Watching the world burn

Pakistan will continue to put pressure on rich countries at the global climate talks

Rina Saeed Khan January 04, 2020
The writer is an environmental journalist based in Islamabad

Australia is literally on fire these days as bushfires sweep across the country due to a lethal combination of heat waves and lack of rain during the summer season. Up to 500 million mammals, birds and reptiles (including 8,000 koalas) have been killed according to researchers from Sydney University. Coastal town residents are fleeing to their beaches to escape from the towering flames.

Is this going to be the “new normal” on a planet increasingly heated up by climate change? Why aren’t more Australians protesting on the streets? They should be, because their government, along with the US and Brazil (all ruled by climate-denying politicians) deliberately bogged down the recent UN climate negotiations held in Madrid.

They put the interests of powerful fossil fuel companies above the interests of the planet and its people, rejecting the science. Do they not understand that if global temperatures continue to rise, no one will be spared, rich or poor? The impacts of climate change are now hitting rich countries too — in 2019, Japan and Germany were on top of the Global Climate Risk Index as they were hit the hardest by heat waves and drought in 2018.

The Madrid climate talks sputtered out after no decisions were made on carbon markets; hardly any climate finance was forthcoming and there was no movement on Loss and Damage, a mechanism by which rich countries could provide compensation to vulnerable countries. Now all eyes are on Glasgow, where next year, the UN Climate Conference is to finalise the Paris Agreement rulebook so that it can start to be implemented.

In the mean time the UN’s Emissions Gap Report 2019 says we are on the brink of missing the opportunity to limit global warming to 1.5 degree Celsius. If we rely only on the current climate commitments of the Paris Agreement, temperatures can be expected to rise to 3.2 degree Celsius this century. The report says temperatures have already increased 1.1 degree Celsius, leaving families, homes and communities devastated, as in the case of Australia.

Pakistan, which is a low emitting country but ranked fifth on the list of countries hit by the highest weather-related losses from 1999 to 2018, has to do all it can to protect its people from the onslaught. The country recently announced a major adaptation initiative at the Madrid conference.

Called the Ecosystem Restoration Fund, it will be housed at the National Disaster Risk Management Fund headed by General Nadeem Ahmed. According to the Advisor to the PM on Climate Change, Malik Amin Aslam, who launched the fund, “$180 million by World Bank will initiate the fund, with $50 million by GoP… This will allow other partners to credibly add to the fund to support the GoP’s five point green agenda [10 Billion Trees Project, Electric Vehicles, 30% clean energy transformation target by 2030, making Pakistan plastic-bag free and Recharge Pakistan programme to tackle floods]”.

He said it would fund the up-scaled Billion Tree Tsunami project (which was originally self-funded). “We already have commitment of funds from the German and Japanese governments which will go through this fund”. The Recharge Pakistan initiative would also be funded. “It will restore about 14 wetland ecosystems and recharge groundwater aquifers along the Indus basin”.

Pakistan will continue to put pressure on rich countries at the global climate talks but at least it is walking the talk when it comes to taking action.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 4th, 2020.

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