The recently organized COP 27 in Egypt ended on a jubilant note for the participants of countries from Global South as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has finally approved the much awaited “Loss and Damage” fund for the countries most vulnerable to climate change.
The recent floods in Pakistan during the summers of 2022 were at the forefront of this call for “Loss and Damage” funds. By September 2022, more than 1500 people died while 33 million people were affected by these floods in the country.
A series of reportings by Lok Sujag, a local news media outlet, titled “After the deluge” highlights how these floods continue to haunt the lives of people till this day; some of the areas remain submerged under flood water, while the outbreak of water related diseases and destruction of food crops has resulted in the scarcity of food and medicine.
First formed in 1994 with an ultimate aim of preventing “dangerous” human interference with the climate system, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has been organizing annual global conferences, popularly known as COP, since 1995 to discuss and implement different strategies to tackle the issue of climate change.
Historically, mitigation and adaptation have remained two central goals of all COP conferences and agreements. Mitigation involves “reducing the emissions” while adaptation focuses on developing strategies for moderating and living with the ongoing and potential impacts of climate change.
However, the concept of “Loss and Damage”, central to last year’s COP, recognizes that the previous commitments of mitigation and adaptation are no longer enough to control the recent rise of climate disasters in the Global South like the floods in Pakistan, droughts in East Africa, and rising sea levels in Bangladesh. Instead, these countries require significant financial assistance, especially from the industrialized countries of Global North which are the biggest emitters of Greenhouse gasses, to be able to recover from these disasters.
Like other representatives of climate vulnerable countries of the Global South at COP 27, Sherry Rehman, the Climate Change minister of Pakistan, also hailed the approval of the “Loss and Damage” funds as a landmark achievement.
However, a discussion with Sidra Adil and Granaz Baloch, two climate activists and scholars from Pakistan presents a more complex reality of climate change in the country which cannot be easily resolved merely through such fundings.
Indigenous community participation
Adil, a research scholar working on the issues and policies surrounding climate change and poverty in Pakistan, told 5X Press that any discussion of “Loss and Damage” in Pakistan requires some preliminary, important qualifications; “by putting all the blame on the countries of Global North in COP 27,” Adil said, “the government of Pakistan is also evading the role it has historically played itself in causing climate disasters, avoiding the question of its own accountability, responsibility and incompetencies”.
Adil goes on to highlight the colonial, authoritarian structure of the state in Pakistan, developed first by British colonizers in the 19th and 20th century and which continues to be upheld by a string of army dictators after 1947, the year when the subcontinent was partitioned into the states of India and Pakistan. Within such a historically developed state structure, all the decision making, policies and projects are decided and approved by the top tier.
According to Adil, “since elites are personally never affected by any incident of climate change, they will never be honest in their efforts and policies, caring only about the maximization of their profits.”
Adil, then, goes on to emphasize the need to democratize these elitist state structures and to involve the communities which have been affected by climate change in the decision making processes. These communities usually know their own local terrain and climate very well; by minimizing their participation and knowledge in tackling the issue of climate change, the funding received from the “Loss and Damage” claim will only end up in a vacuum like all the other climate funds and projects of the past.
The value of local climate wisdom has also been highlighted by Granaz Baloch, another scholar and activist from Pakistan who works on the issues of climate change and its effect on women in Balochistan—one of the four provinces in Pakistan.
Baloch’s grandmother would narrate the stories about how Balochi people used to tackle the climate patterns of low rainfalls and the resultant droughts by temporarily migrating to other terrains in the past. This is one example about how local communities would devise their own methods to adapt to their local climates in the past.
Similarly for water distribution, the people of Balochistan had historically developed and depended on the environmentally organic system of Karez, a series of wells connected by underground tunnels.
Baloch still remembers a Karez which ran near her house when she was a child, but large-scale interventions by the state, such as the building of Mirani Dam in 2005, and the subsidies it provided to farmers for using tube wells, has disturbed the whole organic water distribution system of the area.
Due to the lack of the state’s support to these ancestral ways of living and knowing, Karez have all but dried up and ground water level has reduced; whereas village lands flooded by Mirani Dam in 2007 are still not cultivable, forcing people, including Baloch’s own family, to migrate from villages and permanently settle in the big cities like Turbat.
