Global Community Must Be Honest about Brutal Injustice of Loss Felt by Developing Countries Due to Climate Change, Secretary-General Tells Conference on Pakistan
Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks to the International Conference on a Climate Resilient Pakistan, in Geneva today:
Thank you all for gathering in solidarity with the people of Pakistan.
For decades, I have been privileged to witness the boundless generosity and resilience of the Pakistani people amidst grave threats and upheaval. From earthquakes and floods. To years of relentless terrorist attacks. To geopolitical nightmares like the wars in Afghanistan that have sent millions fleeing across the Pakistani border in search of safety over the decades — a trend that continues today. But even through the darkest moments, the giving spirit of the Pakistani people has shone brightly.
I have seen neighbours helping neighbours with food, water and shelter. And I have seen Pakistani communities welcome Afghan refugees with open arms despite their scarce resources. So, my heart broke when I saw first-hand the utter devastation of last summer’s floods.
No country deserves to endure what happened to Pakistan. But it was especially bitter to watch that country’s generous spirit being repaid with a climate disaster of monumental scale. As the video we just watched showed, the epic floods were nothing short of a “monsoon on steroids” — as I mentioned in my visit — submerging one third of the country, three times the area of my own country, Portugal.
A terrifying “wall of water” killed more than 1,700 people, injured thousands more and affected a total of more than 33 million, displacing 8 million people. It swept over roads, ruined millions of acres of agricultural land and damaged or destroyed 2 million homes. And it pushed back 9 million people to the brink of poverty.
These are not numbers on a page. They are individual women, children and men. They are families and communities.
And under the leadership of the Government of Pakistan, the United Nations, donors and friends rallied to assist. Tents, food, water, medicine and cash transfers were distributed. And a humanitarian response plan of $816 million was launched. But all of that is just a trickle of support in the face of the growing flood of need.
At the same time, the people of Pakistan met this epic tragedy with heroic humanity. From the first responders rushing to affected communities. To the doctors and nurses I met, fighting against time to save lives in overcrowded hospitals.
And I will never forget hearing the personal testimonies of women and men I met in September in the wake of the ruins. They left their own homes and all their worldly possessions to help their neighbours escape the rising waters. They sacrificed all they had to help others and bring them to safety.
We must match the heroic response of the people of Pakistan with our own efforts and massive investments to strengthen their communities for the future. Rebuilding Pakistan in a resilient way will run in excess of $16 billion — and far more will be needed in the longer term.
This includes not only flood recovery and rehabilitation efforts. But also initiatives to address daunting social, environmental and economic challenges. Reconstructing homes and buildings. Redesigning public infrastructure — including roads, bridges, schools and hospitals. Jump-starting jobs and agriculture. Ensuring that technology and knowledge are shared with Pakistan to support its efforts to build a climate-resilient future. And throughout, supporting women and children, who are up to 14 times more likely than men to die during disasters, and face the brunt of upheaval and loss in humanitarian crises.
Women are consistently on the front lines of support during times of crisis — including in Pakistan. Their efforts are essential to a strong, equal, inclusive recovery. It is crucial that women play their full part, as leaders and participants at every level, contributing their insights and solutions.
We also need to right a fundamental wrong. Pakistan is doubly victimized by climate chaos and a morally bankrupt global financial system. That system routinely denies middle-income countries the debt relief and concessional funding needed to invest in resilience against natural disasters.
And so, we need creative ways for developing countries to access debt relief and concessional financing when they need it the most. Above all, we need to be honest about the brutal injustice of loss and damage suffered by developing countries because of climate change.
If there is any doubt about loss and damage — go to Pakistan. There is loss. There is damage. The devastation of climate change is real. From floods and droughts to cyclones and torrential rains.
And as always, those developing countries least responsible are the first to suffer. Pakistan — which represents less than 1 per cent of global emissions — did not cause the climate crisis. But it is living with its worst impacts.
South Asia is one of the world’s global climate crisis hotspots — in which people are 15 times more likely to die from climate impacts than elsewhere.
At the recent United Nations Climate Conference in Egypt, the world made some important breakthroughs. This includes progress on addressing loss and damage, speeding the shift to renewables, and an unprecedented call to reform the global financial architecture, particularly multilateral development banks. It also includes accelerating efforts to cover every person in the world with early warning systems against climate disasters within five years.
But we need to go much further. Countries on the frontlines of the climate crisis need massive support. Developed countries must deliver on their commitment to double adaptation finance and meet the $100 billion goal urgently, without delay. And we need to reverse the outrageous trend of emissions going up, when they must go down to prevent further climate catastrophe.
Today’s conference is the first step on a much longer journey towards recovery and reconstruction in Pakistan. The United Nations will be there for the long haul. The world must be, too. And at every step, we will be inspired by the endurance and generosity of the people of Pakistan in this critical and colossal mission.