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Pakistan and the Historic “Loss and Damage” Deal

Image Source: Foreign Policy via Getty Images
Pakistan and the Historic “Loss and Damage” Deal

COP27 ended with a historical “loss and damage” deal, hailed by the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, as an “important step towards justice.” Loss and damage, which refers to those harmful effects of climate change, whether sudden extreme weather events or slow onset events, which have “irreversible impacts” upon human and natural systems in vulnerable countries, has never been a formal agenda item at any previous COP. Not only did Pakistan propose this as an agenda item, but it was under its chairmanship of the G77 that this deal was reached.

When the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was being drafted in 1991, the need to address loss and damage was first raised by the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) when it proposed the creation of an international insurance pool to compensate victims of projected rises in sea levels. Contributions to the pool would be based both on a country’s ability to pay and its responsibility for climate change, measured by relative greenhouse gas emissions. However, the AOSIS stated in September 2012 that these needs had not yet been “satisfactorily addressed.”

It was not until COP19 in 2013 that the UNFCCC’s main catalyst to address loss and damage was established, the Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM) for Loss and Damage, which has three major functions: enhancing knowledge, dialogue and action in addressing loss and damage. The first five-year rolling work plan of the WIM’s executive committee was endorsed at COP23 in 2017. It outlined the activities and expected results of five strategic workstreams, informed by a strategic outlook that placed loss and damage at the heart of global and national policy with a focus on developing countries, which are better equipped to address loss and damage and deliver effective support.

In order to assist and implement the functions of the WIM, a clearing house repository for insurance and risk transfer was created at COP21 in 2015 to develop and implement comprehensive risk management strategies, while the Santiago Network of COP25 in 2019 aimed to catalyse technical assistance to address loss and damage. The Glasgow Dialogue was then established at COP26 in 2021 to discuss the arrangement of funding activities to address loss and damage.

The strength of Pakistan’s demands for a deal rests on the fact that it only produces 0.9 of global emissions, meaning it bears substantial harmful effects of climate change, for which it is not historically nor proportionately responsible.

Finally, at COP27 of this year, it was agreed that funding arrangements for responding to loss and damage will be developed and adopted by the deadline of COP28 at the end of 2023 to support those developing countries most vulnerable to climate change. This decision was accompanied by a renewed call to keep the global average temperature below 1.5 degrees celsius to limit further loss and damage from the outset.

Referred to as the “thorniest issue” at COP27, the loss and damage debate is incredibly sensitive because the major proponents of such a deal are largely from countries in the Global South which bear the brunt of climate change but have not historically contributed significantly to global carbon emissions. For example, the African continent is the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, but it has only contributed 3.8% to global emissions. In light of this, there is a call not to refer to the issue as “loss and damage” or the support as “aid” but as “liability and compensation” and the funding as “reparations” because the contributing countries would be selected on account of their historical contributions to global carbon emissions which make them more responsible for climate change and thus its harmful effects than many of the vulnerable countries.

However, developed countries, predominantly from the Global North, have resisted this language, fearing that accepting these terms will render them liable to large-sum compensation for their historic contributions to emissions. A break-through in climate reparations could also lead the way for colonial reparations, not least because it has been argued that colonial policies under the likes of the UK in places like pre-partition India left specific communities more vulnerable to the effects of climate change through impoverishment and a lack of access to infrastructure.

It was under the G77 chairmanship of Pakistan, through H.E. Munir Akram as the Permanent Representative of Pakistan to the UN, that this historic deal was passed. He argued that, according to developing countries like Pakistan, which have suffered due to industrialisation, “this is a matter of climate justice… There’s much talk about global solidarity and so forth… But there is this reluctance on the part of the Global North to accept or admit their policies caused this, and therefore they have a responsibility to respond to this.” This year, Pakistan was thus representing all those G77 countries that are both extremely vulnerable to the effects of climate change but who are also not responsible for climate change to the same extent as developed countries.

Michael Kugelman tweeted that this deal was a “big foreign policy achievement for Islamabad,” while Asad Rehman, of the UK charity War on Want, suggested the deal would not have been reached without Pakistan’s leadership because their diplomats “prevented attempts by the EU and others to turn the least developed countries group and the Alliance of Small Island States against the other countries and accept a narrow fund.”

Sadly, this year’s floods have made this issue increasingly personal for Pakistan, which left it, in the words of Munir Akram, the “poster child of climate impacts”. Pakistan’s Minister of Climate Change, Sherry Rehman, similarly described the country as a “frontline” state in relation to the effects of climate change. The floods affected more than 33 million people, leaving around 1,739 people dead and almost 8 million others displaced. But despite a shift in focus away from the floods, especially in the wake of the attempted assassination of former Prime Minister Imran Khan and the appointment of the new Chief of Army Staff, the economic and health challenges created by the floods remain great. An assessment by The World Bank suggested that the floods have caused losses of over 30 billion USD, and more than 16 billion USD is needed for reconstruction. Moreover, vector- and water-borne diseases remain a serious concern, with reports of thousands of cholera and dengue cases.

It is not only these floods which have meant that Pakistan’s representatives have had reason to project the country as epitomising the importance of a loss and damage deal. Pakistan lost a great deal after the 2005 earthquake, which left around 73,000 people dead and estimates of 5.2 billion USD worth in reconstruction, as well as the 2010 floods, which resulted in the deaths of 1,980 people and up to 8.9 billion USD in reconstruction costs. The strength of Pakistan’s demands for a deal rests on the fact that it only produces 0.9 of global emissions, meaning it bears substantial harmful effects of climate change, for which it is not historically nor proportionately responsible.

The leadership shown by Pakistan’s representatives at COP27 and their ability to keep the G77 countries united in helping to secure this historical loss and damage deal ought to be considered a diplomatic win for Pakistan, especially in light of the economic and political situation the country found, and still finds, itself in when COP27 began. But this is a long-term issue, and we will have to wait for COP28 in 2023 to see what this loss and damage funding arrangement shapes up to be before it can be considered an unequivocal success. Pakistan’s diplomatic efforts will have to endure alongside those of other affected countries to secure a fair and just arrangement, and it will have to maintain its own efforts in reconstructing the country and rehabilitating its people in the wake of this year’s floods, especially in those hard-to-reach, remote areas.

Mary Hunter

Mary Hunter is a PhD candidate at the University of St Andrews, researching the Islamisation of Pakistan. She is also a freelance writer on issues relating to Islamophobia, Pakistan and its diaspora in the UK.

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