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Pakistan's Foreign Minister says the climate 'loss and damage fund' is a victory

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Earlier this year, a third of Pakistan was under water. Deadly floods killed some 1,700 people and affected more than 30 million. Climate change helped drive that devastation. Well, now, in a historic first, a fund will help compensate countries for that sort of damage. Negotiators at the U.N. climate conference agreed in the final hours that the world's richest countries, which are most responsible for global warming, will pay into a pot of money to help poorer countries deal with climate disasters. Pakistan led the bloc of developing countries known as the G-77 at those negotiations. And Pakistan's foreign minister, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, joins us now. Welcome.

BILAWAL BHUTTO ZARDARI: Thank you for having me.

SHAPIRO: How big a victory is this agreement for you?

ZARDARI: I think that this is a big victory, not for any one individual or one country, but this is a big victory for all of those who've suffered from the devastation of climate change. And it's something that has been a long-standing demand to allow countries who suffer exorbitantly as a result from climate change, but didn't necessarily contribute as much to the position we find ourselves in, for them to have an opportunity.

SHAPIRO: There's still a lot to be decided. Tell us what the most immediate questions are and what the timeline is to answer them.

ZARDARI: The questions are - who's going to contribute to the fund, how are we going to come up with the international financial mechanisms and who are we going - are we going to get it to those who need it the most? Our time frame is the next COP hosted in the United Arab Emirates. And I think that that's sort of a good target for everyone to achieve.

SHAPIRO: In the past, countries have failed to keep similar promises. Are you worried that they won't follow through this time?

ZARDARI: So as the chair of G-77 plus China, obviously many, many countries are worried about our inability in the past to live up to some of our commitments. And I think that is why it was so important to have the language on the fund. And I think it does. It goes a long way to show that people are committed to this.

SHAPIRO: But ultimately, it's not binding, right? There's no consequences if developed countries don't follow through. You're kind of taking it on faith.

ZARDARI: Well, I think that the sort of the consequences for our planet, as in for all of us, not just for the Global North, but also the Global South, not just for the developed world, but also for the developing world. And being in the position of chair of G-77 plus China, it was all the more important for us, having gone through this tragedy, that this had to get done.

SHAPIRO: You've referred to G-77 plus China, which is the group of developing nations. China is currently the world's largest emitter, although the U.N. still considers it a developing country, and China has opposed paying into the fund. Do you think they should contribute?

ZARDARI: We've got a commitment to established a fund and financial arrangements to address loss and damage and a timeline attached to that for us to work out the details. I look forward to working with all our partners within G-77 and the UAE, which will be hosting the next COP and to ensure...

SHAPIRO: And you're not going to express an opinion of whether or not China should pay into this?

ZARDARI: Well, no, it's not about - no, no, no, no, no, no, no. It's not about not - about who should or who should not pay into it. We all have to do our part to combat climate change. As far as China is concerned, I recently came back from there, and they're leading the way as far as reforestation, green energy, etc. But we all have to work together to collectively survive and combat these challenges without necessarily, you know, sort of finger-wagging with one side or the other, that, you know, you're doing too much, you're not doing enough.

SHAPIRO: Let's imagine that this does get fully funded. There is still, inevitably, going to be more need than there will be money. So who do you think should get first priority? How should decisions be made about where the money is spent?

ZARDARI: Oh, that's a very - I think that's a very interesting question. I think that there'll be a difficult - everybody faces their own challenge. I don't think there's going to be a fund big enough that will cover every country. It's not sort of a future problem is now because it's not only Pakistan that has been damaged just this year. In fact, Pakistan was first damaged by historic heat waves, forest fires and a massive drought and then followed by this flooding that you see. So a fund available can, you know, contribute in the way it will. But if I had the space to be able to go to the World Bank, to the IMF, to maybe a climate bank, to other institutions where I would take my own loans at reasonable rates given the fact that I'm dealing with sort of a climate catastrophe that would allow me access to the finances I need to get my own people back on their own feet and be able to counter the various challenges that we face.

SHAPIRO: Despite the fact that this loss and damage fund was established, negotiators at the meeting still could not agree to phase out fossil fuels. And so - big picture - isn't the world still on an unsustainable track?

ZARDARI: So the picture that the climate scientists are painting are extremely devastating. And for us, that picture became reality for us. This is something that has an urgency for now. I wish that there was a technical option where we could all agree that we're going to turn off our fossil fuel addiction tomorrow. That's not possible. I think it's better that we achieved a practical consensus about something that we can do and can achieve, rather than agreeing to something that we would be unable to achieve as of now.

SHAPIRO: Pakistan's foreign minister, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, thank you for joining us.

ZARDARI: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Christopher Intagliata is an editor at All Things Considered, where he writes news and edits interviews with politicians, musicians, restaurant owners, scientists and many of the other voices heard on the air.
Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.