U.N. secretary-general seeks increased aid for Pakistan, other 'climate-vulnerable' nations

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NEW YORK — Speaking to the General Assembly at United Nations headquarters on Friday morning, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres called for increased global aid to Pakistan and other developing nations suffering from extreme weather driven by climate change.

“The people of Pakistan are the victims of a grim calculus of climate injustice,” Guterres said, noting that one-third of the landmass of the South Asian nation has been submerged by surging flood waters, although it contributes less than 1% of the greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change.

“One month ago, I traveled there and saw a level of climate carnage beyond imagination,” Guterres said. Pakistan’s flooding was caused by two climate-change-related phenomena: an unusually strong spring heat wave, which melted glaciers, and extremely heavy rainfall.

One woman carries a large box in her arms, while another balances one on her head, as she holds a child in one arm, as they make their way through waist-deep floodwaters from a small hut. Children swim in the water beside them.
Residents carry belongings salvaged from their flooded home after monsoon rains in the Qambar Shahdadkot district of Pakistan's Sindh province on Sept. 6. (Fareed Khan/AP)

After cataloging the destruction, which includes damage to 1,500 health care facilities and the destruction of more than 2 million homes, Guterres quadrupled the U.N.’s previous request for aid to Pakistan to $816 million. The economic toll is expected to surpass $10 billion, and Guterres said that even his revised request “pales in comparison to what is needed on every front — including food, water, sanitation, shelter, emergency education, protection and health support.”

The secretary-general then pivoted to the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, which will take place in November and is also known as COP27, and broadened his request for climate finance. Guterres has previously called for major carbon emitters to increase their emissions reduction pledges. Now he is calling for them to provide poorer countries with the means to prepare for and recover from climate change catastrophes.

“COP27 must be the place for serious action on loss and damage,” he said, using the diplomatic term for compensation from the countries that have caused climate change to its victims. “COP27 must be the place for clarity on vital funding for adaptation and resilience."

Women with colorful head coverings and bangles carry huge metal pails as they wait in a long line on desert ground.
Women from flood-affected areas wait to get free food distributed by a charity in Chachro, in Pakistan's Sindh province, on Sept. 19. (Pervez Masih/AP)

In 2009, developed nations pledged at COP15 in Copenhagen to mobilize $100 billion in annual climate finance by 2020, but they have fallen short of that goal by at least $20 billion.

“In particular, wealthier countries bear a moral responsibility to help places such as Pakistan recover, adapt and build resilience to disasters supercharged by the climate crisis,” Guterres said. “Let’s not forget that 80% of emissions driving this type of climate destruction are from the G-20,” he said, referring to the world’s largest economies, such as the United States, Europe and Japan.

Guterres was followed by Pakistan’s ambassador to the United Nations, Munir Akram, who echoed the secretary-general's call for more global climate aid.

“Pakistan is one of the most climate-vulnerable nations, even though our carbon emissions are less than 1% of the global total,” Akram said. “In the last two decades, recurrent spells of extreme weather, such as floods, droughts, glacial lake outbursts, cyclones and heat waves, have taken an enormous toll on life and property.”

A girl sits on an upturned charpoy as she crosses waist-high floodwaters.
A girl sits on a cot in a flooded street in Pakistan's Balochistan province on Oct. 4. (Fida Hussain/AFP via Getty Images)

At COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland, last year, nations increased their commitments to emissions reductions and climate finance, but not enough to avert catastrophic climate change, according to the projections of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Usually, renegotiation of a climate agreement occurs roughly every five years, but since the IPCC has determined that emissions must now be cut by 50% by 2030, the U.N., developing nations and climate activists are calling for a new round of action this year.

Guterres closed with a warning for nations that are not as hot and vulnerable as Pakistan. “Communities everywhere are looking down the barrel of climate-driven destruction,” he said. “We must act — and we must act now.”