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Climate justice

Khalid Bhatti
Monday, Sep 26, 2022

Both Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari have passionately presented Pakistan’s case before the international community and world leaders at the 77th UNGA annual session in New York. Both leaders have told the world in clear terms that Pakistan is going through the worst climate catastrophe that has affected at least 33 million people. This shows that Pakistan is a victim of the growing climate crisis and needs help to deal with this crisis.

In his maiden speech at the UNGA on September 23, PM Shehbaz Sharif made a passionate appeal to the world to undo the climate injustice done to countries like Pakistan that make little contribution to global warming and yet face its worst consequences.

“Why are my people paying the price of such high global warming through no fault of their own? Nature has unleashed her fury on Pakistan without looking at our carbon footprint, which is next to nothing. Our actions did not contribute to this,” he expressed.

The undeniable and inconvenient truth is that this calamity has not been triggered by our actions. The PM rightly pointed out to the world that our glaciers are melting fast, our forests are burning, and heatwaves in the country recently crossed the 50 degrees Celsius mark, making us the hottest place on the planet.

Today, we are living through an unprecedented monsoon season; the UN secretary general has rightly described it as “a monsoon on steroids”. He has also warned the international community that “what happened in Pakistan will not stay in Pakistan”.

At the UNGA session, Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari also highlighted the suffering and pain of the flood-affected people of Pakistan. He raised the issue of climate justice in his speeches at different forums including the G77 and China forum during the UNGA session.

He repeatedly said that Pakistan was looking for climate justice for the climate-induced disasters it is facing, not reparations. On Friday, at a press briefing he once again reiterated that the country was “not actively seeking climate reparations. No one has thus far been successful in getting reparations. It’s a tall ask. We are seeking realistic climate justice.”

The foreign minister also referred to the UN secretary general’s recent suggestion of a climate-swap, countries trading their debt for climate-friendly policies; this means that instead of paying back their debt to richer nations, developing countries should spend that money to lower the impacts of the climate crisis.

“The scale and magnitude of flood losses in Pakistan is huge and the international community’s support is vital to complement rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts,” he said. “More than financial assistance, Pakistan needs climate justice and a green plan to rebuild its infrastructure and economy.”

Pakistan is rightly seeking climate justice as one the worst climate-affected countries. The recent floods have caused economic losses of nearly $30 billion. Pakistan needs billions of dollars for the rehabilitation and reconstruction of the flood-affected people and areas.

Pakistan has a limited fiscal space due to the tough conditions laid down by the ongoing IMF programme. Debt rescheduling for a couple of years and the easing of the conditions of the IMF programme will help divert the necessary resources towards the flood-affected people.

Pakistan needs to follow up on the hard work done at the UNGA and focus on its campaign on the issue of climate justice. The country will need more efforts and campaigning on a regular basis.

Climate justice is a concept which emerged recently as the result of the fast growing global climate crisis. It is based on the fact that, although industrialized rich nations have largely contributed to this global crisis, they are not ready to share the reasonability and burden of the crisis which severely affects poor developing nations.

The concept of climate justice also recognizes that the climate crisis is caused by humans and a political crisis caused by the reckless exploitation of nature and the labour force to create wealth for rich individuals, big businesses and nations. Now it’s time the beneficiaries of this system pay back.

Rich polluters of the planet are not ready to help developing nations mitigate the impacts of the climate crisis through investment in climate-friendly modern infrastructures and technology.

Climate justice also recognizes the fact the issue of global warming and environmental degradation is political in nature. It requires political will on the part of the rich world to invest more to lower the impacts of the climate crisis. Rich nations must share the burden of this crisis and help poor nations deal with this growing human crisis.

Globalwitness.org has brilliantly explained the concept of climate justice: “Although global warming is a global crisis, its effects are not felt evenly around the world. The worst effects of the climate crisis for example extreme heat, flooding and crop failures are disproportionately felt by countries and communities in the Global South.

“With this shift has come the recognition that the solutions to the climate crisis are not just a scientific matter, but a political one too; that our discussions about the climate have to include more than just data and statistics on degrees of warming and atmospheric carbon concentration, but also concepts such as power, access to resources, and justice.

“Furthermore, it recognises that the blame for creating the crisis we find ourselves in is not shared evenly, either. In an utter travesty of justice, the places which are currently suffering the effects of global warming bear little or no historical responsibility for causing it. Instead, the blame overwhelmingly lies with the rich countries of the Global North which used vast quantities of fossil fuels to power their industrial growth”.

Human rights activist Mary Robinson sums up the idea of climate justice: “Climate justice insists on a shift from a discourse on greenhouse gases and melting ice caps into a civil rights movement with the people and communities most vulnerable to climate impacts at its heart.”

The writer is a freelance journalist.