Dr Huma Baqai

13th Nov, 2022. 09:10 am

A dangerous eyewash

The recently concluded COP-27 has exposed the problems of COPs even more. The challenge for the world leaders has been a transition from talk and promises on paper, to walk on the ground. According to a UN climate change report, as recently as since COP-26 took place in Glasgow last year, only 29 out of 194 countries came forward with tightened national plans. COP-27 had a sense of urgency to it because of the alarming climate change manifestations. The reality of which is glaring humanity in the face. An example is of course the worst floods in Pakistan’s history. An internationally supported study has found that recent catastrophic floods in Pakistan have inflicted more than $30 billion in economic losses and have inundated a third of the country, a size equal to the UK. The 33 million people displaced by the floods are equal to half of the UK’s population, it is five times higher than the people displaced by the Ukraine crisis.

However, the world and Pakistan should’ve seen it coming, because in the last two decades the country has experienced 152 extreme events, triggered by climate change including floods, heatwaves, and forest fires. This situation is not just confined to Pakistan. In 2021, major climate disasters such as snowstorms, famine, deadly floods and wildfires to record-breaking rainfall and temperatures, struck many countries including the United States, Greece, Indonesia, Bangladesh, India and China among others. All have been affected by climate change triggered disasters.

The 27th Annual Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC (COP-27) was hosted by the Government of the Arab Republic of Egypt. The stated aim is to build on previous successes and pave the way for future ambition to effectively tackle the global challenge of climate change. The conference had brought together tens of thousands of participants and more than 100 heads of state to discuss how far deliberations are accompanied by action and to make efforts for cutting greenhouse gas emissions and finding ways to cope with a changing climate. Taking a clue from COP-26, the outcome document of which had disappointed many. Largely, the post Summit sentiment was reflected in statements that said, “we must accelerate climate action” and “go into emergency mode”, none of the goals stated were achieved at the conference. In the final stock taking plenary, many countries lamented that the package of agreed decisions was not enough, some had even called it disappointing. The text representing the “least-worst” outcome, was the comment made by the lead negotiator from New Zealand. Emergency indeed it is, however, emergency of action is missing. Even within the conference, there is a debate on why climate change is still getting worse after 27 years, an initiative that started way back in 1992 in some terms has not delivered at all. “As it is, The COPs are not really working,” said the youth climate activist Greta Thunberg, who had also announced that she will not attend COP-27 this year. “The COPs are mainly used as an opportunity for leaders and people in power to get attention, using many different kinds of greenwashing,” Thunberg said. Last year, the 19-year-old environmentalist had called the climate summit a “failure” and a “PR exercise”.  Greta’s frustration was clearly evident from her tweet, “the #COP26 is over, here is a brief summary: blah, blah, blah.”

In 2009, wealthy countries had promised that from 2020 onwards they would mobilise $100 billion per year to help vulnerable states adapt to climate change and green their energy systems — a pledge that is still unmet. The U.N. climate negotiators had agreed to set up a formal mechanism to tackle loss and damage. “Loss and damage” refer to the harm and destruction that happens when people and places are not prepared for climate-driven impacts and have not or cannot adjust the way they live to protect themselves from longer-term shifts. Little has happened since, mainly because rich governments did not want to bear the financial cost for the impacts of their historically high emissions, although some are now softening their opposition to find funding to address loss and damage, as vulnerable people are being hit hard in all parts of the world. UN Secretary-General António Guterres called the climate conference a critical “litmus test” for rebuilding trust between developed and developing countries, and said he hoped it would be able to secure meaningful outcomes around loss and damage.

Pakistani officials and climate experts are calling for the establishment of a dedicated “Loss and Damage Finance Facility”. They saw COP-27 as an opportunity not only for governments to set up such a fund but also to commit an amount to launch it. Malik Amin Aslam, an environmentalist and former Pakistan climate change minister, said that “Pakistan should not leave the table without securing that (loss and damage fund), anything short of that will be a failure.”


The Federal Minister for Climate Change, Sherry Rehman, speaking on the matter, said that the government planned to bring up promises made in prior conferences. “There was a promise, back in 2009, that $100 billion per year would be collected for climate financing but this has been largely ignored. Similarly, there was a promise to cut down on fossil fuel consumption by big polluters,” Rehman said.

Speaking at the COP-27 climate conference, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif highlighted the damage suffered by Pakistan in the wake of the recent floods and emphasised transforming key climate-related decisions into concrete actions and credible plans. Shehbaz reiterated that the unprecedented flood disaster in the country was a “clear manifestation of the challenge posed by climate change.” Further adding that as a developing country most affected by the phenomenon of climate change, Pakistan needed urgency of climate solidarity and climate justice.

According to the Ministry of Climate Change (MOCC), there has been a 300% increase in glacial lake outburst flood (GLOF) in one year alone. Furthermore, Pakistan has had the hottest cities in the world for three straight years now. The statistics released by the ministry also show that the country is likely to hit absolute water scarcity by 2025 – just three years from now. Apart from a lack of water, food insecurity is also expected to rise from 40% to 60% by 2050. Even though Pakistan is responsible for less than 1.0% of the world’s carbon emissions, still the country has been battered by back-to-back climate catastrophes and is struggling to find the funding it needs to recover from the recent unprecedented flooding. Climate emergency and climate catastrophe is not confined to Pakistan, it’s a wake-up call for the global community to come together to fight this collectively.

As per World Health Organization (WHO), between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea, and heat stress. Areas with weak health infrastructure – mostly in developing countries – will be the least able to cope without assistance to prepare and respond. More than five million extra deaths a year can be attributed to abnormal hot and cold temperatures, according to a world first international study led by Monash University. The study also found deaths related to hot temperatures increased in all regions from 2000 to 2019, indicating that global warming due to climate change will make this mortality figure worse in the future. If this is not a wake-up call, what is!?

The writer is Rector MiTE