By Saeed Shah/Wall Street Journal
Islamabad, September 23 : After suffering catastrophic floods, Pakistan is leading a push with other developing nations to establish international funding for natural disasters that they say are caused by climate change, in an effort to spur momentum around the issue ahead of climate negotiations later this year.
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, in a speech Friday at the United Nations General Assembly, is set to point to record rainfall that has inundated parts of Pakistan in recent weeks to make the case that those countries who have contributed least to causing global warming are suffering the most from the impacts of climate change, aides say. Pakistan produces around 1% of global greenhouse-gas emissions but estimates that the floods will cost it more than $30 billion in lost economic growth and rebuilding costs.
“We have become the postcard from the edge of the climate precipice,” said Sherry Rehman, Pakistan’s climate minister, adding that the floods have set the country’s development back by a decade. “The bargain between the global South and the North is broken.”
There will likely be a clash over the issue at the next climate summit, COP27, to be held in Egypt in November, where officials from developing nations say they will seek again to get a general agreement on setting up a fund for “loss and damage” from wealthier nations.
At the last climate summit, in Glasgow, a proposal from developing countries for a dedicated funding facility under that umbrella went nowhere. European Commission Executive Vice President Frans Timmermans said it wasn’t possible to agree to a new fund without first working out what it would do and who would fund it.
“Rather than accepting what could have been an empty symbolic gesture, the EU considers that it may better help affected communities by scaling up the work of institutions that they already turn to when facing impacts in the real world,” Mr. Timmermans said in a statement earlier this year.
This year, Pakistan will try to harness global attention on the floods to shift the debate. It will be leading the biggest grouping of countries at the gathering, the G-77 bloc of more than 130 developing countries plus China, giving Islamabad an important role in coordinating the drive for disaster recovery and rebuilding funds. Egypt, president of COP27, says it is also supporting the effort.
After decades of negotiations, developed nations committed in 2009 to contribute funds to poorer countries for reducing the impact of climate change, by switching to energy sources that lower carbon emissions and implementing measures to adapt, such as moving populations to higher ground or building embankment defenses against floods. They committed to providing $100 billion a year from 2020 to 2025, a target not yet achieved. Some $83 billion was paid in 2020, including loans and export credits, not just grants, according to a tally by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a grouping of developed nations.
However, that money is for preventative measures. Developing countries say the missing element is money available for disasters when they hit. That category is known as “loss and damage” in climate negotiations. For many developing countries, this funding is a matter of basic fairness, or “climate justice,” as they say that historically, emissions have been caused largely by the richer countries.
Richer countries have generally been resistant to the idea, given the trillions of dollars potentially involved and the difficulty of deciding how to disburse the funds. An unsuccessful proposal from developing nations at the last summit, in Glasgow, demanded at least $1.3 trillion annually, to finance the shift away from fossil fuels and to protect themselves from the effects of climate change, starting in 2030.
“There’s been decades of pushback on liability and compensation,” said Yamide Dagnet, director of Climate Justice at Open Society, a group that advocates for democracy and government accountability. The 2015 Paris climate accord, for example, included the idea of “loss and damage,” but developed countries wouldn’t agree to any language that would provide any basis for liability or compensation, she said. “The scale of Pakistan’s floods is defining the issue of loss and damage,” Ms. Dagnet said.
In his speech to the U.N. on Wednesday, President Biden singled out Pakistan’s disaster as an example of the “human cost of climate change.” U.S. climate envoy John Kerry met this week with the Pakistani prime minister on the sidelines of the General Assembly, tweeting afterward that they discussed “the urgent need to work together to fight the climate crisis.” The U.S. is the biggest donor so far to Pakistan’s appeal for humanitarian aid for the floods, with $55 million.
Mr. Kerry said this week that he was focused on reducing global greenhouse-gas emissions, including by large developing countries that are now major emitters. Loss and damage will be part of the discussions at the COP27 summit, but he said he didn’t expect any broad agreement would be reached until 2024. “You can’t just set up a facility in six weeks,” said Mr. Kerry. “Where’s the money coming from?”
“In all honesty, the most important thing that we can do is stop, mitigate enough that we prevent loss and damage,” Mr. Kerry said. “And the next most important thing we can do is help people adapt to the damage that’s already there. ”
Still, some governments have undertaken symbolic gestures. This week, Denmark became the first country to offer “loss and damage” compensation to vulnerable countries, pledging $13 million.
Conrod Hunte, deputy chairman of the Association of Small Island States, nations that are some of the most vulnerable to climate change, said that Pakistan’s flooding demonstrates the need for a loss and damages fund. “If the moral conscience of our development partners really kicks in, I think this is something we can walk away with,” Mr. Hunte said.
Droughts and floods are likely to become more intense as a result of climate change, scientists say. In Pakistan this summer, monsoon clouds followed an unusual trajectory, to the south of the country, where more than five times the normal rain fell, not the mountainous north.
A study last week from World Weather Attribution, a global collaboration of scientists that seeks to provide information on the role of global warming in specific weather events, said that climate change was likely a contributing factor in Pakistan’s heavier rainfall this year. That study followed an earlier one from the same group, which found that a heat wave that hit India and Pakistan this spring was made 30 times more likely as a result of climate change.
Fahad Saeed, an Islamabad-based scientist at Germany’s Climate Analytics think tank, and one of the co-authors of the study, said that the earlier heat wave warmed the ground, which was a significant factor in drawing in moisture from the sea and the monsoon clouds to the southern part of the country.
“We now have scientific evidence for Pakistan that losses and damages can be attributed to climate change,” Mr. Saeed said.
Egypt’s foreign minister, Sameh Shoukry, told a meeting organized by Pakistan this week that discussions around this funding will be “a principal issue on the global climate action agenda” and he hoped for “positive results” at COP27, according to a statement from his government.
The total finance available annually for climate action came to an average of $632 billion for 2019 and 2020, including the private sector, according to a report from Climate Policy Initiative, an advisory firm based in San Francisco. Of that sum, 90% went on switching to cleaner energy, and 7% to adaptation measures such as moving to drought-resistant crops. That leaves losses from extreme weather unfunded, said Preety Bhandari, senior adviser at the World Resources Institute, a think tank based in Washington.
“There is really no option but progress on ‘loss and damage’ at COP27,” said Ms. Bhandari. “It is a make-or-break issue.”