The UN’s 27th Annual Conference of the Parties (COP27) took place in the idyllic Egyptian resort town of Sharm El Sheikh from 6-18 November. In this setting, the devastations of recent floods in Pakistan are being discussed. According to Reuters, Pakistan has faced a collective loss of some $30 billion, and some 33 million people have been affected.
Unfortunately, most of us are unconcerned about the climate summit, as our electronic media and social media are busy discussing petty politics and unending political disputes about the appointment of the army chief. Aasim Sajjad in a recent article has rightly noted that most of us have no idea that COP27 is even taking place.
Literature about climate change at the local level in Pakistan is not being written – or if present, is quite insufficient to convey the scale of devastation caused by the climate crisis.
UN Secretary General Guterres, for his part, despite the worsening climate crisis, remains hopeful because of the young people who have been relentless in holding decision-makers to account. Meanwhile, the actual youth of the eighth most vulnerable country to climate change are showing less concern about the single most important issue of our time.
Indeed it is a matter of huge concern that while the rest of the world is discussing devastating floods, earthquakes, glaciers melting, rising sea levels, shortage of food and unprecedented global warming – all are issues that pertain to existential threats to us – the Pakistani mainstream seems unconcerned.
In a recent visit to Pakistan, Secretary General Guterres rightly stated:
“Let’s stop sleepwalking towards the destruction of our planet by climate change. Today, it is Pakistan. Tomorrow, it could be your country.”
Floods have created unprecedented challenges in health, education, energy and food. The WHO has warned of health threats in the country as some 1,460 health facilities have been washed away by the floods. The spread of waterborne diseases is on the rise. UNICEF in their recent report reveal that 10 million children in need of immediate support are facing threats of waterborne disease, malnutrition and lack of shelter. Relief Web estimates that 650,000 pregnant women require assistance. Winter has descended, which can be more lethal in the upcoming days for those who are living in rickety camps around monsoon rainwater.
A country like Pakistan is already experiencing an economic crisis. How does management meet the needs of the poor masses as climate catastrophes begin to compound the suffering?
According to the World Bank, Pakistan emits less than 1% of global greenhouse gases. Yet we are facing humanitarian and climate catastrophes. In this difficult hour, Pakistan needs debt swaps, climate reparations and climate justice. Some economists have indeed suggested a debt swap for Pakistan, which means that the country would use the money on rehabilitation and rebuilding infrastructure instead of paying its debts. All industrially developed nations that are responsible for carbon emissions should help Pakistan in this critical hour to reverse the effects of climate catastrophe.
As the theme of Egypt’s COP27 summit is ‘implementation,’ Pakistan needs to take urgent steps on a local level with the help of the private sector by shifting additional resources into sustainable agriculture, afforestation projects like the Billion Tree Tsunami, and replacement of fossil fuels like coal, gas and oil dependency into renewable resources like wind and solar energy.
Still, even after taking urgent climate action, we would be dependent on other countries because our country is not ecologically sovereign. To protect Karachi, Gwadar, and other cities from unprecedented rains, high temperatures and famines, we still need to convince global and regional powers to abandon their traditional business approach.
In such an unprecedented time, the world needs strong leadership for urgent climate action, and it is imperative to rapidly phase out the high-carbon-emissions industries. There is hope that COP27 would help to protect developing nations from the worst of climate-related impacts and that it would prove helpful by decarbonising the engine of our world.