Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Monday said that Pakistan would need debt relief and would seek compensation for climate damage as it recovers from catastrophic floods that cost the country some $30 billion.
Speaking at the COP27 climate conference alongside United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres, the premier said that Pakistan’s escalating public debt was hampering its recovery.
“Millions of people are going into winter without shelter or livelihood,” PM Shehbaz said. “Women and children are still looking to us to protect their basic needs.”
At the climate talks this year in Egypt, Pakistan and other climate-vulnerable countries are demanding that the UN take steps to mobilize “loss and damage” funds for disaster-hit nations, and some say rich nations have a duty to pay these costs because their historical emissions are mostly responsible for global warming today.
“We have mobilized every available resource toward the national relief effort,” but it is not enough, PM Shehbaz said — describing hundreds of broken bridges across the country, as well as stagnant lake water now fouling Pakistan’s southern agricultural landscape.
Meanwhile, Guterres urged international financial institutions like the World Bank and leaders at the upcoming G20 summit in Indonesia to reform policies that govern debt relief and concessional loan decisions so as to help middle-income countries like Pakistan focus on rebuilding rather than repayment.
“There should be a way to have a (debt) swap exchanging the payments of the debt to investments in the rehabilitation and recovery and reconstruction from natural disasters,” the secretary general added.
PM Shehbaz arrived in Egypt on Sunday where he was received by Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Guterres at the Sharm El Sheikh International Convention Centre.
In his meetings, the premier drew the attention of the international community to help Pakistan overcome the risks of climate change.
The heads of several governments — in their interaction with Shehbaz on the sidelines of the mega climate change summit — termed his continued presence in the flood-affected areas as an “extraordinary gesture”, according to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).
The premier highlighted the damage suffered by Pakistan in wake of the recent flash floods and emphasised transforming key climate-related decisions into concrete actions and credible plans.
While thanking the international community for helping the flood-struck people in Pakistan, the prime minister stressed that as a developing country most affected by the phenomenon, Pakistan needed urgency of climate solidarity and climate justice.
Meeting with UNSG
Earlier, PM Shehbaz also had a meeting with UNSG Guterres at the summit’s sidelines.
He informed Guterres that according to the Post Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA), the total estimated damage caused by the floods in Pakistan was over $32 billion.
The enormous task of rehabilitation and reconstruction would require substantial international support for Pakistan to build back greener, based on the model of sustainable development, Shehbaz added.
Appreciating the UNSG for his solidarity with and call for massive support to Pakistan in the wake of devastating floods in the country, PM Shehbaz reiterated that the unprecedented flood disaster in the country was a “clear manifestation of the challenge posed by climate change”.
He also endorsed the UNSG’s call for climate justice and climate solidarity.
Referring to last month’s adoption of an UN General Assembly resolution expressing solidarity with Pakistan, Shehbaz said that the country was looking forward to convening an international pledging conference bringing together all development partners.
PM Shehbaz also expressed appreciation for the creation of an UN inter-agency team, led by the deputy secretary general, to help Pakistan prepare a comprehensive rehabilitation and reconstruction plan to be presented to the conference.
The prime minister said the climate summit was a “timely opportunity for the international community to catalyse concerted international action to mitigate the impact of climate change and promote climate justice based on the principles of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities.”
He emphasised that addressing “loss and damage” would be a key “deliverable” at COP27.
Interaction with world leaders
The prime minister met with the Arab League’s Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit, UAE President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Tajikistan President Emomali Rahmon, Indonesia Vice President Maruf Amin, Iraq President Abdul Rasheed Rashid, Lebanon Prime Minister Najib Mikati, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva.
Egypt’s government is hosting COP27 with a view to effectively tackling the global challenge of climate change.
COP27 is taking place at a time when millions of people in Pakistan, and millions more in other parts of the world, are facing severe adverse impacts of climate change.
We’re on a highway to climate hell: UNSG
Meanwhile, UNSG Guterres told countries gathered at the summit that they face a stark choice: work together now to cut emissions or condemn future generations to climate catastrophe.
The speech set an urgent tone as governments sit down for two weeks of talks on how to avert the worst of climate change, even as they are distracted by Russia’s war in Ukraine, rampant consumer inflation and energy shortages.
“Humanity has a choice: cooperate or perish,” Guterres told delegates gathered in the seaside resort town of Sharm el Sheikh.
He called for a pact between the world’s richest and poorest countries to accelerate the transition from fossil fuels and funding to ensure poorer countries can reduce emissions and cope with the climate impacts that have already occurred.
“The two largest economies — the United States and China — have a particular responsibility to join efforts to make this pact a reality,” he said.
Despite decades of climate talks, progress has been insufficient to save the planet from excessive warming as countries are too slow or reluctant to act, he noted.
“Greenhouse gas emissions keep growing. Global temperatures keep rising. And our planet is fast approaching tipping points that will make climate chaos irreversible,” he said. “We are on a highway to climate hell with our foot on the accelerator.”
Former US vice president Al Gore, also speaking at the event, said global leaders have a credibility problem when it comes to climate change. He criticised developed nations’ ongoing pursuit of gas resources in Africa, which he described as “fossil fuel colonialism”.
“We have a credibility problem all of us: We’re talking and we’re starting to act, but we’re not doing enough,” Gore said.
“We must see the so-called ‘dash for gas’ for what it really is: a dash down a bridge to nowhere, leaving the countries of the world facing climate chaos and billions in stranded assets, especially here in Africa,” he said.