Pakistan’s climate battle

Editorial Board
Tuesday, Jun 06, 2023

According to Amnesty International, Pakistan is on the frontlines of the climate change crisis and its people are facing disproportionate severe consequences from global warming, despite the country’s meagre contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions. Amnesty International has released a new report entitled ‘A Burning Emergency: Extreme heat and the right to health in Pakistan’, highlighting the impact that heatwaves have in a country where extreme poverty is widespread and many simply cannot afford to escape the heat. The report is based on in-person interviews with people from Jacobabad and Lahore; Jacobabad is one of the hottest cities on the planet. Those interviewed are primarily engaged in low-income work that requires a lot of manual labour and prolonged heat exposure, including workers from the informal sector, farmers, delivery riders and factor and sanitation workers. Those working these jobs simply cannot afford a day, let alone a week, off and have little to no bargaining power when it comes to demanding more protection from the heat from their employers. This is the case in particular for those in the informal sector who have few, if any, legal avenues to pursue should their employer force them to work in life-threatening conditions. In Pakistan, such workers make up the majority of our labour force and thus heatwaves and the impact they have on workers is a major rights issue for the country.

The report also focuses on the disproportionate impact heatwaves and extreme temperatures have on vulnerable groups such as women and the poor in general, noting that the public health authorities’ responses and advice concerning heatwaves often assume that people have access to electricity, fans, water and ACs, which is clearly not the case in our country. This leaves much of the poor with nowhere to turn when a heatwave does occur. However, the task facing our government is an unenviable one. It has to provide adequate protection to tens of millions of poor people when even the middle class can barely afford an AC and is struggling to keep up with its electricity bills. While the Amnesty International report calls for the government to prioritize the most marginalized people when coming up with heat action plans, it notes that Pakistan needs financial assistance to tackle this issue. When it comes to the heatwaves themselves, there is little countries like Pakistan can do given that most of the emissions come from wealthy countries. Indeed, Amnesty’s deputy regional director in South Asia has highlighted the role advanced economies have to play in phasing-out fossil fuels and providing funds for countries like Pakistan to cope with climate challenges. Debt relief is considered as a potential avenue of financing. However, given how negotiations with the IMF are going, debt relief for poor countries, or any other kind of financial relief for that matter, appears to be the last thing on the minds of the rich countries.