Pakistan must invest in climate resilience to survive: Bilawal Bhutto

Islamabad: Pakistan must invest in climate resilience for its survival, prime ministerial hopeful Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said in a wide-ranging interview.

He said he had been ready to quit the government while he was foreign minister because there were no new climate-resilience projects in the federal budget following devastating floods that killed more than 1,700 people in 2022.

“I was ready to leave,” he said Wednesday, adding it was only after he threatened to leave that some projects were included.

The country is two weeks away from parliamentary elections, but so far only Bhutto-Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party has made climate adaptability and resilience key pledges in its platform. The AP has requested an interview with his rival, three-time former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, but has not received a response.

Unprecedented downpours, worsened by global warming, washed away homes and schools while displacing hundreds of thousands of people in 2022. An international donors’ conference in Geneva last year pledged billions of dollars, but parts of the country still feel the aftermath.

Bilawal Bhutto, who was foreign minister at the time of the floods, spoke in Nurpur Noon village in eastern Punjab province. He regretted that climate change and its impact on Pakistan are not a greater part of public and political discourse.

He said more needs to be done to communicate climate change and its impact to Pakistanis — and urged fellow politicians to take the issue more seriously.

He said he was “shocked, horrified, livid and furious at the callous attitude” of lawmakers for not including climate resilience in the budget after the flooding. He said he didn’t know who would come to Pakistan’s aid if there were floods in the future and the state wasn’t funding such projects itself.

“Pakistan must invest in climate resilience for its survival. Climate change is an existential threat. People will face floods and then perpetual droughts. We have to convince the people of Pakistan of the crisis this is.”

Earlier Wednesday, Bilawal Bhutto addressed an election rally in the nearby agricultural and industrial town of Bhalwal. Some in the crowd held up pictures of his mother, two-time Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated at a rally in 2007.

His grandfather is another former prime minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who was executed in 1979 after being deposed in a coup. Zulfikar and Benazir still command loyalty and reverence among the party’s supporters.

Although the family has dominated Pakistani politics for decades, Bilawal Bhutto needs to defeat another dynasty, the Sharifs, if he wants to lead the next government.

It’s a tough task given that he won his first parliamentary seat in 2018 and only entered the Cabinet after Imran Khan was ousted as prime minister and his successor, Shehbaz Sharif, the brother of Nawaz, gave Bilawal Bhutto the foreign minister role.