(Bloomberg) — Speaking at the United Nations General Assembly on Friday, Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif offered an emotional account of living on the front lines of the climate crisis after severe floods ravaged the country.
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“Pakistan has never seen a more stark and devastating example of the impact of global warming,” Sharif said about the disaster. “Life in Pakistan has changed forever.” He said that much of the country was still under water, “submerged in an ocean of human suffering and this ground zero of climate change.” More than 30 million people were affected and now the spread of malaria and other diseases threatens the country.
Standing in front of world leaders gathered in New York, Sharif asked for international support in the slow rebuilding that will follow. He said that since countries like Pakistan have emitted less than 1% of the greenhouse gas emissions that have contributed to the planet’s rapid warming, it was “entirely reasonable” for his country to expect “some approximation of justice for this loss and damage, not to mention building back better with resilience and strength.”
“Loss and damage” is a phrase used in climate diplomacy to refer to impacts that communities can’t adapt to.
Speaking to Bloomberg Television Thursday, Sharif called for debt relief in the wake of the floods. “Unless we get substantial relief, how can the world expect from us to stand on our own feet? It is simply impossible,” he said in the interview.
There’s no doubt that climate change worsened the country’s flood disaster. According to one analysis, released this month by the World Weather Attribution research group, the rainfall in two provinces leading to the floods was up to 75% more intense because of climate change. That’s compared to a similar weather event happening in a world without global warming.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres said on Wednesday: “We have all seen the appalling images from Pakistan, and this is just at 1.2 degrees [Celsius] of global warming and we are heading for over 3 degrees.”
While many world leaders speaking at the UN this week focused on the Russian war on Ukraine and other geopolitical tensions, Sharif returned to the issue of climate change again and again in his remarks and stressed that the current crisis wasn’t limited to the borders of Pakistan. “One thing is very clear: What happened in Pakistan will not stay in Pakistan.”
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