Climate justice

In the case of Pakistan, the possibility of climate-destabilisation is very much the reality. The message is quite obvious; the harms have begun and will eventually become more widespread with the passage of time. Consider the recent floods, where one-third of the country was flooded with at least 33 million people being displaced, and over a thousand others losing their lives. Make no mistake, the net result of this climate crisis which has resulted in eight weeks of torrential rains is nothing short of an apocalyptic event. It catapulted a nation of 220 million people into a humanitarian crisis, a food crisis, an economic crisis, a health crisis and an education crisis.
Much worse is how survivors now continue to face fresh fears; with an impending malaria and dengue epidemic on the rise, loss of crops, and a rapid increase in starvation. Having destroyed an estimated $10 billion of the country’s economy, these floods are a wake-up call for the world’s most densely populated region. While, the United States and several other nations continue to pledge their humanitarian assistance, these pledges fall short of what is actually needed to overcome the scale of this atrocious calamity.
Despite promising to alleviate harm caused to the most vulnerable regions of the global south, the world’s largest carbon emitters have collectively failed to embrace loss and damage efforts while simultaneously falling short on mitigation and adaptation strategies.
Though this is not new. As the colonial tradition of extracting resources from the south to enrich the north and releasing large amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere has put some of the world’s most vulnerable populations on the front lines of the impacts of climate change. The IPCC report, released earlier this year, clearly states that vulnerability to climate impacts differs between regions and is driven by patterns of intersecting socioeconomic development, unsustainable sea and land use, injustice, marginalisation, historical and persistent patterns of inequality such as colonialism, and governance.
Historian David Gilmartin outlined the extensive environmental changes, which during the colonial era occurred in the Indus Basin, the very heartland of today’s Pakistan as “one of the world’s greatest environmental transformations in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries”. Particularly, he notes that the areas of western Punjab that today provide the heartlands of Pakistani agriculture, which were established during the colonial era to meet the rising demands of agriculture, “were not settled, even at the height of the Mughal Empire”. It is therefore unsurprising that, despite its large historical culpability, the government of the United Kingdom’s response to Pakistan has been to champion charity over justice. It has recently offered to match public donations and gift a paltry £26.5 million in total, extremely inadequate considering Pakistan’s loss and damage are estimated to be at least $10 billion.
And, this very failure to fund a loss and damage mechanism has been viewed by many as a “gaping hole” in the international legal governance structure of climate change.
Considering how the United States, which is responsible for a quarter of historical emissions, sit still continues to reap benefits of this unabashed exploitation, raking in insurmountable wealth and power while, its emissions cause a distressing $2 trillion worth of damage on developing countries like Pakistan, where the floods are a direct result of melting glaciers. And as glaciers melt, not only are ecosystems and industries annihilated, but an important source of freshwater also disappears.
Not to forget with fossil fuels continuing to burn, it is only a matter of time before disaster strikes the rest of the world. Which is why it has become so much prevalent in today’s time to realise that the idea around intergenerational climate justice, that there should be respect for and the protection of human rights to hold those contributing to climate change accountable for their actions is an extremely very powerful sword for bringing legal accountability to those actors who fail to effectively play their part in mitigating climate change. And as the climate negotiators prepare to gather for the annual United Nations climate change conference in Egypt later this fall, with images of Pakistan’s massive human suffering being prominent in everyone’s minds.
Last year, the 2021 Glasgow Climate Pact fell short of establishing a loss and damage facility that could have helped streamline aid to Pakistan and other developing nations. As establishing a loss and damage facility could have set in motion more concrete financial commitments to compensate for climate harm and streamline aid. Instead, the Glasgow Pact offered a loss and damage “dialogue” that sought to “minimise and address loss and damage associated with the adverse impacts of climate change. Nonetheless, Pakistan still has a long road ahead of its journey to recover from this current state of crisis and prepare for any future disasters. The international actors can certainly play their part by supporting local actors in their short-term response and longer-term prevention and rehabilitation efforts.
The floods should also serve as a reminder for countries to cut emissions drastically so that those contributing the least to climate change, no longer face the consequences. This is not just about aid anymore but also about climate justice. Our people are the latest victims of a global crisis to which they have contributed almost nothing, and which has instead been fuelled by the excessive emissions of rich countries and corporate polluters. 
And this, as NASA forecasted, could render swaths of Pakistan entirely uninhabitable. This fundamental injustice is at the root of the increasing demands from Pakistan and the global south for climate change redress. If immediate measures are not taken to improve climate crisis preparedness, mitigation and adaptation, then such disasters will worsen. As U.N Secretary-General António Guterres urges, “Today it’s Pakistan. Tomorrow, it could be your country.”

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