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Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif warned Friday that his country’s worst-ever floods were a sign of climate catastrophes to come around the world, as he urged justice for developing nations that bear little responsibility for warming.
Unprecedented monsoon downpours flooded a third of the country — an area the size of the United Kingdom — killing nearly 1,600 people and displaying more than seven million.
“What happened in Pakistan will not stay in Pakistan,” he said in a passionate address to the United Nations General Assembly, adding that lost homes, decimated livelihoods and deluged cropland had meant that for many, life had “changed forever.”
Sharif said injustice was inherent in the crisis, with his country of 220 million people at “ground zero” of climate change but responsible for less than one percent of carbon emissions.
“Why are my people paying the price of such high global warming through no fault of their own? Nature has unleashed her fury on Pakistan without looking at our carbon footprint, which is next to nothing,” he said.
“It is therefore entirely reasonable to expect some approximation of justice for this loss and damage,” he continued, adding his voice to growing calls among developing countries for financial compensation from rich polluters.
The issue of “loss and damage” payments is deeply contentious.
Supporters argue that historic polluters have a moral imperative to pay for the loss and damage already caused by multiplying extreme weather events, which have not been prevented by measures to mitigate or adapt to global warming.
The idea has so far been shot down by rich nations, but UN chief Antonio Guterres endorsed the proposal a few days ago and it is due to be discussed at the next UN climate summit in Egypt.
Pakistan has estimated total financial losses at $30 billion, and on Friday its finance minister Miftah Ismail tweeted the county was seeking debt relief from bilateral creditors.
Turning his attention to neighboring AfghanistanSharif urged the international community to heed a $4.2 billion UN appeal for humanitarian and economic assistance and release the country’s financial reserves, frozen since the Taliban power last year.
“Pakistan is working to encourage respect for the rights of Afghan girls and women to education and work. Yet, at this point, isolating the Afghan Interim Government could aggravate the suffering of the Afghan people, who are already destitute,” he said.
The United States recently set up an outside fund to manage Afghanistan’s frozen assets, saying it did not trust the Taliban.
On Kashmir, the Himalayan territory disputed between Pakistan and India since the two countries’ independence from Britain, Sharif accused New Delhi of embarking on “illegal demographic changes” by opening the Muslim-majority region to mass migration by Hindu Indians.
He called on India to “walk the path of peace and dialogue by reversing its illegal steps of 15 August 2019,” when New Delhi revoked Kashmir’s constitutional autonomy.
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