Roundtable: After COP27, what’s the path to climate resilience for Pakistan?

Experts and commentators react to developments at COP27 and what lessons can be drawn from this year’s devastating floods.

The Global Shield Against Climate Risks is a joint initiative launched at COP27 by the G7 and V20 [group of countries most threatened by climate change] for climate insurance and disaster funding. Image: UNDP Climate, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Flickr.

The United Nations climate change summit, COP27, ended with a breakthrough agreement to provide loss and damage funding for climate-vulnerable countries last month. While many observers see this as a milestone, others have stressed the need for vulnerable countries to find their own financial resources, better models of governance and nature-based solutions.

The Pakistan delegation played a key role in getting loss and damage onto the agenda at COP27, but a lot of uncertainty remains around what this will mean for the country – one of the most vulnerable in the world to the impacts of climate change.

To discuss this, The Third Pole organised a conversation on Twitter Spaces during the conference on 16 November. Here are excerpts from that conversation, which have been edited for length and clarity.

What COP27 meant for Pakistan

Aisha Khan, chief executive of the Mountain and Glacier Protection Organisation and Civil Society Coalition for Climate ChangeCOP27 reiterated that Pakistan’s loss and damage is not going to stay just in Pakistan, with its impact felt widely. This resonated well with the audience.

Afia Salam, environmental journalist and member of the Pakistan Climate Change Council: Loss and damage had been spoken about for the past few COPs but it wasn’t really being centred as a major discussion. Pakistan showcased its current disaster – current because it is ongoing – and also warned that this kind of disaster can have a ripple effect which will go beyond borders.

The hope is that there will be some kind of acceleration, since loss and damage has now become a point on the agenda. We will see it being mainstreamed into a proper financial mechanism within the next couple of years. Until then, it is the responsibility of countries, groups, negotiators and people to make sure that it doesn’t meet the same fate as the Adaptation Fund.

This is a conversation for which we don’t need to lower the volume. In fact, we need to keep that pitch up.

Khan: The Global Shield Against Climate Risks is a joint initiative launched at COP27 by the G7 and V20 [group of country most threatened by climate change] for climate insurance and disaster funding. Pakistan can benefit from the Global Shield. But to achieve ambitious outcomes, we need a significant injection of political negotiations.

There is no silver bullet that will take care of a centuries-old mindset which is exploitative and unjust. We need to accelerate the breaking down of those kinds of exploitative barriers. 

Afia Salam, member, Pakistan Climate Change Council

Lessons from this year’s floods

Fazilda Nabeel, provincial coordinator for the Living Indus Initiative and nature-based solutions expert: The 2022 floods showed us there was no scarcity of water but water was not at the right place at the right time. We didn’t have the absorption capability to deal with floods because our forests had been degraded, especially in the rapid deforestation of riverine forests.

We need to go back to nature-based solutions. A very good example is mangroves, which not only provide a habitat for fish, but they also provide protection against storms for the communities. They filter water, provide food and timber, all while storing huge amounts of carbon. Mangrove forests present in Indus Delta in Sindh are considered to be the largest area of arid climate mangroves in the world. We must protect and nurture these ecosystems.

In Pakistan, we are facing smog, rising urban temperatures, deteriorating air quality, pollution, and urban flooding. Urban forests can target each of these. Initiatives like the Clifton Urban Forest in Karachi, Miyawaki Forest in Lahore and tree-planting drives are all showing promising results. Other countries in the world, such as China, have gone even further and built ‘sponge cities’ designed to withstand the effects of climate change. For instance, in Harbin city the roads are made out of porous asphalt so that they can absorb rainwater.

Khan: We have learnt many lessons. We have learnt that we are living in very uncertain times and the future is highly unpredictable. We have learnt that we should not rely wholly on external finances to address our local issues. We need to review our past policies to reshape future strategies. We need to have communication strategies in our local languages.

Salam: The major initial steps that should have been taken regarding disaster management in Pakistan are still pending. The Pakistan Meteorological Department had warned that monsoons this year would be more than just rainfall, but nobody was able to anticipate the level.

In other countries, the armed forces have the mandate to act as the first responder in helping other institutions in such disasters, like in America where the National Guard was called out during the Hurricane Katrina. In Pakistan, we have the National Disaster Management Authority and the Provincial Disaster Management Authority, but not an efficient District Disaster Management Authority.

First responders should have all information about their area and should have resources to tackle disasters. If any disaster hits a particular area, they should be able to handle the drainage system, and shift people to safer places.

Pakistan has to restructure local governance from the lowest level again, build safe havens, and do disaster and vulnerability mapping. We need to develop an efficient warning system like Bangladesh to help people evacuate quickly.

‘Our rivers should be protected’

Nabeel: As a country, we are dependent on the Indus. Our economy, our ecology and our demography are sustained by it. Yet all these are threatened because the Indus is also one of the most vulnerable natural ecosystems in the world.

It took about a year to come up with the Living Indus Initiative, with a menu of 25 interventions most of which are nature-based. The Living Indus Initiative is a restoration strategy which says our rivers should be protected and we should not allow construction in its surroundings. The Indus Protection Act has been proposed, which gives rights of legal personhood to the river so that we can sustain this important resource for future generations.

‘Trillions’ in finance now needed

Khan: The floods have been a monumental loss for Pakistan. The World Bank estimated USD 40 billion is needed for recovery. It is impossible for a country like Pakistan, which is already negotiating debt restructuring, to invest this kind of money in rehabilitation.

The 2022 floods have put the future of millions of young people at stake because it’s an intergenerational loss. We need to talk about trillions right now because of the losses we have faced and will face in the future.

Nabeel: Some initiatives under the Green Climate Fund, for instance climate-resilient agriculture, need to be expanded.

No quick fixes

Khan: We need to be mindful that the Indus is a transboundary river. There is a need to move towards shared basin management. We need to think about the ways and means of co-creating for collective ownership of policies, and to rethink relations with our neighbouring countries. We also have to rethink the way we have plotted our development trajectory.

Salam: There is no silver bullet that will take care of a centuries-old mindset which is exploitative and unjust. This goes at all the different tiers at what the global north is doing to the global south. We need to accelerate the breaking down of those kinds of exploitative barriers. 

We also have mismanagement of natural resources, which is very systemic. There is no quick fix, but we need to talk about old structures and need to roll them back. We can deal with this issue with activism, judicial action, and also education and awareness.

This story was published with permission from The Third Pole

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