Unheard and Underwater

Batoul Al-Sadi and Bijan Ashtiani-Eisemann

Date: 09/28/2022

Climate Devastation in the Global South Highlights the Need for Climate Reparations at COP27


Since June of this year, Pakistan — the world’s fifth largest nation by population – has been inundated by intense flooding.

Roughly ⅓ of the country is underwater, resulting in the deaths of nearly 1,500 people — almost half of whom are children — and the displacement of more than 33 million civilians. Due to the combined forces of record-breaking rainfall and glacial melt, these apocalyptic floods are yet another violent result of the climate crisis.

As Pakistan grappled with its climate catastrophe, Puerto Rico braced for its own. Hurricane Fiona rolled in early last week with some regions of the territory reporting over 20 inches of rainfall within just 24 hours, and others as much as 3 feet. Fiona not only resulted in significant flooding: sustained winds of up to 115 mph took a catastrophic toll on neighborhoods.

The lives of Puerto Ricans and Pakistanis alike will forever be altered and it is vital to name and understand these events as they are: climate injustice emergencies. Though roughly 7,972 miles apart, the devastation felt in Puerto Rico and Pakistan echo one another. Both regions, though unique in their experiences, cultures, circumstances, and histories, are reeling from these catastrophic climate events.

Puerto Rico is estimated to be the #1 most vulnerable region to climate change, with Pakistan at number eight — even though both regions are responsible for less than 1% of global greenhouse gas emissions. This pattern is no coincidence. Regions first and worst impacted by climate change are overwhelmingly non-European nations with low GDPs. Even though poorer countries contribute roughly 10% of the global greenhouse gas emissions, they are expected to experience at least 75% of the costs related to climate change. This is how climate injustice manifests.

As Ayisha Siddiqa, a Pakistani environmental justice and human rights advocate said when referring to the floods that devastated her family’s land: “climate change is political because it uses the preexisting structures of social hierarchy to cause further suffering to those on the very bottom.”

For Pakistan, it is estimated it will cost over $30 billion to address the damages, and their estimated GDP was cut in half. As of now, we don’t know the exact economic toll of Fiona on Puerto Rico, but experts predict a multibillion-dollar economic disaster. Of course, these numbers do not account for the unquantifiable cost of the emotional and mental scarring communities will carry for generations after witnessing the loss of their loved ones, homes, livelihoods, and land.

For both Pakistan and Puerto Rico, the resulting impacts of the floods and Fiona were exacerbated by existing ecological, infrastructural, and economic challenges. We must think very critically about how systemic and structural factors worsen the impacts of climate change, and how those at the top, our world “leaders”, ought to help in addressing them. Climate justice advocate Wanjiku Gatheru said in a speech last week at NYC’s 2022 Climate Week: “The way I see it, climate change is Mother Earth giving us important feedback that the systems we’ve relied on for so long aren’t working.”

Indeed. That brings us to the upcoming 27th Conference of Parties (aka: COP27): the 27th annual United Nations Climate Change Conference hosted in 2022 by Egypt against the backdrop of the African continent. The topic of loss and damage finance (a form of climate reparations) for countries hit first and worst by the climate crisis will likely take center stage at COP27 as the scale of climate devastation for the Global South reaches a breaking point.

Just this year, Tunisia was scorched by a record-breaking heat wave that led to crop failures, Ethiopia endured its worst drought in almost half a century, and 40% of Somalia is at risk of starvation. While African nations dried up, Pakistan and Puerto Rico drowned in climate-fueled natural disasters of “biblical” scale. All of these recent tragedies ahead of COP27 are setting the stage for a conference dominated by talks around loss and damage finance to communities hit hardest by the climate crisis.

But here’s the thing: we’ve had this loss and damage finance discussion before. In 2009, rich nations (including the United States) pledged $100B in annual climate finance to poorer nations, however, to this day, the full amount has never been paid. Fridays for Future is trying to make sure that doesn’t happen again. Last Friday, they hosted more than 750 actions in cities worldwide, calling on world leaders to provide loss and damage finance to the world’s most affected people and areas (MAPA) like Pakistan and Puerto Rico. Their argument is pretty simple: those who have contributed the least to the climate crisis are facing its worst consequences, and rich countries need to pay for the damage their actions have inflicted upon the poor. For more information about the concept of climate reparations, check out this article by Mohammed Hanif for the New Yorker.

So what can we do to support people suffering from climate injustices across the globe? First, we can use our voices and take action with groups like Fridays for Future. Next, we can donate to aid groups in affected areas. We compiled a list of resources for you to check out. Please take a moment to help those in need in whatever way you can. Thank you, as always, for your support and solidarity.

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