- Shah Meer BalochIslamabad-based reporter covering Pakistan for The Guardian.
- Asad Rehmanexecutive director of War on Want and lead spokesperson for the Climate Justice Coalition.
Pakistan has declared a national emergency as massive floods continue to devastate the country, displacing 33 million people and bringing the death toll to over 1,000 since June. We speak with Shah Meer Baloch, Islamabad-based reporter for The Guardian, who describes how the floods have swept away homes, roads and bridges in what Baloch and Pakistan’s top climate official have called a serious “climate catastrophe.” We also speak with Asad Rehman, executive director of War on Want, who says Pakistan and other poor countries are “stuck in a toxic interplay between a climate catastrophe that they are not responsible for, increasing hunger, structural inequality and a rigged economic system.” He calls on rich countries to reach zero net emissions by 2030 instead of pursuing geoengineering schemes like carbon capture and storage — a tactic that is funded in President Biden’s new Inflation Reduction Act.
AMY GOODMAN: Pakistan has declared a national emergency as massive floods continue to devastate the country. At least 119 people died over the weekend, bringing the death toll to over 1,000 since June. More than 33 million people have been displaced. Pakistan’s top climate official described the flooding as a, quote, “serious climate catastrophe.” Floods have swept away homes, roads and bridges across Pakistan, where some regions have received 600% more rain than usual. Survivors say they’ve lost everything in the floods.
FLOOD SURVIVOR: [translated] There is no administration here. The deputy commissioner is doing nothing. Look, the houses are collapsing, and water is standing here. It has been raining for a week to 10 days. You can see there my house has collapsed. A total loss, and I could not save anything from it.
AMY GOODMAN: Pakistan’s foreign minister, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, has called on international support to help Pakistan recover from the floods.
BILAWAL BHUTTO ZARDARI: They are absolutely devastating. I haven’t seen any destruction or devastation of this scale. I find it very difficult to put into words. The phraseologies that we’re used to, whether it’s “monsoon rains” or “flooding,” doesn’t quite seem to encapsulate the ongoing devastation and disaster that we’re still witnessing. … And the fact that Pakistan contributes negligible amounts to the overall carbon footprint, but we do — we are devastated by climate disasters such as these time and time again, and we have to adapt, within our limited resources, in whatever way we can, to live in this new environment.
AMY GOODMAN: The floods come as the climate emergency continues to wreak havoc across the globe. Europe is confronting its worst drought in 500 years. China is facing an unprecedented heat wave that’s dried up rivers and lakes. Here in the United States, the mayor of Jackson, Mississippi, urged residents Sunday night to evacuate the city as it braces for more flooding.
We’re joined now by two guests. In London, Asad Rehman is with us, executive director of War on Want, lead spokesperson for the Climate Justice Coalition. And joining us from Islamabad, Pakistan, by phone is Shah Meer Baloch. He covers Pakistan for The Guardian. His new piece is titled “'People are getting sick': destitution in flood-hit Pakistan.”
Shah Meer Baloch, thank you so much for joining us. Can you just describe what’s happening in your country? Shah Meer Baloch, we’re not hearing you. If you could start again?
SHAH MEER BALOCH: Hearing me right now?
AMY GOODMAN: I do hear you now.
SHAH MEER BALOCH: Yeah, actually, things are getting worse with each passing day. And we know, and the prime minister of Pakistan has already mentioned it. Like, the half of Pakistan — more than half of Pakistan, in four corners of the Pakistan, are underwater. Like, there is already a international call for — Pakistan has called for international help. And from Balochistan to Sindh province to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces, they all are underwater, and it’s quite a climate catastrophe.
And Pakistan is suffering so much. And people — like, in far-flung areas, people are devastated, and the government machineries, they are trying their best to help and reach out, but they have lost access to many parts of Pakistan, like in Balochistan, which covers half of Pakistan. Like, the roads, rail and the bridges have been wiped out from this flash flood. And the only ways to reach all those displaced people and affected people is through helicopters, and the Army has been called on in entire Pakistan for help. But again, Pakistan has been going through an economic crisis for the last couple months, and it makes it harder for Pakistan to go for relief and rescue operations across the country.
Apart from the worst we have seen right now in couple of weeks, Pakistan is already going through a political crisis. After — since April, when Imran Khan was ousted from power through institutional means, like vote of no confidence, since then, he has been taking on the military and the West and the government, like, for — the current government, for orchestrating and conspiring against his government. So, now he has taken on the government, and so it’s quite very hard.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the connection between the flooding and climate change?
