Pakistan’s climate disaster ups the ante on loss and damage

Posted on November, 15 2022

An intensifying climate crisis is causing impacts that are rapidly outpacing the climate resilience and resources of climate vulnerable countries. COP27 must respond with a loss and damage mechanism – while vulnerable countries must take measures to improve their climate resilience, writes Masood Arshad, Senior Director, Footprint at WWF-Pakistan.

The dry desert sands surrounding Sharm El-Sheikh seem a world away from the deluge that submerged Pakistan earlier this year, but its shadow hangs large over the COP27 climate talks. The floods brought death and destruction. Millions of people were displaced and are still facing threats from water-borne disease, a lack of access to clean water and sanitation and a plethora of challenges accompanying the onset of winter. In the longer term, rural livelihoods remain in doubt, and the infrastructure upon which the people rely must be rebuilt.

The numbers defy comprehension. More than one-third of the country was flooded. Eight million people have been displaced. Two million houses destroyed. At least four million acres of farmland have been inundated and 800,000 cattle killed. The official death toll stands at 1,700; the real figure is believed to be much higher. The economic costs could be up to $30 billion, or even more.

This is what the climate crisis looks like. 

Prior to the floods, Pakistan saw a prolonged, record-breaking heatwave, which contributed to strengthened monsoons. Concurrently, there were floods in northern Pakistan, as massive glacial lakes burst their banks and flooded. Climate change is estimated to have increased rainfall over the affected areas by up to 50%, according to scientists at the World Weather Attribution Group. The Pakistan Meteorological Department said that it was the wettest August since records began in 1961, with rainfall 243% above average across the nation.

And this is a crisis not of Pakistan’s making; it is responsible for around 0.8% of global greenhouse gas emissions annually. Its historical contribution is even smaller: since 1750, it has emitted just 0.29% of cumulative emissions. However, it is ranked by Germanwatch as the eighth most vulnerable country in the world to the impacts of climate change. 

Skyrocketing climate costs

Pakistan is not the first country to feel the full force of the climate crisis. It will not be the last. What is becoming increasingly clear is that the impacts of climate change are placing unbearable strain on the financial resources of climate-vulnerable countries. There are social, economic and ecological costs, as people migrate to cities and agricultural production is hit. With farmland underwater, production for the coming year hangs in the balance, with severe risks for national food security. 

At COP27, a loss and damage financial mechanism is on the agenda. It has long been acknowledged within the UN climate process that even aggressive measures to mitigate carbon emissions and to adapt to climate impacts will not be sufficient to protect the vulnerable. It is vital that financial resources are found to address the effects the climate crisis brings to vulnerable countries who are not responsible.

This issue was recognised in the Paris Agreement in 2015, and last year during COP26, with the establishment of a two-year Glasgow Dialogue on the issue and agreement on the role of the Santiago Network, which is charged with providing technical assistance relating to loss and damage.

A commitment at COP27

While we welcome this progress, it is not equal to the task. We need to see COP27 put financial commitments in place that dramatically increase the early small-scale pledges we have seen from the governments including Scotland, Denmark and Wallonia in Belgium.

But as well as financial support from the North, there is much that countries such as Pakistan and other vulnerable countries can do to improve their own climate resilience. The preparedness of Pakistan’s government, at both national and local levels, for floods such as these was wanting. For many years, land planners have ignored warnings from climate scientists, allowing development on land at high risk from flooding.

And looking forward, there is much that can be done to build climate resilience. Nature-based solutions, which restore wetlands and improve water management, can help to divert extreme rainfall. Afforestation can reduce flood risk. Development could better anticipate the likelihood of extreme weather.

But this will require funding and capacity – both of which are in short supply as Pakistan, and climate vulnerable countries like it – reel from the increasing tempo and severity of climate impacts. The rich world must step forward at COP27 and, at last, put the mechanisms in place to help the developing world address loss and damage by climate impacts.   


Sarfaraz Bati on his farm in a small village of south Punjab, Pakistan, 2019. The devastating floods in the country have put food security at risk, as farmland is underwater and crop production badly affected.
© Matthieu Paley