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Advocates call on U.S. to help flooded Pakistan in the name of climate justice

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Pakistan is asking the world for help following devastating floods. An exceptional monsoon season and rapidly melting glaciers wrecked vast areas of the country this summer. But in seeking help, many Pakistanis say they are not asking for charity. Huma Yusuf, who writes for a leading Pakistani newspaper, talks of climate reparations or climate justice.

HUMA YUSUF: Steve, today, Pakistan has one-third of its landmass under water. Thirty-three million people are homeless and affected. Livestock has been killed, and the country's topsoil and all its crops are gone. We are looking at a country that's looking ahead to famine, that's looking ahead to massive food insecurity, to conflict, to homelessness, to climate migrants. So the first demand is, frankly, for money.

INSKEEP: And the long-term demand may be for more money. Countries in what's often called the Global South - such as Africa, South Asia, South America - are among the first to face this scale of destruction from climate change. Many blame the more developed economies of the United States and Europe.

YUSUF: There's growing recognition that countries like Pakistan, which contribute to less than 1% of greenhouse gas emissions, are now bearing the brunt of the greenhouse-gas-emitting activities of industrialized nations that have been happening not just in recent decades, but basically since the Industrial Revolution - and that if you see that, the cumulative contribution to the greenhouse gases comes from the G20. It's not coming from countries like Pakistan or countries like Bangladesh, but that is where the effect is being felt. The industrialized nations that have profited from it are the ones that we now believe should be helping out with this big bill.

INSKEEP: I want to make sure that we're getting at some of the nuances here. You're absolutely correct that industrialization came first to places like the U.K. and the United States and European nations. But today, China is the world's largest climate emitter, India is among the world's largest climate emitters, and even Pakistan is in the top 20 or so nations when we talk about total climate emissions. Is this not something that happens globally, even if it comes more from some places?

YUSUF: Well, I think the climate justice argument is that the 1.5-degree warming that we are approaching - it's cumulative, and that the wealth that has been accrued by industrialized nations over the past few decades through their high-emitting activities - it is that which is contributing to the climate change effects that we're seeing in the Global South today. I also do recognize, though, that there is going to have to be clarity in countries like Pakistan, which are increasingly starting to ask for loss and damage facilities or climate reparations of some kind, where they need to recognize that they have to make some difficult diplomatic or political choices around how they make these demands.

And what I mean by that is that, so far, a lot of the Global South has been using this idea of saying that, look, it's our turn - that if there are going to be calls for the globe to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions, that the most drastic cuts should come from those economies that have already had the chance to profit from high-emitting activities, for example, and that developing nations that need to play catch-up should now be given their turn. But I think events such as the floods in Pakistan right now have really changed the discourse locally. I think people are recognizing that no one can have a turn - that these high-emitting activities have to stop, and that those countries that are most affected need some kind of climate justice from those that have already benefited in the past.

INSKEEP: You have just touched on a key part of the political debate and also political resistance to a lot of climate actions in the United States. Americans see other countries demanding their turn to pollute while the United States restrains itself, and you're saying that other countries need to get past that framing.

YUSUF: I think that there is going to be a shift to much clearer asks for climate reparations, which take the form - in addition to sort of financial aid that you need to deal with things like relief after climate calamities such as the Pakistan floods, but also support for rehabilitation. But I think, going beyond that, what you're going to see is growing demands for support for countries to have a quick green transition. And so that when we talk about climate reparations, it's a broad idea that encourages Western countries, for example, to share green technology or to include skills development as part of the reparations idea to help countries like Pakistan not try and play catch-up through high-emitting activities, for example, but to instead leapfrog that stage and go straight into economies that are growing, but growing through sustainable means because they have access to the same technologies that the West is now hoping to use as a way out of the climate change quagmire.

INSKEEP: What is a way to frame fighting climate change and aiding countries like yours that large Democratic majorities in countries like the United States would see as being in their interest?

YUSUF: I do think that we're in a new era, where all countries - yours and mine - need better climate diplomacy. Pakistan is currently in a process where it is trying to repair its bilateral relationship with the U.S. after a few difficult years. It's just signed a defense deal to get some F-16s from the U.S. So you cannot, from one side, have that kind of diplomatic overture and defense relationship, and on the other side then try and point a blame finger at the U.S. and say also support us with climate reparations. Exactly the same with China - Pakistan has been turning to China for debt, for infrastructure development support. Pakistan's foreign debt is primarily owned to China. And as you've already mentioned, China is currently the highest-emitting nation.

So again, Pakistan is going to have to be clear about what kind of climate diplomacy narrative it opts for, but I don't want this to imply that the onus is on countries like Pakistan to get their climate diplomacy right. This is something that even the U.S. needs to think about. So you're starting to see, for example, the EU has given a paltry sum of financial aid to Pakistan in the wake of the flooding. At the same time, it is spending billions in order to put up all the defenses needed to keep climate migrants from across the Global South out of Europe's borders. It's that kind of disconnect between security planning, foreign policy planning and the realities of climate change that I think no country is getting right at this point.

INSKEEP: Huma Yusuf is a columnist for Dawn, one of the leading newspapers in Pakistan. Thanks so much.

YUSUF: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.