It is said that international diplomacy is a zero-sum game. Diplomacy is based on the principle of give and take. So, for Pakistan to benefit from its international relations, it needs to adopt a radical policy that works in its favour.
Monsoon rains have wreaked havoc in large parts of the country. The unprecedented monsoon rains this year have killed hundreds of people, rendered thousands homeless and inundated acres of land across Pakistan. The social media is flooded with images and videos of helpless people being washed away by the unrelenting waters.
Monsoon rains are not a novelty in the subcontinent. But their increased intensity and disturbed patterns are because of climate change. We must acknowledge that Pakistan is located in the world’s most populous region. The total population of South Asia makes up some 40 percent of the world’s population. Pakistan is the fifth most populated country in the world. However, the reality is far starker.
Of the five most populous countries of the world, Pakistan has the second highest population density of 267 per square kilometres. It is only India that is ahead of Pakistan with a population density of 431 per square kilometres. This means that when calamity strikes, more people are affected in Pakistan and India, than China. The level of destruction per-capita is likely to be more in South Asia and China than any other part of the world — since more than 3 billion people live in these congested countries.
We must realise effects of the climate crisis on lives of billions of people. The good thing about the climate crisis is that it will not discriminate against people. The bad thing is that we do not know when it will strike, where it will strike, how long will it strike for, and how strongly will it strike? We know only that it will strike sooner than later — given we are not ready to give up our way of life.
Diplomacy will be successful when countries realise that climate change is a negative-sum game. That no matter where the coal-fired power plant is located it will haunt its planners even on the other side of the planet. When Dr Abid Qaiyum Suleri, Executive Director at SDPI, was asked about the coal-fired power plants that are being set up under the CPEC umbrella, he responded that diplomacy is a zero-sum game and that we cannot ask the Chinese to give them up since we have entered into a legally binding agreements with them, and doing so will require international mediation and Pakistan may have to incur a lot of monetary penalties for pulling out of the contracts.
On further argument that climate change will not discriminate whether it is China or Pakistan, he showed scepticism, and said he understood the concern but in a world of multi-billion-dollar investments and global competition for strategic and civilisational hegemony, climate change is a distant beat.
Dr Sulehri was reflecting on the hardcore reality. Experts are discussing how coal-fired power plants will affect the global climate. It is an age-old problem, though. The greenhouse gases where created in the atmosphere during and after the industrial revolution. It was an incremental process that has now become a matter of existential emergency.
The steps to circumvent the disastrous effects of climate change will need to be quick and well-thought-out. Giving up coal-fired power plants will be difficult because, as Dr Sulehri said, it will entail consequences in the regional as well as global arena.
It must be realised that whereas diplomacy is a zero-sum game, climate change is a negative-sum game.
The statement that climate change will not discriminate against people is partially true. I think we can argue that those of less means have less opportunity for mobility and less means to purchase properties less prone to the affects of climate change.