The Global Discourse on Climate Change

Exploring the power dynamics involved in the climate change debate

Published almost 2 years ago in Middle East & North Africa and Opinion

pakistan climate change international relations

Climate change...sarfraz ali

Pakistan ranks seventh in the 10 countries that are most affected by climate change globally (Source: Daily Pakistan)

Climate change is an undeniable phenomenon. Its consequences such as rising temperatures, droughts, heat waves, and rising sea levels are not only limited to underdeveloped countries but impact each and everyone on a global scale.

The 2015 Paris Agreement united 197 parties from all the world’s nations for the common cause of combating challenges posed by climate change, of which 178 parties have ratified. The central aim of the convention was to keep temperature rise in this century below two degrees Celsius and to streamline a global response. The deal raised optimism but the celebrations were short-lived and dissipated soon after the withdrawal of the US in June 2017. 

I sat down with His Excellency David Hale, US Ambassador to Pakistan, regarding the US’s withdrawal from the Paris agreement. He said that the United States will continue to work on climate change by supporting other nations. However, the withdrawal from the Paris Agreement undermines the universality of the Agreement and impairs states’ confidence in climate cooperation. It intensifies the leadership deficit in addressing global climate issues and most importantly sets a bad precedent for international climate cooperation.

US Ambassador to Pakistan David Hale (Source: Al-Monitor)

Now the responsibility to lead the global fight against climate change ultimately falls upon China. President Xi Jinping is committed to the Paris Agreement and has urged political leaders at several occasions to stick with the Paris Accord. Growing public concern over air pollution encouraged the Chinese government to move towards greener energy mix and rely on renewable sources rather than coal to achieve sustainable development. The purpose is not only to accomplish the needs of the present but also to secure the needs of the future generations.

Pakistan is one of the top 10 countries most adversely affected by climate change according to the Global Climate Risk Index 2018. As in the case of the Baluchistan province, Hanna Lake has dried up, and more than 1% of land has been affected by drought. Although the government has passed the Pakistan Climate Change Act 2017 and has established multiple regulatory bodies, coordinated steps such as a complete ban on the degradation of forests and training of staff for disasters are required for its implementation of spirit in which the act is written.

At the global level, the need of the hour is to bring back the U.S., a major stakeholder. I believe that only then would world leaders be able to mount an inclusive and cohesive response to deal with the adverse effects of climate change. 

Financing is also an essential element to implementing the Paris Agreement, and under the principle of common but differentiated responsibility, developed countries are obligated to provide climate financing to developing countries.

Another sustainable and cogent discourse to engage with climate change would be to create a legally binding treaty, which would not only unite the global community but would also bind them, preventing any of the states from denouncing its obligations, or from leaving the cause for good. This, I believe as a lawyer, can be achieved only through the development of an 'International Customary Law' dealing with such environmental predicaments. As we know, one of the major sources for international law is ‘’jus-cogens’’, in other words, compelling law. Albeit, it may take a while, bringing all the nations of the world under the ambit of a law of customary nature, but this is the only sustainable and permanent solution.

Lastly, a recognized international organization similar to the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court is the need of the hour. A special new organ under the United Nations could be established. An International Environment Tribunal or an International Environment Court will be necessary to enforce states’ commitments to reduce greenhouse gases emissions under International Law while supporting the creation of an environmental court modeled on the ICJ, which will be able to enforce binding targets. As stated by Mr Hockman, a British deputy High Court judge, the court’s role would be to “fine countries or companies that fail to protect endangered species or degrade the natural environment.”