SHAH MEER BALOCH: Actually, it’s quite clear. We have seen in Pakistan, in May — I already wrote a story on it, about the heat waves in Pakistan. It was the very worst heat waves in May. Just imagine, in May, more than 50 degrees Celsius was recorded. And in May or June, or the end of the June, then we had abnormal monsoon, and that have just been going on, with some intervals. In August, the — it’s a climate crisis. In August, we have seen snowfall in Ziarat, a town which is around not more than 100 kilometers away from Balochistan’s provincial capital. Just seeing snowfall, and heat waves in May and snowfall in August and abnormal monsoons, these all are the climate crisis and a climate catastrophe. And there’s already a debate in Pakistan. Like, Pakistan doesn’t contribute more than 1% to carbon emission, and it’s in the receiving end of this climate crisis.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to some of the voices of more survivors in the floods in Pakistan.
AKBAR BALOCH: [translated] We are very worried. Our elders are saying they have not seen such rains and floods in the past 30 to 35 years. This is the first time we have seen such heavy rains. Now we are concerned that, God forbid, this type of heavy rain may continue in the future, because the weather pattern is changing. So we are now really nervous about this. We are really worried.
SHER MOHAMMAD: [translated] The rain destroyed my house. My livestock were all lost, my fields devastated. Only our lives were saved. Nothing else is left. Thank God, he saved the lives of my children. Now we are at Allah’s mercy.
MOHAMMAD AMIN: [translated] My property, my house, everything was flooded. So we took shelter on the roof of a government school for three days and three nights, around 200 people with kids. We sat on the roof for three days. When the water receded a little, we dragged the kids out of the mud and walked for two days until we arrived at a safe place.
AMY GOODMAN: Voices of survivors. Shah Meer Baloch, I know you have to leave. I just wanted to ask you — Al Jazeera says Pakistan is ranked eighth among countries most vulnerable to climate crisis despite contributing less than 1% to global carbon emissions, according to the Climate Change Risk Index of 2021. The significance of this, and what you feel needs to be done, the global response right now? I think we have lost Shah Meer Baloch, who was speaking to us from Islamabad. But, you know, I’m going to put this question to our other guest, Asad Rehman, executive director of War on Want, lead spokesperson for the Climate Justice Coalition, because it’s such a critical one. And it’s not only about Pakistan, but it’s about who contributes the most to the climate catastrophe and who feels the effects of it the most — this is not only in Pakistan, but around the world — and what global responsibility actually means, Asad.
ASAD REHMAN: Good afternoon, Amy, or good morning there.
Well, I mean, first of all, as we heard from Shah Meer, you know, the scale of the devastation that’s affected Pakistan is incredible. And we often look at these catastrophes in isolation. If we cast our minds back, we could be talking about heat waves and floods in Pakistan in 2010, '11, ’12, ’14, ’15. It's going literally every single year. And, of course, the Earth is out of balance, in just over 1 degree warming. And no matter what we do, that is now irreversible. What we can do is, of course, stop it from getting much, much worse. And these heat waves and floods that we’re seeing playing out all around the world are now between 30 to 100 times more likely because of the climate crisis, and they’re happening sooner each year, they’re happening more extreme, and, of course, they’re lasting longer. So, how do people recover from this never-ending crisis?
And when we look at Pakistan, where the World Food Programme already estimates that 70% of Pakistan’s population don’t have access to proper nutrition, once again, it’s the poorest, those who have done the least, who are seeing their lives and livelihoods being destroyed. And as Shah Meer and yourself said, you know, Pakistan, like many countries in the Global South, are responsible for a negligible amount of global emissions, about 1%, but they are stuck in a toxic interplay between a climate catastrophe that they’re not responsible for, increasing hunger, structural inequality and a rigged economic system that has literally left the poor hanging by a thread and many states absolutely overwhelmed. And, you know, the situation is going to get much, much worse.
And for Pakistan, which is a country where it has the largest amount of glaciers, about 7,000 glaciers, as these glaciers begin to melt, these glacial lakes are going to overflow. And it’s already estimated that two-thirds of these glaciers will be lost. And whilst today we see floods, when these glaciers are gone, the real question is going to be: Where is the freshwater, that provides not just for the people of Pakistan, but for hundreds of millions of people across the Indian subcontinent?
