Pakistan contributes little to climate change but is among the most impacted by it: UN chief

Updated 16 Feb 2020

Email

United Nations Secretary General António Guterres speaking at an event in Islamabad on Sunday. — DawnNewsTV
United Nations Secretary General António Guterres speaking at an event in Islamabad on Sunday. — DawnNewsTV
Upon his arrival at Nur Khan Airbase, Guterres was received by Pakistan’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations Munir Akram as well as senior officials of the Foreign Office and United Nations in Pakistan. — Photo courtesy Radio Pakistan
Upon his arrival at Nur Khan Airbase, Guterres was received by Pakistan’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations Munir Akram as well as senior officials of the Foreign Office and United Nations in Pakistan. — Photo courtesy Radio Pakistan

United Nations General Secretary Antonio Guterres, while addressing a session on sustainable development and climate change in Islamabad on Sunday, said that Pakistan is indeed in the front line of the negative impacts of climate change.

The UN chief is on a four-day visit to Pakistan to attend an international conference on Afghan refugees.

"Like all developing countries, Pakistan has contributed little to the problem yet faces disproportionate vulnerability because of it. In the past decade, Pakistan has lost some 10,000 lives to climate-related disasters, including 1,200 due to a terrible heatwave in Karachi in 2015.

"The Indus valley is vulnerable to flooding and coastal communities face the prospect of being swamped by rising sea levels."

Referring to the risk of locusts emergency in the country, he said that global warming is leading to global swarming.

Guterres said he believes the biggest problem for Pakistan is water. Talking about the water situation in the country, he said that Pakistan is one of the 15 most water-stressed countries in the world.

"Pakistan's farmers [...] depend on rainfall and irrigation from the rivers fed by water from the [Himalayan] glaciers. In fact, 80pc of Pakistan’s water use is for agriculture and it is under threat."

"As temperatures rise and glaciers melt […] Pakistan’s food security is put at risk."

He said that countries should aim towards limiting the rise in temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius and to do that countries will have to reduce their greenhouse emissions by 45pc from 2010 levels and aim towards zero net emissions by 2030.

Congratulating Pakistan on becoming co-chair of the Green Climate Fund, Guterres said he welcomes initiatives like the billion-tree tsunami and the government's clean and green Pakistan movement, adding that he was "extremely well-impressed" when he heard that the country had decided to abolish plastic bags in the capital.

"Plastic pollution today is one of the central concerns we have, especially for the protection of our oceans but sometimes people are a bit reluctant [...] for these people I have a solution here," he said holding up a reusable cloth bag.

Giving a stark warning about the climate emergency, he said, "We are in a battle for our lives. Our sustainable future is at stake."

Guterres also talked about sustainable development, saying he was pleased to note that "Pakistan has embraced the sustainable development goals (SDGs) from the start. Back in 2016, Pakistan was among the first nations to integrate the SDGs into its national development agenda, and recognise them. In 2018, Pakistan launched the national SDG framework to prioritise and localise the goals throughout the country."

He mentioned the national poverty-alleviation project EHSAAS and the Kamyab Jawan programme, adding that he is encouraged by the country's initiative to provide universal health coverage.

However, he said that the pace of change, elsewhere or in Pakistan is not fast enough.

"You are grappling with major issues, HIV and polio, environmental degradation, education, skills and jobs for all … and globally the situation is the same."

However, the UN general secretary ended on a hopeful note, saying: "We have all the tools and technology we need to move from the grey economy to a green economy … we have the most engaged and mobilised generation of young people in history, a group that is simply not willing to accept the current situation."

"As we look ahead to 2030 let us look ahead with optimism and determination knowing that we have overcome great challenges before and we surely will again."

World urged to support countries hosting refugees

Earlier, Guterres, who arrived in Pakistan on Sunday morning, met a delegation of Afghan refugees in Islamabad.

After meeting the refugees, the UN Chief said Pakistan is one of the largest refugee-hosting nations in the world, reported Radio Pakistan.

"My first meeting in Pakistan: generations of Afghan refugees shared their deeply moving stories, hopes & dreams," he said on Twitter.

"For 40 years, Pakistan has sheltered Afghan refugees. I urge the world to support host countries and show similar leadership in standing #WithRefugees."

He said overall 2.7 million refugees are residing in Pakistan with 2.4 million registered refugees affected by the Afghan war.

He thanked Pakistan's people and the government for their hospitality. Representatives from Afghanistan, Yemen and Tajikstan were part of the delegation.

Guterres, upon his arrival at Nur Khan Airbase — his first official visit to Pakistan as UN chief, was received by Pakistan’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations Munir Akram as well as senior officials of the Foreign Office and United Nations in Pakistan.

'Express gratitude to those serving as peacekeepers'

Ahead of his arrival, Guterres said he would express gratitude for those serving as peacekeepers.

Taking to Twitter, he said: "Pakistan is one of the most consistent and reliable contributors to UN peacekeeping efforts around the world.

"I am travelling to Pakistan, where I plan to express my gratitude to the people #ServingForPeace."

During his visit, the UN chief will speak at the international conference '40 Years of Hosting Afghan Refugees in Pakistan'.

The two-day conference in Islamabad, starting on February 17, will be a recognition of Pakistan’s "tremendous generosity" in hosting millions of refugees from Afghanistan over four decades, his spokesman Stephane Dujarric said during a regular noon briefing at the UN Headquarters in New York on Friday.

The conference, which is being organised by the Government of Pakistan and the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), will be inaugurated by Prime Minister Imran Khan. Various senior US officials will also attend the conference.

During his visit, Guterres is expected to meet with Prime Minister Imran and other high-level government officials, his spokesman said.

Dujarric said the UN chief will also meet Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and speak at an event on sustainable development and climate change. The UN Secretary General will meet President Arif Alvi on Monday.

On Tuesday, he will visit Lahore where he will meet students and attend an event on Pakistan’s polio vaccination campaign. He will also travel to Kartarpur to visit the Sikh holy site of Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib.

Responding to a question, the spokesman said the UN chief will not be visiting the disputed Kashmir region during this trip.

He is set to return to New York on Wednesday.