. From Australia, Canada, and China to Europe, Japan, Russia, and the United States, all have inflicted irreparable damage to climate patterns. The developing countries all combined have contributed only a fraction of the total carbon dioxide in the atmosphere but have been paying the cost of a crime they never committed. Now they have no capacity to cope with the severity of the catastrophes they face. That’s why a demand for loss and damage compensation is entirely justified and must yield some results. On his visit to Pakistan, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres too has urged global financial institutions to create a new mechanism for countries like Pakistan to enable investment in climate resilience and sustainable infrastructure, instead of getting mired in debt repayment. These are the steps needed to save countries like ours from drowning due to the apathy and negligence of others.