The UAE is all set to host the 2023 UN Climate Change Conference. COP28 will focus on climate finance and the size and individual contributions for the Loss and Damage Fund proposed last year.
However, at a time when developed nations are not honouring the pledges made with their own people, it is futile to expect them to pay reparations to developing countries. UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s stance about not meeting the country’s 2030 net zero promises and US leader John Kerry’s remarks about the country not paying reparations to developing countries hit by environmental disasters point to rich nations’ lack of willingness to support low-income countries badly hit by climate change.
In 2022, Amnesty International called the COP15 biodiversity deal (or the 30 x 30 agreement) a missed opportunity to protect indigenous peoples’ rights. Interestingly there were more delegates sent by fossil fuel industries at COP26 than by any single country.
It is important to understand that multinational corporations (MNCs) and colonialism have many similar features like enabling industrialized nations to exploit the labour and resources of developing nations, and both have common heritage and origin, which can be traced back to the East India Company.
Pakistan, being a developing country and having been hit by devastating floods in 2022, refuses to recognize the rights of indigenous peoples. And instead of including the locals in the decision-making process, many academicians and think tanks, responsible for shaping the narrative and academic discourse, are propagating the idea of elite consensus to change and save the country.
While Pakistan is expected to strive for climate funds at COP28 and advocate moral and legal principles of self-determination and human rights for Kashmir and Palestine, such principles are missing in its actions. For example, Phase-II of coal-mining (going against COP26) is still active or no action has been taken on a forensic audit report published against a multinational company in 2018, which was found guilty of not paying the government for the 4.43 billion litres of water extracted between 2013 and 2017 and wasting 43 per cent (1.9 billion litres) of the water so extracted. It has also allowed the construction of private housing schemes on indigenous lands.
All such decisions are, according to the present academic discourse, based on the realistic approach of accepting economic prosperity by elite saviours of the country at the expense of the environment.
In the past, land reforms in Pakistan were declared un-Islamic in the Qazalbash Waqf case, thereby giving precedence to private ownership over public ownership. At present, Karachi’s residents have access to electricity, a utility, as consumers, not as citizens of Pakistan. After the privatization of the Karachi Electric Supply Corporation, the company was renamed K-Electric. The Supreme Court of Pakistan has also refused at various instances to interfere in economy-related issues.
Former chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry suspended the privatization of the Pakistan Steel Mills. He also declared the Reko Diq agreement void, after hearing the arguments made by Rubina Shah Noahtani who represented the Syed Balanoshi Noahtani Sadaat tribe. Noahtani highlighted the destruction of Balochistan’s gold and copper resources, wildlife and the environment for 20 years due to the use of cyanide gas. She argued that this was done due to unfair and unequal unilateral agreements made with foreign companies by an unelected government.
But after Pakistan was awarded a huge amount, the SC validated the Reko Diq agreement. And academic discourse justified this as ‘having no other option’ and the ‘best deal available,’ which might be true, but cannot be legitimized and justified by the government by allotting and increasing the share of Balochistan from 25 per cent to 35 per cent, as it lacks the participation and consent of the locals.
Besides the Senate, which is weak and based upon indirect representation, the role of the Balochistan Assembly, backed by people’s mandate, is missing in the decision-making process.
While Pakistan is out of options, its intellectuals need to have the courage to say that the decision of privatizing land and its resources without the consent of the locals is illegitimate, instead of treating the elite’s will, whim and wishes as the final say, which will eventually harm the people and the environment.
After Vanuatu’s success in approaching the International Court of Justice regarding the legal obligations of nations to protect the environment and people affected by climate change and if the ongoing struggle to make ecocide an international crime is successful, the locals can invoke international law and challenge the MNCs, governments and saviour elites responsible for climate injustice.
The demand for climate funds is not enough if the rights of the indigenous population are not recognized at COP28.
The writer is a lawyer and a faculty member at the Department of International Relations, University of Karachi.