Commentary RESEARCH

Act together to fight climate change


2022-11-30 12:00

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari
China Daily

As the chair of the COP 27 Group of 77 and China (i.e. developing countries), it was my responsibility to bring together the countries of the world to finally make realistic and significant steps to address the current and future implications of climate change and global warming on the planet, with particular reference to the developing world. For me this was not just a professional responsibility but a deeply personal one as foreign minister of Pakistan, the country that was ravaged by the climate change catastrophe of severe floods in 2022. The decision at Sharm el-Sheikh to establish a fund to assist developing countries address loss and damage from the adverse impacts of climate change was a momentous first step, a signal of hope for humanity and the planet.

As the chair, I proposed the discussion on a loss and damage financing facility last June in the preparations for COP 27. We faced familiar resistance to placing the issue on the Conference agenda. Ultimately, and not easily, we succeeded.

The impacts of climate change and global warming have progressively become more frequent and ferocious. Those who have contributed the least to global warming are suffering the most. For 30 years, the most vulnerable countries have pressed for a fund through which those who have contributed the most to global carbon emissions would help the vulnerable countries recover from climate disasters and other consequences of climate change — rising sea levels, drought, hurricanes and floods.

The epic floods in Pakistan this year, vividly and brutally confirmed the growing magnitude of climate disasters — with tens of thousands killed or injured; millions displaced; 13,000 km of roads, 2 million homes, 500 bridges and 5 million acres of crops destroyed, and one-third of the country literally under water. My home province of Sindh was the most devastated. It was only after seeing first-hand the scale of loss of catastrophic proportions, the indescribable suffering of innocent people, incalculable damage, and realizing there was no international financial mechanism to address disasters of this scale, that I fully understood the magnitude of the loss, understood the full extent of the damage done, and the absolute necessity to take bold steps to save people and the natural environment.

This monumental disaster — and simultaneous floods in Nigeria, drought in the Horn of Africa, and hurricanes in the Pacific and the Caribbean — reinforced the determination of developing countries to secure climate justice. Pakistan's tenacious efforts, actively supported by the most vulnerable and other developing countries, yielded the agreement at the opening of COP 27 to place this item on the agenda. As the chair, I realized the importance of Pakistan leading the developing countries in the subsequent negotiations at the Conference to press for the establishment of the fund. We commend the Group's solidarity in pursuing the creation of the loss and damage funding arrangements and of the fund itself. We appreciate the ultimate acceptance of the proposal by the developed countries, including the European Union and the US.

The developing countries look forward to urgent work in the Transitional Committee of 24 members to finalize the fund's institutional arrangements, structure, governance, and terms of reference, as well as to define the elements of the new funding arrangements, to identify and expand the sources of funding and establishing means to ensure coordination and complementarity with existing arrangements. Among the most important tasks for the Transition Committee is to identify the scale of funding required to meet the current consequences of climate change. This may sound technical to the lay reader but it literally means life and death for our children and grandchildren and generations yet unborn.

While the agreement does not establish the legal responsibility of those who have contributed the most to climate change and global warming, it does confirm the central principle of climate justice — that those who are suffering the most from the impacts of climate change, — although they have contributed the least to global warming, — deserve financial support from those who have contributed the most to climate change, and who have done the most damage to the environment.

A first test of climate justice will be the response to Pakistan's plan for rehabilitation and reconstruction from the floods disaster and efforts to build resilience against future disasters. This plan will be submitted to a Pledging Conference to be convened jointly by Pakistan and the UN secretary-general in January 2023. The World Bank has estimated that Pakistan suffered damage amounting to over $30 billion and will require at least $16.5 billion in urgent external support.

The loss and damage fund has yet to be operationalized. Pakistan expects that financing for its rehabilitation and reconstruction plan will come from the industrial countries and international financial institutions, including the International Monetary Fund and multilateral development banks. Such support could include debt write-offs, swaps and restructuring; new Sustainable Development Reserves (SDR) allocations or rechanneling of the unused SDRs of the developed countries; direct support for reconstruction projects, as well as private investment for projects that can be structured, e.g. with blended finance, to be commercially viable. We also expect expressions of solidarity from Pakistan's friends in the Islamic world and the Global South.

Although climate impacts have become inevitable due to the 1.1-degree Celsius global warming that has occurred already over the past 150 years, it remains vital to limit the impacts of climate change as far as possible going forward. More should have been done before. But it is our responsibility not to whine, but to act.

It is therefore concerning that the adaptation plans of so many developing countries are still not funded. The Glasgow decision to "at least double" climate finance for adaptation must be urgently fulfilled. At COP 27, Pakistan proposed immediate implementation of this decision. We expect that at COP 28 in the United Arab Emirates next year we will be able to establish a mechanism to measure and monitor financial flows for climate adaptation.

Most importantly, the commitment made since 2009 to mobilize $100 billion annually in climate finance has not been fulfilled. The developed countries need to urgently meet this commitment and agree to a New Collective Quantified Goal for larger climate finance from the floor of $100 billion by the next conference of parties in November 2023.

Of course, the ultimate and common goal is to halt global warming and avoid the "tipping points" that climate scientists predict would lead to a global climate catastrophe. However, the onus to ensure that global temperature rise is limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius is mainly on the industrial countries which have consumed two-thirds of the "carbon budget" over the past 150 years. The remaining one-third of this "budget" is what developing countries will need to grow out of poverty and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Therefore, the mitigation commitments of the Global North must be enhanced and accelerated. Unfortunately, it was evident at COP 27 that the industrial countries had not implemented the mitigation commitments assumed in Glasgow and were reluctant to agree to a larger and faster pathway to reduce emissions and keep the 1.5-degree Celsius target "alive".

Climate action is but one component of the cooperative efforts required to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals — to end hunger and poverty; promote health and education, restore global growth, and ensure lives of dignity and well-being for all nations and peoples.

As it concludes its tenure as chair of the Group of 77 and China at the end of this year, Pakistan will make a final push to advance the SDGs and climate goals at a Ministerial Conference of the developing countries in New York in mid-December. The outcomes of this meeting will, we hope, set the agenda that the Global South can promote at the SDG Summit and COP 28 next year.

It may be too late for the victims of Pakistan floods, but it is my fervent hope that the loss and damage facility will be in place to assist other countries devastated. For what happened to Pakistan will not be exclusive to Pakistan. In 2022 it was Pakistan, next year it could be anyone. Or everyone. The future of the world depends on our common efforts that need to move forward now.

The author is foreign minister of Pakistan.



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