US Climate Summit and Effects of Climate Change in Pakistan
Biden administration’s snubbing of Pakistan for a climate summit is insensitive to climate change in Pakistan
Recently, President Joe Biden invited 40 world leaders to a climate summit ahead of the COP26 in Glasgow in November. Pakistan is conspicuously absent from that list, albeit, effects of climate change in Pakistan are the worst in the world.
The event that is going to be held virtually consists of some of the world’s biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, including the US itself. Also, there are countries that are highly vulnerable to Climate Change.
Pakistan, being the fifth most populous country in the world, is being relegated to a political Siberia on the issue of Climate Change. There is no doubt that Pakistan deserves an invitation to that summit owing to its high vulnerability to the impacts of Climate Change (Pakistan ranks seventh most vulnerable country according to Global Climate Risk Index) and its unwavering commitment to tree-plantation initiatives and renewable energy.
This begs the question, why didn’t Pakistan appear on Biden’s list given that it has the right attitude towards Climate Change? And that’s something that cannot be said for a lot of the invited countries.
There could be only one possible explanation for this oversight. And that is the US and Pakistan have failed to diversify their relations beyond regional geostrategic imperatives.
Pakistan’s oftentimes unfortunate association with Afghanistan has dominated how the US has interacted with Pakistan for the past twenty years.
There’s no doubt that Pakistan has benefited from US partnership on the War on Terror in the form of military assistance and civilian grants and loans. But the US has rarely acknowledged Pakistan’s sacrifices in terms of human lives and economy. The lowest point was reached when the Trump administration accused Pakistan of being ‘deceitful’ in its action against terrorism.
With the US troop's withdrawal, Pakistan and the US will no longer have any significant point of convergence. In fact, Pakistan is entrenching itself deeper into the Chinese camp. Moreover, due to no culpable action by Pakistan, it is becoming irrelevant in or even diametrically opposed to the US’ unveiled Indo-Pacific policy.
Political thinkers in Pakistan have espoused a new path forward for the Pak-US partnership that they believe should be centered on economic collaboration. Last month, at the Islamabad Strategic Dialogue, PM Imran Khan, and COAS, Qamar Bajwa, stressed the need for a move to geoeconomics. How that shift is going to occur has not been divulged or possibly not even thought through as of yet.
As long as the US views the rise of China as a threat to its global hegemony, progress on Climate Change will remain arrested by geopolitical and geostrategic imperatives.
Countries like Pakistan are being turned into victims of geostrategic tussles. In this highly polarly charged environment of great power politics, long-standing issues of an inclusive nature are being relegated to the wayside to clear the pathway to openly counter the ‘rise of the others.’
Pakistan’s Contributions to Climate Policy
The inclusion of climate security as a part of national security was a welcome development of a shifting maturity in terms of security thinking in the country. The lack of comprehensive human security in Pakistan was discussed at length during the Islamabad Strategic Dialogue and pathways of integrating climate security into the overall security debate were presented.
The incumbent government has been keen to address climate change in Pakistan and it has, therefore, earned the kudos of global and regional leaders like the British High Commission in Pakistan. Others like Saudi Arabia are learning from the green initiatives launched by Pakistan.
Pakistan is the seventh most vulnerable country to the impacts of Climate Change. So Pakistan’s active drive to curb the effects of Climate Change is laudable, especially when it’s the only developing country that has set such ambitious targets for itself. Pakistan aspires to be net-zero emissions by 2030. Pakistan’s focus on hydroelectric power through building dams, two of which are currently under construction, is another example that it is serious about not only moving away from fossil fuel-intensive energy mix to cleaner sources of energy, but it is also aiming to improve levels of its water reservoirs.
The Billion Tree Tsunami is a climate-positive project that will not only make Pakistan greener but will help boost Pakistan’s green economy. There are a number of export-centered forests planned to achieve goals of green employment and shoring up our exports. A recent such example was the olive plantation in Nowshera in Khyber Pukhtunkhwa.
The adoption of the Miyawaki Forest technique to improve the air quality index of cities like Lahore is another much-needed initiative. Lahore has witnessed some of the worst bouts of smog in recent years. The smog contains heavy pollutants that can cause severe respiratory complications or even cancer. The air quality index of Lahore is one of the worst in the world.
Secondly, the Miyawaki Forests will offset the effects of rapid urbanization that is wreaking havoc on the climate of urban cities.
There are numerous other initiatives that have been taken up by the incumbent government signaling its seriousness on the issue of climate change in Pakistan. In fact, PM Imran Khan is one of the few leaders in the world who has shown such a determined initiative towards resolving climate issues, partly due to Pakistan’s own vulnerabilities.
Therefore, snubbing Pakistan, and its progressive leadership on climate change, is controversial and requires an explanation.
Selection Criteria for the Summit
The State Department issued a statement that the selection of the countries was based on individual country’s contribution to emissions, their vulnerability, and initiatives undertaken to combat the effects of Climate Change.
Pakistan is not only one of the most vulnerable countries, but it is also one of the most active in mitigating the adverse effects of climate change. So the argument that Pakistan was left out because it didn’t fulfill technical criteria does not stand on its legs.
Climate Change requires independent policymaking. If the US fails to decouple its power politics from issues that require a global response then it will only succeed in politicizing the issue further. No country is safe from the adverse effects of Climate Change, and if the US aims to build a climate bloc in the midst of a worldwide climate crisis then this shows that it has failed to outgrow the Cold War mentality. Initiatives to offset the effects of climate change in Pakistan have to be acknowledged and lauded because if we do not encourage climate initiatives independently of our geostrategic imperatives then it is useless to call conferences on the climate where the participants will only pollute the air with more high-sounding talk.