Pakistan floods spark debate over who pays for climate damage

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Since mid-June, torrential rains have changed the landscape of Pakistan, submerging villages and fields, destroying homes and killing at least 1,000 people. But if the human toll is catastrophic, the financial toll is almost unimaginable: according to the Pakistani finance minister, the damage to date will probably exceed $10 billionor a whopping 4 percent of the country’s annual gross domestic product.

“Pakistan was already facing the disastrous effects of climate change,” said Sherry Rehman, Pakistan’s climate change minister. said at a press conference on Thursday. “Now the most devastating monsoon rains in a decade are causing relentless destruction across the country.”

But even as Pakistan turns to donors around the world to ask for helpthere is one thing the country will almost certainly not receive: compensation from countries – including the United States – that are the main contributors to greenhouse gas emissions that warm the planet.

Although the two issues may seem unrelated, for decades developing countries have asked wealthier nations to fund the costs they face from heat waves, floods, droughts, rising sea ​​level and other climate-related disasters. They argue that nations that got rich by burning fossil fuels like the US, Germany, UK and Japan also warmed the planet, causing “loss and damage” in the poorest countries.

Flood victims in Pakistan carried belongings they could salvage from their submerged homes as they waded through a flooded area in Dera Allah Yar on August 28. (Video: AP)

At UN summit, poor nations demand that the rich pay for climate damage

The issue has become a flashpoint in global climate negotiations. In the 2015 landmark Paris Agreement on climate change, countries agreed to recognize and “address” the loss and damage caused by these dangerous climate impacts. Last year, at the major United Nations climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland, negotiators from developing countries hoped that negotiators would finally create a formal institution to channel money to countries most affected by climate change. climatic disasters.

But the United States, although it is the largest historical transmitter of carbon dioxide, has blocked such efforts at every turn. In Glasgow, the Biden administration joined a group of countries in resist efforts to establish payments to developing countries that have been hit hard by climate change.

One of the main issues is accountability. US delegates fear that if a formal fund for loss and damage is created, the US could expose itself to litigation from poorer countries. “We are always mindful of the issue of accountability,” said John F. Kerry, the US international climate envoy, at the Glasgow summit.

Preety Bhandari, Senior Advisor for Climate and Finance at the World Resources Institute, points out that UN negotiators reached a side agreement in 2015 that the treatment of loss and damage provided no basis for legal liability. “I think there may be an overabundance of caution on the part of the United States and other developed countries,” she said.

But as the damage mounts, some are already going to court, as citizens and politicians in vulnerable countries demand compensation for the loss of their livelihoods, homes or farms. In Peru, a farmer sues a German energy giant; island nations, meanwhile, are trying to create a commission that would allow them to sue major countries for climate damage.

Kerry also argued that there are channels to help deliver relief to countries like Pakistan that are reeling from weather disasters. USAID, for example, provides $100,000 in humanitarian aid in Pakistan. But such gifts pales in comparison to the growing consequences of climate change in the developing world. A report published by the humanitarian group Oxfam in June revealed that over the past five years, calls for help in extreme weather conditions have been only 54% funded on average, leaving a shortfall of tens of billions of dollars. Existing systems also require developing countries to rely on acts of charity, rather than a standardized system of who owes what.

The United States and other developed countries will be forced to consider this issue at the next major UN climate meeting, known as COP27, which is scheduled for November in Egypt. But unless the Biden administration’s perspective changes, meaningful progress is unlikely.

“This particular issue could make or break COP27,” Bhandari said.

correction

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that COP27 is scheduled for December. In fact, it is scheduled for November. This version has been corrected.

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