Pakistan's Push For Climate Justice Can Not Rely Only On International Aid

Pakistan's Push For Climate Justice Can Not Rely Only On International Aid
The climate crisis driven torrential monsoon rains between June and of August 2022 resulted in unprecedented flooding, causing widespread damage, estimated at approximately $30 billion. This further led to the intensification of catastrophic health crises, including diseases like dengue, malaria, diarrhoea and skin ailments, food insecurity due to loss in harvests, high food inflation and put around “nine million people” at risk of being pushed into poverty. Besides, underlying infrastructural and societal vulnerabilities such as poor river management, dense populations, poor agricultural systems, lack of education, higher levels of poverty, have all magnified the effects of the flooding.

Being responsible for contributing only 0.9% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, Pakistan led an important effort at different international forums since last year highlighting the adverse effect of industrialization in rich nations on poorer nations that have only made relatively miniscule contributions to the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. Pakistan was well within its rights to ask for climate justice.

The International Conference on Climate Resilient Pakistan was organized in Geneva, in January 2023 and managed to secure over $10 billion in pledges from different international financial institutions, donor and development agencies. The pledges of over $10 billion made at the conference are important in helping Pakistan recover from the immediate damage caused by the climate crisis-driven floods; however, giving Pakistan aid is not the solution that the world ought to be aiming for. Pakistan should demand climate justice.

Climate justice means acknowledging that the climate crisis “can have differing social, economic, public health, and other adverse impacts on underprivileged populations.” Besides, it also refers to the proportionate allocation of responsibility for the climate crisis on states and companies. The Polluters and Beneficiary Pays Principles are a cogent argument establishing the need for climate justice; however, states need to be mindful of the communities that enjoy a minimum decent standard of living by burning fossil fuels and emitting carbon. Nonetheless, allowing poor communities a coal-based minimum decent living could question the provision of equal rights of living for all. A balance needs to be maintained here.

To promote climate justice and tackle climate change, mitigation and adaptation – the first-order responsibilities, are key pillars. However, the second-order responsibilities involving creation of social, economic and political resilience to fulfil first-order responsibilities are equally important. In both areas, Pakistan is lacking structurally by default.

Mitigation encompasses measures towards decarbonisation by reducing carbon emissions and investing in creating carbon sinks to absorb greenhouse gas emissions. Adaptation requires changing people’s environment in ways that could reduce the adverse impact of climate change such as building seawalls to control sea surges, constructing buildings that could tolerate adverse weather conditions etc. In general, mitigation tends to modify the rate of climate change over a longer time horizon, in order to delay and eventually avoid global catastrophe; whereas, adaptation pathways involve responses to deal with the effects of existing climate change mainly at the local level. Recurrent climate-driven disasters in Pakistan have raised serious doubts about the country’s response in terms of both mitigation and adaptation.


In Pakistan’s climate change outlook, the mitigation pathway includes plantation, a ban on coal, a shift to renewables and electric vehicles. The shift to renewables is slow-paced primarily because of the lack of investment from the private sector, government of Pakistan’s reliance on government-to-government projects whose progress is often hampered by political instability, and dependence on China’s imports and investment in renewable energy sector that tends to impede the creation of domestic manufacturing and local supply chains.

Furthermore, in its endeavour to become coal-free country, Pakistan has banned setting up new coal-based projects and reduced coal import. Domestic coal is consumed in cement factories and brick kilns, while imported coal is used to generate power, manufacture cement and other industries. The power sector uses the most coal and its share stands at 44.5% during July-March 2022. Brick kilns are the second largest sector that consumes coal; however, this informal sector runs on child and bonded labour but still serves millions of households that continue the country’s dependence on coal. Besides, the slow phasing out of coal is primarily due to long-term contracts and tariff arrangements.

For adaptation, Pakistan is working on strengthening its most vulnerable ecosystems including Manchar & Hamal wetland, Taunsa pond area, and Dera Ismail Khan, enhancing water recharge at different sites on Indus basin, increasing the percentage of protected areas that will preserve flora and fauna, promote eco-tourism and create green jobs. At the same time, deforestation, including cutting down Mangrove jungle, is a concern. The country’s forests need attention, including but not limited to Sadh Belo forest in Sukkur and the Ziarat juniper forest in Balochistan. The country’s adaptation pathway includes ambitious targeting of the Indus Basin for flood risk mitigation and enhanced water recharge as well as increasing protected areas coverage from 12% to 15% by 2023. Nonetheless, the 2022 floods gave renewed impetus to the adaptation pathway. Having secured international funding for its “Resilience, Recovery, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction framework (4RF)”, the Ministry of Climate Change is focusing on using nature-based solutions and ecosystem-based adaptation to make the country resilient to climate change.

Pakistan’s vulnerability to the climate crisis increases primarily due to the lack of infrastructure, and the finances required to maintain them. To seek international support for mitigation and adaptation pathways as a building block of climate justice, credibility, predictability and resilience in government policies are must. Pakistan is significantly lacking here. For instance, the country has repeatedly demonstrated its lack of preparation in terms of assessing the severity of climate-driven disasters.

In 2022, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and the government lacked an effective early warning system and only sluggishly declared the disaster as a national emergency. In general, there was a lax response. For instance, the local administration in Gilgit Baltistan continuously monitored people and relocated residents to safer places before the floods. Even the Supreme Court of Pakistan ruled on 6 July 2022 that government authorities in urban areas should consider three key principles – adaptation, resiliency and sustainability, in addressing climate change vulnerabilities and uphold fundamental human rights. Hence, Pakistan needs “systemic cross-sectoral thinking” and coordination to become climate resilient as well as needs to bring reforms in its social and economic sectors to meet its commitment of becoming coal-free.

Besides economic and health repercussions, over 33 million people have been displaced from their homes, out of which eight million are still under acute displacement because flood waters have not receded from several areas. It is important to consider that forced displacement as a result of extreme weather conditions could prove counter-productive. People, sometimes, have strong affinities towards the land they inhabited and inherited and people in Pakistan are no different. Place attachment could be challenging because depriving people from their cultural land affinity as a result of forced displacement could adversely impact climate justice. However, substituting for the loss of land and nature with alternative homes and shelters is not only a matter of resources in terms of wealth and capital, but requires a rigorous implementation of measures to protect communities. Here, campaigning is an important element of climate justice that could mitigate adverse impact of place attachment on climate change combat.

Moreover, it is equally important to thwart activities and initiatives that undermine the fight against the climate crisis; for instance, electric utilities companies and fossil fuel companies and their labour organizations have an interest in undermining efforts to address the adverse impacts of the climate crisis. That’s why imposing a carbon tax in Pakistan is a challenge. Likewise, the Sindh provincial government tore down settlements in Karachi along waterways in 2021 that provoked protests by civil society and residents. However, this action was carried out without planning for the resettlement of displaced people. Such actions on the part of government need to be curbed.

The 2022 floods that struck Pakistan could happen in other climate disaster vulnerable places also. Therefore, it is important for vulnerable countries to have a voice when the agenda is set on how to manage and combat the climate crisis. Pakistan managed to effectively and promptly raise a plea for climate justice, which sets a significant responsibility on rich countries for meeting demands from the Global South. Nonetheless, countries like Pakistan seeking climate justice need to rigorously work on their own indigenous mitigation and adaptation pathways.

Dr. Salma Shaheen teaches at the Defence Studies department at King's College London. She can be reached at