Now, when we talk about the reality of this crisis — and the warnings have been given to us, right? The dangers of breaching the 1.5-degree guardrail are going to be critical, that these extreme weather events are going to spiral out of control, and we’re told that we have to halve global admissions. So, rich countries really need to be cutting their emissions as close to zero by 2030 as possible, so that the rest of the world does have a little bit more space, those who are the least responsible. But currently we’re heading toward warming of just over 2.7 degrees at the best, and we’ve seen rich countries ramping up a massive new wave of fossil fuels, from the U.S. to the U.K., Canada, Australia, to the EU. It’s literally a bonanza for fossil fuel companies, who, having made $2 trillion in profit over the last three decades, are now openly betting they can make trillions more in profit. This is, as the U.N. special rapporteur on extreme poverty, Philip Alston, said, this is the reality of climate apartheid. The rich are going to use their wealth to try and seek safety, and literally leave the poor to burn.
AMY GOODMAN: You know, talking about the poorest areas, in Pakistan alone, Balochistan has been hit the hardest. It’s the largest and most impoverished of the provinces. And I wanted to highlight what U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken tweeted earlier this month. He said, “We stand by Pakistan in hard times and offer our support to flood victims. In addition to $100,000 in immediate relief, the U.S. announced $1 million to build resilience against natural disasters, and we continue to work together to mitigate future impacts of the climate crisis.” Your response, Asad Rehman?
ASAD REHMAN: It’s beyond the laughable. It’s criminal. Look, the poor in the world are hanging by a thread. And, you know, there was a promise made in 2009, led by the United States, for $100 billion in climate finance. Thirteen years later, that has not been met. And the scale of what is now needed is estimated in the trillions.
Look, rich countries are simply turning their back on the majority of the world, you know, for the U.S. to announce a million dollars, for the U.K. to announce $1.5 million. Look, the reality is we are seeing a climate crisis which is overwhelming the ability of states in the Global South to be able to respond. And as I said, it’s not just one crisis. It’s a crisis of acute hunger. It’s a crisis of structural inequality, of poverty and injustice. And these are all leading to a situation where the question is, for the majority of people: Is life simply going to be possible? And, unfortunately, the reality, as we’ve seen in these climate summits, as we saw in Glasgow last year, and that likely we’re going to see in Sharm el-Sheikh in the COP in November, is rich countries saying, “We will not be liable for the very damages that our economies are causing,” and will turn their backs on the poor.
AMY GOODMAN: The Climate Policy Initiative earlier this month releasing that report that showed Africa is getting just 12% of the finance it needs to manage the impact of climate change, which, of course, as we know, it didn’t cause, the report noting African countries need a quarter of a trillion dollars annually to move to renewable energy and address the effects of climate change, but funding in 2020 was just $29.5 billion. Your response, Asad?
ASAD REHMAN: Yeah, it’s a drop in the ocean. And increasingly, even the amount of money that is given is often tied to loans, so it’s more debt creating. And we know that many countries in the Global South now are overwhelmed by debt. Look, Pakistan, just going back to Pakistan, you know, it’s estimated that it’s about to pay out $6.5 billion in debt repayments over the next three years. Its debt is running in the scale of hundreds of billions. We saw what happened in Sri Lanka with debt repayments and the government simply telling people not to eat, or to eat less food. The reality is this is a moment of permanent and multiple crises, all fueling each other and fueling these injustices.
What we really need right now is the richest countries in the world to actually live up to their responsibilities. Look, there’s no shortage of money. We’ve seen that, just looking at the amount of wealth that is extracted from the Global South, the fact that the richest billionaires saw their wealth increase by a trillion or over a trillion dollars just in the last year alone. What we need now is something like a global Green New Deal, a new Marshall Plan, the richest countries to actually provide the finance that is needed to the Global South, not only to deal with the climate impacts, not only to deal with their ability to be able to adapt to this crisis — and, of course, that’s limited in itself — but also for rich countries to actually cut their emissions. You can’t simply keep expanding fossil fuels, and you can’t simply watch the rest of the world burn.
And, you know, it’s not just Pakistan. It’s not just China. You know, we’re seeing in the Horn of Africa at this very moment fifth consecutive year of drought, the longest for 40 years. Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, estimated up to 15 million people face acute hunger. We’re now in the era of climate famines. We either have to stop this and actually begin to address it, or literally we are going to see a world where, for the majority of people, life is simply going to be impossible.
