INTERVIEW: Building climate consensus

Ahmed Morsy , Friday 11 Nov 2022

The foreign minister of Pakistan spoke with Ahmed Morsy on how Islamabad has been affected by climate change and the successful inclusion of loss and damage on the COP27 agenda



Bilawal Bhutto Zardari is the youngest ever foreign minister of Pakistan and heads the second largest coalition party, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), in the current government.

He is the son of Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan’s first woman prime minister and head of a democratic government in a Muslim country, and the grandson of Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. He became a member of the National Assembly on 13 August 2018. On 5 March 2019, he was elected, unopposed, as chairperson of the National Assembly Standing Committee for Human Rights. He is an advocate for democracy and freedom of expression and an ardent supporter of women’s empowerment, social justice, minority rights, parity, and religious and interfaith harmony.

As head of the PPP, he oversees the running of Pakistan’s second largest province, Sindh, through his party’s provincial government.

Zardari holds a degree in history and politics from Oxford University.

Have the devastating floods in Pakistan become a wake-up call to the world on the threats of climate change?

I think so. They were a wake-up call even for us in Pakistan. We have never witnessed floods of such epic proportions, never experienced anything like it. They affected one-third of the landmass of our country, one in seven people, a total of 33 million, were affected. More than five million acres of crops were destroyed.

Damage is estimated at more than $30 billion, which represents 10 per cent of our GDP. It is a stark reminder that for us climate change is not a problem of the future, it is a problem now.


Pakistan produces one per cent of the global greenhouse gasses. Do you see your country as a climate victim?

It most certainly is. Our carbon footprint is precisely 0.8 per cent of the global total yet we are the eighth most climate-stressed country on the planet. We are victims of climate disasters that are not of our making, and the people of Pakistan are paying with their lives and livelihoods.

The industrialisation of rich countries may have resulted in climate change, but we recognise that it is a global problem and hence must work with our global partners to overcome it.


How do you view the inclusion of loss and damage on the COP agenda and what role did Pakistan play to ensure it got there?

We are appreciative of the Egyptian leadership’s hosting of COP27. From a developing country’s perspective this is an incredibly successful COP. Getting loss and damage onto the agenda has been a goal since COP16 and we appreciate the Egyptian leadership on this issue.

Pakistan is the head of the G77 plus China and within this framework we coordinated with developing countries and reached a consensus that loss and damage be included on the agenda.


How can we build on this to yield concrete results and establish a funding mechanism?

I think it is important not to embrace hostile positioning, not to turn the issue into one of us versus them, north versus south, or developed versus developing. It is necessary to build consensus so we can practically deliver. For that to happen it is key to understand that everyone is passing through tough economic times. The Covid-19 pandemic has devastated economies from the west to the east.

The Ukraine-Russia conflict has also undermined economies, not only in Europe but around the world. One of its results is that there is not that much cash in hand available.

What is important is that we got loss and damage onto the agenda. We must now work together with our international partners and developed countries to ensure that international financial mechanisms are put in place to allow us to address the issue. Relevant international financial institutions need to be brought on board, and there is also the concept of debt-swap, which UN Secretary-General António Guterres has been promoting.

Most climate-stressed countries are also debt-stressed and we owe that debt to the developed world. So any mechanism should explore ways to use those debt repayments to build climate-resilient infrastructure, finance adaptation and mitigation and address loss and damage rather than pay it into the bank accounts of the developed world. Nor should we see loss and damage as solely a government-to-government transaction. There must be space for the private sector to invest in green energy and green energy transition and contribute to addressing climate change.


How did you receive Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s appeal for an end to the Russia-Ukraine war?

I think everybody agrees with him. We face a global financial crisis and an existential threat to human rights in the form of climate change. This should unite us across borders to protect the one planet we live on to ensure it survives for future generations.

We look to all sides to engage in dialogue and diplomacy for the pursuit of peace, and the soon this conflict ends the better it is for all of us.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 10 November, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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