Secretary-General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres attends a news conference, as the COP27 climate summit takes place in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, November 7, 2022. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

United Nations (UN) Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Monday appealed to the international financial institutions and to the G20 nations to create mechanisms of debt relief for middle-income countries impacted by natural disasters, including Pakistan, while Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif highlighted how some countries will be more exposed and vulnerable to climate change than those in cooler regions.

Addressing a joint press conference with PM Sharif following a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the COP27 climate summit here, the UN chief said being a middle-income country, Pakistan hadn’t benefited from debt relief at the level that should be necessary for the country.

“One of the proposals that I’ve been making is that for countries like Pakistan, there should be a way to swap the payment of their debt for investments in rehabilitation and recovery and reconstruction from a natural disaster like the one that just occurred,” a UN press release quoted him as saying.

Mr Guterres also believed the way the international financial system worked needed to be reviewed in order for Pakistan to access effective debt relief and concessional funding that was necessary for the “huge” levels of reconstruction and rehabilitation.

Speaking on the occasion, PM Sharif said: “We are poised on the threshold of a new green deal or a trajectory to a three-degree world where returning to the Earth as we know today will be impossible. Some countries, like Pakistan, will be more exposed and more deeply vulnerable than others.”

He said: “Our journey to recovery will be held back by increasing public debt, rising international energy prices and no real access to adaptation funds. At the broader level, we seek to add loss and damage to the climate agenda.”

The PM remarked that his goals and those of the UN chief were the same: to “not let helplessness become a death sentence in this race against time”, adding: “What goes on in Pakistan will not stay in Pakistan.”

Mr Guterres also recalled his visit to Pakistan where he saw an “area flooded that is three times the size of my country, Portugal”. He also lauded the courage, resilience, and generosity of the people who “decided to leave their property and leave their assets to go and rescue other people’s assets and property instead of protecting their own”, a UN press release quoted him as saying.

He said it was the international community’s duty to massively support Pakistan in this moment, adding though more needed to be done. The UN chief said the COP summit needed to recognize the loss and damage and define a clear roadmap to deal with it, which he said should include the creation of an institutional framework and financing.

PM SHEHBAZ: Earlier, during their bilateral meeting, the premier said the enormous task of rehabilitation and reconstruction following the recent devastating floods in the country would require substantial international support to build back greener, based on the model of sustainable development.

He quoted the government’s Post-Disaster Needs Assessment that the total estimated damage caused by the floods was over $32 billion — around 10 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product. The prime minister highlighted this during his meeting with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on the sidelines of the COP27 Summit being held here, APP quoted a press release issued by the PM Media Wing as saying.

The premier also reiterated that the unprecedented disaster was a clear manifestation of the challenge posed by climate change, and endorsed the secretary general’s call for climate justice and climate solidarity.

He said Pakistan was looking forward to convening an international ‘pledging conference’ bringing together all development partners. He also appreciated the creation of a UN inter-agency team, led by the deputy secretary general, to help Pakistan prepare a comprehensive rehabilitation and reconstruction plan to be presented at the conference.

With reference to COP27, the PM said the conference was a timely opportunity for the international community to catalyse concerted international action to mitigate the impact of climate change, and promote climate justice based on the principles of equity, but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities.

He emphasised that addressing “loss and damage” would be a key “deliverable” at the event.

Earlier on Monday, PM Sharif said the international community must come together to create a common charter for the survival of the planet. In his meeting with United Arab Emirates President Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan on the sidelines of the COP27 Summit, the PM welcomed the international community’s commitment, especially the Islamic world, to the goals and objectives of the conference.

Dealing with the effects of climate change was not for the developing countries alone, he added.

Meanwhile, the heads of state and governments in their interaction with PM Sharif on the sidelines of the summit termed his passion extraordinary, featuring efforts for urgent steps to save the country from the natural disaster, according to the PM Office.

The prime minister in his meetings with Tajik President Emomali Rahmon, Indonesian Vice President Maroof Amin, Iraqi President Abdul Latif Rashid, and Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati drew the attention of the international community to help Pakistan overcome the risks of climate change.

He highlighted the damage suffered by Pakistan in the wake of the recent flash floods and emphasized transforming the key climate-related decisions into concrete actions and credible plans.

Environmental lawyer Ahmed Rafay Alam told Dawn over the phone from Sharm el-Sheikh that the recognition and inclusion of loss and damage on the agenda gets the ball rolling.

The momentum is in the right direction, and now it is up to negotiators in the next two weeks to come up with a concrete plan. “The countries impacted by climate change need a window to get funds, which aren’t attached to any conditions and aren’t loans, but grants. Countries aren’t going to give money without a transparent mechanism by the receiving party that ensures the money is going where it’s needed,” he added.

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