These floods were the result of climate change-induced increases in temperatures, which were even witnessed in the severe heatwaves in the spring of 2022. In Pakistan, 1 in 7 people have been impacted by the climate change-provoked floods of last year, and continue to suffer under the strain of environmental scarcity. Homer-Dixon classifies environmental scarcity into three main categories; supply-induced scarcity, which is due to environmental resources depleting, demand-induced scarcity, which is due to uncontrolled population growth or increase in the per capita consumption of resources, and structural scarcity, which is due to unequal social distribution of resources. Coincidentally, Pakistan suffers from all three major forms of environmental scarcity.
Amid population growth, migration, and urbanization, lack of enough resources creates tension and conflict, which is then aggravated by issues of rampant corruption, weak leadership, social cohesion, and the feudal political system.
In developing countries like Pakistan, these extreme events exacerbate the already fragile socioeconomic conditions, hence leading to environmental scarcity. Amid population growth, migration, and urbanization, lack of enough resources creates tension and conflict, which is then aggravated by issues of rampant corruption, weak leadership, social cohesion, and the feudal political system. Most of the leadership in Pakistan comes from influential feudal families which have generational rivalries with one another. In positions of power, many of them tend to abuse their political influence to save their personal land from floods or droughts, giving rise to corruption in the agricultural and irrigational sectors, and even going as far as embezzling the funds assigned for projects. Problems such as these create a burden on Pakistan’s already strained ecological and political systems.
During the 2022 floods, Pakistan was suffering through a trade deficit, under foreign debt, and burning through its reserves far quicker than it could recover. All of this placed pressure on its exchange rates which dropped 24%, even as inflation was at its highest then, and the country suffered economic damages of more than nearly $15 billion. In such a critical moment for Pakistan, it turned to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for assistance to rejuvenate its economy and avoid a debt default. In a not-so-surprising turn of events, the IMF began to impose stricter conditions on Pakistan, even delaying the $6 billion bailout package in February 2023, of a 2019 deal. Pakistan failed to meet the full conditions of the deal, but withholding aid at such a difficult time for Pakistan as the country still suffers from the disasters of the 2022 floods, has multiple people displaced, and is still taking in refugees from Afghanistan after the United States has left made the condition far worse. In such a situation, the IMF deemed Pakistan with terms so unfair, that it has increased the rate of inflation and allowed little room to recover for the average man, much less an entire country’s system.
Pakistan is one of the most vulnerable countries in the event of climate change extreme events and consistently ranks high on the Global Climate Risk Index. Pakistan has been one of the top ten countries most affected by climate change from 2000 to 2019.
Facing these developments, Pakistan turned to the international community for assistance which has made some promises to provide aid after a climate calamity once again. In the United Nations Climate Conference (COP27) held towards the end of 2022, the Loss and Damage Fund was created. The fund aims to ‘provide financial assistance to nations most vulnerable and impacted by the effects of climate change.’
In January 2023, rather than waiting for the Loss and Damage Fund to be operational, the International Conference on Climate Resistant Pakistan was hosted by the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. While Pakistan had hoped to gain $8.15 billion, it was pledged $10.57 billion in multilateral and bilateral creditors for reconstruction.
As a Global South nation-state, Pakistan produces less than 1.0% of global greenhouse gas emissions, while holding the fifth-largest population in the world. Similar to other states in the Global South, it is one of the most vulnerable countries in the event of climate change extreme events and consistently ranks high on the Global Climate Risk Index. Pakistan has been one of the top ten countries most affected by climate change from 2000 to 2019. There is no denying that aid and aid institutions play an essential role in providing global assistance during moments of environmental crises, especially for struggling economies, but aid is not the ultimate solution. There is already global economic stress due to the increase in humanitarian crises worldwide, particularly as the West rallies together for the cause of Ukraine, which has the potential to cause donor fatigue as well. To get the most out of foreign aid, there needs to be political action and reforms that can assist development without funding a broken system, for which an emphasis on environmental diplomacy is vital.
Even now, Pakistan has a weak stance on climate negotiation, as it still seeks to negotiate debt relief rather than demand reparations and ask for technical help in adaptation efforts towards climate change extreme events. This is a direct result of the country’s weak environmental diplomacy, which needs more work now than ever. With the amount of aid that Pakistan is getting, there needs to be a strong sense of governance and accountability. For a strong environmental diplomacy, environmental politics and climate change must be taken as a core national interest when debating in political and diplomatic channels, whilst including senior ministers and government officials. Pakistan must adopt a holistic and inclusive approach towards environmental diplomacy which can engage all state and non-state actors, mobilizing capacity, reforming internal strategic decision-making systems, reallocating sources of funding and human power, and training diplomats to be able to provide assistance in a timely manner.
While United Nations Secretary General António Guterres was struck by the glimpse he saw of Pakistan’s future of climate chaos during his visit last year, it seems the country’s leadership is still not worried enough. The question we must all ask ourselves is, are we prepared to watch Pakistan walk off the climate cliff? It is important to contemplate it since we have already seen the damage a climate calamity can do to us, and how unprepared we are to deal with another one, as we have still not recovered from the previous one. Yet, if we continue on this path, we will eventually reach a point where we will fall off the climate cliff, where there will be greater human suffering and more losses than we can bear.