Prime Minister of Pakistan Shehbaz Sharif speaks at the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly on September 23, 2022 in New York City. Image Credit: AFP

UNITED NATIONS: Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif warned the United Nations on Friday that climate disasters will not remain confined to his country, in the wake of floods that have devastated the South Asian giant.

“What happened in Pakistan will not stay in Pakistan,” he said in his first address to the General Assembly, adding that life had “changed forever.”

Sharif drew attention to the injustice inherent in the crisis, with his country at “ground zero” of climate change but responsible for less than one per cent of carbon emissions.

“Why are my people paying the price of such high global warming through no fault of their own? Nature has unleashed her fury on Pakistan without looking at our carbon footprint, which is next to nothing,” he said.

“It is therefore entirely reasonable to expect some approximation of justice for this loss and damage, not to mention building back better with resilience,” he said, adding his voice to growing calls among developing countries for financial compensation from rich polluters.

Pakistan has been lashed by unprecedented monsoon downpours flooding a third of the country - an area the size of the United Kingdom - and killing nearly 1,600 people, according to the latest government figures.

More than seven million people have been displaced, many living in makeshift tents without protection from mosquitoes, and often with little access to clean drinking water or washing facilities.

Climate compensation

The issue of "loss and damage" payments is deeply contentious.

Supporters argue that historic polluters have a moral imperative to pay for the loss and damage already caused by multiplying extreme weather events, which have not been prevented by measures to mitigate or adapt to global warming.

The idea has so far been shot down by rich nations, but UN chief Antonio Guterres endorsed the proposal a few days ago and it is due to be discussed at the next UN climate summit in Egypt.

Pakistan has estimated total financial losses at $30 billion, and on Friday its finance minister Miftah Ismail tweeted the county was seeking debt relief from bilateral creditors.

Turning his attention to neighboring Afghanistan, Sharif urged the international community to heed a $4.2 billion UN appeal for humanitarian and economic assistance and release the country's financial reserves, frozen since the Taliban seized power last year.

"Pakistan is working to encourage respect for the rights of Afghan girls and women to education and work. Yet, at this point, isolating the Afghan Interim Government could aggravate the suffering of the Afghan people, who are already destitute," he said.