Climate Reparations – The Case of Pakistan

(Photo: Flickr – Asian Development Bank)

By Ella Stevens – Regular Contributor

During 2022, Pakistan has been subject to the disastrous effects of climate change. This has included heatwaves reaching up to 50C; wildfires that destroyed 40% of the trees in the pine forests of Koh-e-Sulaiman Range; and crops shrivelling and dying in the heat. However, this is not where Pakistan’s turmoil ended. Floods followed the heat from a prolonged monsoon season a month later which decimated the country further. The floods have killed over 1,200 people, with 1 in 7 people being impacted by the natural disaster. In the Sindh district, where over half the country’s food is produced, 90% of crops have been destroyed. People have been left in critical need of food, shelter, clean water and medical support. 

For a country that is responsible for less than 1% of greenhouse gas emissions they have been subject to insurmountable damage. Pakistan is an example of how the worlds collective responsibility for climate change will affect those that have done the least damage first. The IPCC argues that 3.5 billion people live in ‘high vulnerability’ areas, with the vast majority of these being in regions with the lowest per capita carbon emissions. The UN has suggested that the cost of adapting for vulnerable countries could be $500 billion per year by 2050. These statistics and the clear evidence from Pakistan over this last year show that climate reparations should be paid to those countries suffering the most at the hands of others. 

What are ‘Climate Reparations’?

Climate reparations refer to the request for money to be paid by the Global North to the Global South in order to address the Global Norths massive historical contributions to climate change. Findings published by The Lancet Planetary Health suggest that the Global North is responsible for 92% of global carbon emissions since 1850. These staggering statistics present why reparations have been argued by many representatives of the Global South as something that should be an important part of global climate agreements.

At COP26, the Global South gave three main demands on finance: hugely increased climate finance grants; funding for climate adaptation; and money to compensate the loss and damage already sustained by communities. These demands have been consistently resisted and rejected, and were removed from the Glasgow Climate Pact. Although some money was promised, it is not enough and does not include the need to provide payments for past contributions to climate change.

Early estimates suggested that the damage from floods in Pakistan is more than $10 billion. This presents how important reparations will be in the coming years as climate change only worsens. In some towns, there was 500-700% more rainfall than normal in August. These extreme weather conditions will continue to grow and something must be done to support those already suffering the worst of climate change, as well as pushing to prevent these disasters becoming even worse.

Pakistan’s climate minister Sherry Rehman states: “Historic injustices have to be heard and there must be some level of climate equation so that the brunt of the irresponsible carbon consumption is not being laid on nations near the equator which are obviously unable to create resilient infrastructure on their own.” She also argued that big corporations need to take responsibility and pay up for the damage they have done. 

One of the main issues with Climate Reparations is working out who owes what amount and to whom. Reparations can be a complicated matter because there are many factors. One of the key factors is how exploitation during colonialism is now impacting countries vulnerable to climate change and how much colonisers should be held responsible for such issues.

As well as rich countries paying Climate Reparations, it should also be considered that large carbon emission producing companies such as fossil fuel companies should pay reparations for their role. The proceedings of COP26 did not call on such companies to pay for the human suffering, environmental damage or economic harm they have caused.

Although rich countries have promised to provide poorer countries $100 billion a year to shift toward clean energy and deal with environmental impacts, they have yet to accept the idea that they should owe money for past damages. The importance of understanding and providing these reparations is only becoming more obvious as post-colonial states suffer the worst effects for a problem caused by others. Both the countries and companies responsible for climate change over the last century should be paying for the damage they have already done, as well as the damage they continue to do, because the majority of them are not burdened with the damage and adaptation needed in high-risk areas. Pakistan’s trauma during this last year is only one case of the serious costs of climate change but they are growing all over the globe. It is time to both pay reparations for the damage already done, as well as taking seriously the need to cut down on carbon.

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