ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court has asked the federal government to come up with a report highlighting what initiatives it took to cope with the climate change challenges faced by the country.

A three-judge Supreme Court bench comprising Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah, Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhail and Justice Athar Minallah issued the order on Thursday while hearing the petition moved by an advocacy group, Public Interest

Law Association of Pakistan (Pilap), which highlighted the existential threat of climate change.

The bench also issued notices to the attorney general for Pakistan, Mansoor Usman Awan, and provincial advocate generals to apprise the court on March 21 about the steps taken by the provincial governments.

Underscores importance of loss and damage fund for risk mitigation

The court has also sought opinions and assistance from independent experts, including World Wildlife Fund Pakistan Director General Hammad Naqi Khan and Sustainable Development Policy Institute Executive Director Abid Qaiyum Suleri.

Pilap’s petition, moved through Advocate Syed Faisal Hussain Naqvi, pleaded that the Pakistan Climate Change Act, 2017 (Act) was promulgated on March 31, 2017, to provide adaptation and mitigation policies, plans, programmes, and other measures required to address the effects of climate change.

The act called for the establishment of the Pakistan Climate Change Authority, which had yet to be formed, thus rendering the act ineffective, the petition argued.

Besides, the Pakistan Climate Change Fund under Section 12 of the act has also not been set up.

In its order issued after the hearing, the bench remarked that the devastation caused by the floods in 2022 was a “distressing proof of complexities of climate change”.

It caused a total damage of Rs3.2 trillion, a total loss of Rs3.3tr, with the amount needed for recovery and reconstruction standing at Rs3.5tr.

The order also highlighted Pakistan’s vulnerability to climate change.

Fifth most vulnerable country

“According to the Global Climate Risk Index, Pakistan is currently the fifth most climate-vulnerable country in the world. At the same time, Pakistan also faces some of the highest disaster risk levels in the world, ranking [23rd] out of 194 countries as per the 2024 Inform Risk Index.”

It added that the risk is driven by the nation’s exposure to flooding, earthquakes, tropical cyclones and their associated hazards.

“It is these alarming statistics which underscore the need to address climate change and mitigate its effect on people and their livelihoods,” the order emphasised, adding that while developing countries like Pakistan may not be the primary contributors to climate change, acknowledging and confronting its fallout was indispensable.

“As a country which has a very low technical and financial capacity to adapt to its adverse impacts, the critical importance of adaptation and its role in reducing vulnerability, promoting equity and safeguarding economic and social stability, particularly for vulnerable populations and the marginalised communities must be underscored.”

This mitigation and adaptation not only aligns with Pakistan’s international commitments but also “contributes to the advancement of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals”.

The bench added that Pakistan’s adaptation strategies “must be supported by grea­ter accessibility of and access to finance”.

“Developing countries like Pakistan struggle with high levels of debt, which potentially hinder their ability to invest in climate mitigation and adaptation measures. Therefore, access to existing climate funds needs to be simplified, and the issue of debt needs to be looked upon.”

The order said that the loss and damage fund could play a pivotal role in building resilience, supporting adaptation efforts, and aiding in the recovery from climate-induced losses.

“The establishment of a loss and damage fund for highly climate-vulnerable countries like Pakistan would be a vital step towards realising climate justice.”

The order also referred to the need to implement the loss and damage fund agreement, which was agreed upon by all nations during last year’s COP-28.

“[The agreement] urges developed nations to lead in financial contributions to make up for the irreversible climate change-induced damages they have contributed to.”

“[T]he implications of this fund’s operationalisation and dynamics can be profound for climate vulnerable countries like Pakistan which suffer from extreme weather events,” the order stated.

Published in Dawn, March 15th, 2024

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