Climate farce

Published November 11, 2022
The writer teaches at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.
The writer teaches at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.

THROUGH the course of this week, the rest of the world has been talking a lot about Pakistan. The setting is the idyllic Egyptian resort town of Sharm El Sheikh, and the occasion is the 27th Climate Change Confer­ence (COP27). Our devastating tryst with floods this past summer is on everyone’s lips.

Most of us have no idea that this summit is even taking place, our media and political mainstream concerned only about the never-ending political drama around Imran Khan, the appointment of the army chief and so on. The brutal truth is that the palace intrigues that monopolise our attention will count for nothing as we, and the world at large, hurtle towards ecological breakdown.

Read: 2022 floods, a living nightmare

Indeed, it is a huge indictment that while the rest of the world continues to talk about the millions whose lives have been completely uprooted due to unprecedented rains, the Pakistani mainstream appears to be totally unconcerned.

In case anyone still has any doubt: the question of climate change is the single most important issue of our time — and will be for generations to follow. Yet if mainstream Pakistan is yet to even acknowledge this, then the global ‘experts’ and governments that claim to be way ahead of the game are doing farcically little to actually arrest the downward slide.

Most of us have no idea that COP27 is even taking place.

It was in the Brazilian metropolis of Rio de Janeiro that the first truly global gathering to discuss environmental breakdown was organised 30 years ago. What has since become known as the Earth Summit featured a declaration which emphasised the imperative of curbing carbon emissions and taking other steps to limit what everyone acknowledged would be the ultimately unbearable effects of uninhibited global warming.

There are have been 26 summits since, and this year the words being uttered suggest greater urgency than ever. But the facts speak for themselves. In 1992, close to 90 per cent of the world’s energy production was supplied by fossil fuels. Today, after 30 years of climate conferences, all sorts of pledges, enormous rhetoric about saving humankind and the planet, we have cut that figure by barely five percentage points — it is now 84pc.

There is no rocket science here. Companies like Shell and Mobil are amongst the most profitable in the world. To cut down carbon emissions requires a move towards renewable energy sources like wind and solar. But this effectively equates to limiting the profits of big oil and gas companies, along with the plethora of other corporations that are tied to that industry.

At Sharm El Sheikh, top US negotiator and former secretary of state John Kerry has tabled a proposal for carbon credits — which in effect offers big polluters a chance to offer money to ‘developing countries’ to offset the former’s emissions. Put simply, this means a market for carbon emissions which operates on the principle of profit, rather than absolute reduction of emissions.

This is nothing short of bloody murder, and reflects the absolute unwillingness of Western governments and MNCs to acknowledge their historical responsibility for the situation the world finds itself in today.

Indeed, as this summer proved, the world is not bearing the effects of climate change equally — most of the ‘advanced’ industrialised countries suffer little in comparison to Pakistan, Bangladesh, etc. This is why there have been growing calls over the last few months for climate reparations; some even call them colonial reparations. After all, without the agricultural raw materials that Western empires looted from us, they would never have become as rich and powerful as they did. The Indian economist Utsa Patnaik estimates that the British alone extracted $45 trillion from the Indian subcontinent.

Read: Climate justice at home

Such facts have certainly been spoken of at COP27, but ‘greenwashing’ is the dominant trend in climate change negotiations; in short, there is much rhetoric being thrown around but the imperatives of ecological repair and welfare of the world’s poorest people continue to be wilfully sacrificed at the altar of profit.

It is also worth bearing in mind that while Western countries and corporations are the biggest culprits, the logic of capital prevails in non-Western countries as well. Pakistan’s contribution to global emissions, for instance, has tripled in a little over two decades from 0.3pc to 0.9pc. China and India are contributing much more.

The struggle for climate justice, then, is both global and local. It is, I repeat, the single most important concern of our times. And for the record, it is not unrelated to the shenanigans of Pakistan’s ruling class; just the same way that Western ‘experts’ and negotiators seek to camouflage their own class and imperialist interests through ‘greenwashing’, our ruling class would rather that we obsess about palace intrigues forever rather than interrogate their ruthless profiteering.

This farce would be comical were it not so tragic.

The writer teaches at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.

Published in Dawn, November 11th, 2022

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