Antonia Devereux discusses the Pakistani flooding disaster and how it highlights the need for climate change responsibility from global leaders.
You have most likely heard about the devastating floods currently afflicting Pakistan, with a reported one third of the country under water. Although monsoon rains are not uncommon, this level of downfall has not been seen this century. Like much of the world, Pakistan experienced insufferably high temperatures earlier this summer, plateauing at 40°C. Reports suggest that the heat was pushing the very limits of human survival, causing both water and electricity shortages. The global average temperature was 1.1°C above pre-industrial levels in 2019, with the period from 2011-2020 being the warmest decade on record. CO2 released as a result of human activity is the most significant contributor to global warming, including intensive farming, deforestation, and the oil and gas industry.
High temperatures in the region are believed to have contributed to the current extreme rainfall by allowing higher levels of moisture to remain in the air, as well as increasing the rate of glacial melt in mountainous regions in the north of the country. Most of the flooding has hit the Indus river, the largest in Pakistan. The banks of the river are home to the vast majority of the population, so the flooding has left 33 million people displaced, roughly half the population of the UK. Climate change is often referred to as a future threat, something to protect the next generation from, but this summer has proved what was already obvious; that climate change is here. Time to address the flood, fire, or drought in the room – take your pick.
Historic Flooding in Pakistan, 2010. Image credit: Australian Government
The catastrophe ongoing in Pakistan has strong links to climate change, yet the country’s contribution to emissions is minimal, at less than 1% of the global greenhouse gases. Due to its geographic location, Pakistan is extremely vulnerable to climate change, with floods and high temperatures likely to hit the region again. The USA is accountable for around 20% of emissions released since 1850, followed by China (11%) and Russia (7%). In contrast to Pakistan, each of these countries is at relatively low risk from climate change, a pattern which is true for the vast majority of large emitters, including the UK. So that brings us to a question which is often debated alongside climate change: should those most responsible pay? The answer, to many of us, is obvious.
The United States has given $30 million to Pakistan in recent weeks to help relieve pressure from the floods, and the now Prime Minister, Liz Truss, recently announced additional funds from the UK, taking our donations up to £15 million. After China supplanted the United States as their most important partner, Pakistan was initially disappointed by the country’s aid donations. However, in a tweet last week by President Shehbaz Sharif, he explained that he was ‘highly grateful’ for an increase in their assistance package from RMB 100 million to RMB 400 million, the equivalent of around £50 million. Donations have also been received from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, Uzbekistan, U.A.E., as well as some others. Despite their attempts to help, estimates for the damages come in at $10 billion for Pakistan, and with funding from some of the largest powers coming in at only £90 million, there is a significant gap to be filled. With 33 million people affected across the country, that works out at less than £3 per person in aid.
Not everyone, though, believes that Pakistan is free of fault. The Economist recently wrote about the ‘lessons that flood-hit Pakistan should learn from Bangladesh’, who have flood defences in place, quoting that Pakistan ‘should readily adopt’ similar measures. However, Bangladesh is also experiencing mass flooding, with some of the worst floods the north-east of the country has seen in more than a century, and are set to receive $500 million in funding from The World Bank to improve flood defences. Despite the Economist analysis, it is clear that both countries require assistance from the developed world to improve protections against flooding, as well as a humongous effort to reduce future warming that will lead to these extreme weather events. With over 20% of the population living below the National Poverty Line, Pakistan has many issues to face, on top of those inflicted by the developed world.
In the years to come, climate change will continue to ravage our world and catastrophes like this will only continue in both scale and prevalence. Estimates have predicted that by 2100, 2 billion people could be displaced by rising sea levels, that’s around a quarter of the world population becoming refugees in the next 80 years. Unfortunately, this will hit those who already have little the hardest, while the global elite continue to prosper from the very thing that causes it. When you boil it down further, and look past the countries themselves, reports have found that 70% of emissions are produced by just 100 companies. While the world is hit with rising living costs and extreme weather, BP, a British oil and gas company, boasted quarterly profits of $8.5 billion, its largest windfall in 14 years.
The mainstream media often focuses on individual action to create a more sustainable world, but no matter how many metal straws we use, without major change at the top, we will not deter the course of climate change. With the crisis showing its strength across the globe, how can we those responsible pay now for the past, and for those who will suffer because of it?