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Pakistan Leads Push for Funds to Counter Climate-Change Damage

After a summer of catastrophic floods, Pakistan is leading a group of developing nations calling on richer industrialized countries to pay for damage caused by natural disasters that they say are linked to climate change.

In a speech at the United Nations on Friday, Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said, “Nature has unleashed her fury on Pakistan without looking at our carbon footprint, which is next to nothing,” referring to the flooding, which has killed 1,600 people. “Our actions did not contribute to this.”

As developing countries stake out negotiating positions ahead of international climate talks set for later this year, Pakistan and others argue that they are suffering because of changes in the climate that they blame on past carbon emissions by wealthier nations.

The question of who should pay the costs of natural disasters deemed to be climate-related is likely to be a major sticking point in the coming talks, to be held in Egypt in November.  Developing nations say they will seek agreement to create a fund for “loss and damage” paid for by wealthier nations.

At last year’s Glasgow climate summit, a similar proposal from developing countries failed to gain traction, with European officials saying there would need to be more clarity about what kinds of losses  would be covered and who would contribute how much to any fund.

Among the issues: how could any specific event be attributed to climate change; how would one assess the proportion of the damage from climate effects versus other causes.

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People displaced by flooding lined up to get relief aid in Jaffarabad, a district of Balochistan province, Pakistan, this week.

Photo: Zahid Hussain/Associated Press

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Temporary tents were set up for those displaced by flooding in Sehwan, Pakistan, this month.

Photo: STRINGER/REUTERS

Pakistan produces around 1% of global greenhouse-gas emissions. It estimates that this year’s floods will cost it more than $30 billion in lost economic growth and rebuilding expenses. Millions of acres of crops were inundated and destroyed and a million livestock animals drowned.

Thousands of miles of roads, hundreds of bridges and two million homes have been damaged or destroyed, the government said. Sherry Rehman, Pakistan’s climate minister, said that the floods have set Pakistan’s development back by a decade.

“The bargain between the global South and the North is broken,” Ms. Rehman said.

Pakistan this year chairs the biggest grouping of countries at the Egypt talks, the G-77 bloc of more than 130 developing countries plus China, giving Islamabad an important role in coordinating the drive for disaster recovery and rebuilding funds.

Sameh Shoukry, foreign minister of Egypt, which is president of the so-called COP27 talks, this week said that discussions around this funding will be “a principal issue on the global climate action agenda” and he hoped for “positive results.”

After decades of negotiations, developed nations committed in 2009 to contribute funds to poorer countries to help them switch to energy sources with lower carbon emissions and implement measures to adapt to the impacts of climate change—moving populations to higher ground or building flood defenses.

They committed to providing $100 billion a year from 2020 to 2025, a target not yet achieved. Some $83 billion was paid in 2020, including loans and export credits, not just grants, according to a tally by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, a grouping of developed nations.

Richer countries have largely resisted the idea, given the trillions of dollars potentially involved and the difficulty of deciding how to disburse the funds. An unsuccessful proposal from developing nations at the last summit, in Glasgow, called for at least $1.3 trillion annually, to finance the shift away from fossil fuels and to protect themselves from the effects of climate change, starting in 2030.

“There’s been decades of pushback on liability and compensation,” said Yamide Dagnet, director of climate justice at Open Society, a group that advocates for democracy and government accountability.

U.S. climate envoy John Kerry met this week with the Pakistani prime minister on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, tweeting afterwards that they discussed “the urgent need to work together to fight the climate crisis.”

The U.S. is the biggest donor so far to Pakistan’s appeal for humanitarian aid for the floods, with $55 million.

Mr. Kerry said this week that he was focused on reducing global greenhouse gas emissions, including by large developing countries that are now major emitters. Loss and damage will be part of the discussions at the COP27 summit, but he said he didn’t expect any broad agreement would be reached until 2024.

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“You can’t just set up a facility in six weeks,” said Mr. Kerry. “Where’s the money coming from?”

This week, Denmark became the first country to offer “loss and damage” compensation to vulnerable countries, pledging $13 million.

“It is grossly unfair that the world’s poorest should suffer the most from the consequences of climate change, to which they have contributed the least,” said Danish Development Minister Flemming Møller Mortensen.

Conrod Hunte, deputy chair of the Association of Small Island States, nations that are some of the most vulnerable to climate change, said that Pakistan’s flooding demonstrates the need for a loss and damages fund.

“If the moral conscience of our development partners really kicks in, I think this is something we can walk away with,” said Mr. Hunte.

Droughts and floods are likely to become more intense as a result of climate change, scientists have said. In Pakistan this summer, monsoon clouds followed an unusual trajectory, to the south of the country, where more than five times the normal rain fell, not the mountainous north.

A study last week from World Weather Attribution, a global collaboration of scientists that seeks to provide information on the role of global warming in specific weather events, said that climate change was likely a contributing factor in Pakistan’s heavier rainfall this year.

Satellite images reveal the extent of damage from Pakistan’s deadliest flooding in more than a decade. Officials put the blame on climate change as monsoon rains washed away villages, killing more than 1,000 people since mid-June. Illustration: Maxar Technologies/Reuters

That study followed an earlier one from the same group, which found that a heat wave that hit India and Pakistan this spring was made 30 times more likely as a result of climate change.

Fahad Saeed, an Islamabad-based scientist at Germany’s Climate Analytics think tank, and one of the co-authors of the study, said that the earlier heat wave warmed the ground, which was a significant factor in drawing in moisture from the sea and the monsoon clouds to the southern part of the country.

“We now have scientific evidence for Pakistan that losses and damages can be attributed to climate change,” said Mr. Saeed.

The total finance available annually for climate action came to an average of $632 billion for 2019 and 2020, including the private sector, according to a report from Climate Policy Initiative, an advisory firm based in San Francisco.

Of that sum, 90% went on switching to cleaner energy, and 7% to adaptation measures such as moving to drought-resistant crops. That leaves losses from extreme weather unfunded, said Preety Bhandari, senior adviser at the World Resources Institute, a think tank based in Washington.

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Pakistan estimates that the floods will cost it more than $30 billion in lost economic growth and rebuilding costs. Sindh province was among the areas hit hard.

Photo: Insiya Syed for The Wall Street Journal

Write to Saeed Shah at saeed.shah@wsj.com

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