CRISES test a nation’s resilience but also provide opportunities to rise and move forward. Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Friday delivered an impassioned speech at the United Nations about the climate injustice countries like Pakistan are facing. Much of what he said was an adequate articulation of the many challenges being faced by us today due to the vicissitudes of weather deeply and perhaps irrevocably altered by global warming. He spoke of the searing, unprecedented heatwaves this year and the flood of “biblical proportions” which followed — a disaster the likes of which we have never seen. “Why are my people paying the price of such high global warming through no fault of their own?” he asked the world.
It is important for the prime minister to seek reparations for those already suffering from the impact of climate change. Yet things also need to change back home. “Life in Pakistan has changed forever,” Mr Sharif told other leaders at the UN General Assembly — but has it really, or will it? The people of this country are no strangers to suffering brought about by the vagaries of nature and compounded by the short-sightedness and ineptitudes of the people responsible for preventing or at least mitigating such tragedies. Natural disasters will inevitably return to our lands — no amount of ‘climate justice’ can prevent them from doing so — and it is imperative that we be prepared when they do.
“When the cameras leave, and the story just shifts away to conflicts like Ukraine, my question is, will we be left alone to cope with a crisis we did not create?” the prime minister asked at the UNGA. The short answer to that is yes; that is likely what will happen. For years, the most powerful world leaders have bickered about how best to address climate change. It is clear that they will not be interested in doing more than the bare minimum, although at this time they should be strongly urged to go beyond short-term aid for relief and rehabilitation. It will, ultimately, be up to our leaders to rebuild the country to be stronger and more resilient to the kind of destruction seen this year. Mr Sharif called Pakistan “ground zero” of climate change: our policies will have to change at the highest level if we wish to adapt to this new reality. Climate change is as much an existential crisis now as the other conventional threats we spend trillions on avoiding. It is important to hold nations responsible for heavy pollution to account for the misery unleashed on our country, but our leaders must also take responsibility for the future. They cannot leave it dependent on the goodwill of countries that got us here in the first place. The passion shown at the UN should be seen in actions taken back at home.
Published in Dawn, September 25th, 2022