Referring to unsustainable lifestyles, especially in cities, Baloch gives the example of how people no longer want to live in mud houses anymore. There is an increasing demand for cemented houses now. As a result, around 15 to 20 crushing plants have opened up in Turbat. By using different machineries, these plants cut and crush large stones and rocks to produce the gravel ingredients used in making cement. Baloch explains how “along with polluting the air, these crushing plants are also drying up the lakes to extract gravel, destroying our natural ecosystem”.
“Who is to be blamed here?”, Baloch asks, “Global North? Sure, it has contributed to the rise of Greenhouse gasses, but should we not hold our state and our own unnatural, environmentally harmful lifestyles as also responsible?”
Baloch further emphasizes how the issue of climate change cannot be resolved merely by blaming the Global North and receiving funds through “Loss and Damage”. It also requires a far more critical engagement within our own state policies and lifestyles by emphasizing upon the dilapidating local methods and forms of climate knowledge.
Instead of initiating yet another grand scale, environmentally destructive, state level project like dams and canal systems of the past, the funds received through “Loss and Damage” should be delegated into restoring and strengthening traditional methods of climate adaptation and mitigation.
Implementation of “Loss and Damage” funds
After much effort from the participants of developing countries in COP 27, the “Loss and Damage” fund has finally been approved although the details of its operationalization are yet to be finalized. It will still take a few more years for the actual funding to come through and help vulnerable countries to adapt and recover from climate disasters.
Sharing her skepticism about the promise of “Loss and Damage” funds, Adil highlights the racist underpinnings of the global world order. “For the developed countries of Global North,” Adil said, “non-White lives don’t matter much; they do not care much about climate destruction in Pakistan, Sri lanka, Bangladesh or any other small island states of Asia.” She cited the paltry media coverage floodings of Pakistan have received in the Western media outlets, comparing it with how the Ukraine war was covered.
“Why did the Ukraine war become such a big issue for the Western media? Because it was the White lives which were under threat”. Adil went on to clarify, “I am not denying the atrocities Ukrainian people have faced as a result of this war. I am just trying to highlight how not all lives matter equally in this world”.
With such a discriminatory world order in place, Adil is not very hopeful about the White countries of the Global North acknowledging their role in creating global warming and paying reparations to the climate vulnerable countries of the Global South like Pakistan.
Baloch too shared her critique of the “Loss and Damage” fund by highlighting that there were very few women in the committees and delegates involved in this project at COP 27. “Women are the worst affectees of any climate disaster”, Baloch said, “there can be no climate justice without an active inclusion and participation of women”.
“The agreements of COP are non-binding anyways and the biggest emitter of the world, the US, can easily pull out of it without any impunity. That should give us the hint” Adil said. “Do you think a colonizer country like the UK, which has never returned the artifacts it stole from its colonies, will now give them climate reparation and relief?”
The need for media coverage
With all such criticisms of “Loss and Damage” fund, Adil also celebrates the much needed attention it has brought on the issues of climate change in the Global South. “Previously, the discussion of COP was too centered around North America and Europe, around how these developed countries can mitigate and adapt to climate change”, Adil said, “but during this year’s COP, the discussion of “Loss and Damage” fund has shifted the focus to Global South”. Adil is pleasantly surprised by frequent interview requests she has started receiving recently from both national and international media to talk about floods and climate change in Pakistan.
When asked about how we, people living in the Global North, can act as allies and help, Adil emphasized the importance of getting informed and aware about what is happening in Pakistan and other countries of the Global South.
“Newspapers and other media platforms in the West need to start investing in and telling the stories of the people who have been affected by the climate disasters”, Adil said, “an event does not have to be as catastrophic and extreme as floods in Pakistan, affecting millions of people, to be able to deserve a few headlines and articles from CBC”.
According to Adil, developing this humane and empathetic understanding of how climate change is affecting the lives of people in the Global South will be a big first step, through which we can make a more informed decision about how to help as allies.
We need to develop a more detailed understanding about climate crises in the Global South and how we can help them effectively by listening to scholars, activists and community members like Adil and Baloch.
As residents of a society which has also historically and unfairly benefitted from the industrialization of the West, we cannot simply rely on “Loss and Damage” funds to wash away all our guilt and responsibilities.
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