AMY GOODMAN: And I wanted to ask you about geoengineering and the whole issue of China deploying cloud-seeding airplanes over drought-stricken parts of the country as hundreds of millions of people endure China’s longest heat wave on record, China’s Ministry of Water Resources ordering planes to drop silver iodide into the clouds over Hubei province, where prolonged heat has damaged crops and led parts of the Yangtze River to run dry. Asad?
ASAD REHMAN: Yeah, what we’re seeing is now increasingly desperate, mad and simply dangerous experiments with geoengineering. So, this basically says we can carry on polluting, and then somehow we’ll find a technological answer to deal with these impacts. There isn’t one. We actually don’t know what happens if we try and intervene in very, very delicate ecosystems that exist. You know, the humanity’s history, all around the last over the last few hundred thousands years, has been when we’ve had a stable environment. That environment is no longer stable. So, when it’s no longer stable, surely the most important thing is to stop fueling the crisis, rather than thinking that some technological answer is going to be able to address this.
And it’s not just China. We are seeing now, increasingly, more and more money being poured into sort of idea of techno fixes. And we’ve seen mad ideas such as pouring mirrors into the atmosphere to deflect the heat of the sun. We’ve seen mad ideas about pouring more iron filings into the oceans. All of these things, I mean, it’s like, you know — I mean, it’s beyond, like, fearful. Sometimes I’m literally astounded that these ideas have got so much traction. And they are getting traction because people refuse to deal with what is the core of this problem. And the core of the problem is we have a broken energy system dominated by fossil fuel companies, and we have a broken food system dominated by industrial agribusiness. If we stop those two and stop deforestation, we can actually create a world which is not just cleaner and fairer, will cut emissions, but actually allow people to be able to live with dignity.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about a part of the IRA, the climate bill that was signed in the United States, the Inflation Reduction Act, about CCS, carbon capture and storage, funded by that bill.
ASAD REHMAN: Look, you know, carbon capture and storage is the idea that somehow we can carry on polluting, and then we can somehow capture the carbon from fossil fuels and from the industrial processes and bury it into the ground. Now, all the experiments that ever happened have all shown that there is nothing to the scale of what is needed. The only possible example that may work requires a land mass potentially three times the size of the Indian subcontinent. It’s just simply madness. What we are doing is, it’s like your house being on fire, and then you having a conversation about, “Well, in the future, should we put our — what color should we paint our fire doors?” No, the first thing to do is put out the fire. Let’s focus on doing that.
We know what needs to be done. We can end our addiction to fossil fuels. We can invest in clean, renewable energy. And we can tackle energy poverty. That’s what is needed. And unfortunately, this shows the influence of the fossil fuel industry, that simply want to continue business as usual and are banking on really risky, dangerous and, frankly, catastrophic policy initiatives that will not deliver the emissions needed within the timescale that we need. We need to cut emissions now, this decade, not there in the future, not trying to suck carbon out of the atmosphere in 50 years’ time or 70 years’ time. We need to act now while we still can.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, I wanted to ask you, here in Mississippi, in the United States, the capital city, Jackson, Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba urged residents in flood zones to pack enough supplies for days and to evacuate if they can.
MAYOR CHOKWE ANTAR LUMUMBA: I have already received calls from individuals wondering or questioning whether they should get out now. If you are capable of getting out now, get out now. Get out as soon as possible.
AMY GOODMAN: So, I want to thank you both for being with us. Thank you so much to Asad Rehman. Final words, Asad?
ASAD REHMAN: Look, the poor are hanging by a thread, and the richest countries have turned their back. It’s now up to us as ordinary people. It’s up to us to build our movements in the Global North, hold our governments to account, hold our corporations to account. Many people are facing a cost-of-living crisis. Many people, of course, are facing these climate impacts. And many people already faced an existing crisis of structural inequality. All of these can be resolved. We know what needs to be done. What we lack is the political will of our government and political leaders. We have to change that.
AMY GOODMAN: Asad Rehman, executive director of War on Want, lead spokesperson for the Climate Justice Coalition. And I also want to thank Shah Meer Baloch, who joined us from Islamabad, Pakistan.
Coming up, we speak to a former FBI special agent, the Justice Department releasing a partially redacted version of the FBI affidavit used to get a search warrant for former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate. What does it say? Stay with us.