Climate and Cooperation Crisis in South Asia

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Climate and Cooperation

Crisis in South Asia

The unbearable heat during this summer across South Asia and beyond and the deadly flood in Pakistan in August are stark reminders of the impact of climate change on these countries’ economies, human beings and ecology. While precipitation in South Asia has always been highly variable, the annual rainfall has steadily declined in some regions, triggering droughts, and increased in others causing flash floods. This is due to climate change; anthropogenic climate change is responsible for the increase in the frequency, intensity and amount of heavy rainfall globally. Many countries in the region also face the challenge of a rising sea level. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicted that the region would experience a sea-level rise leading to a loss of its land surface and internal migration.
The latest proof to the vulnerability of South Asia to climate change is the recent devastating floods in Pakistan that have caused gigantic losses in terms of life and property.
Pakistan has experienced an unusually wet monsoon this year. The season began in June, a month earlier than usual, after a nearly two-month-long drought. In August, the country received more than three times the normal rainfall. Though scientists can’t yet affirm the extent to which the catastrophe has been aggravated because of climate change, there is near unanimity that the deluge bears the imprint of a global warming-induced extreme weather event. Swollen rivers cause more havoc because drainage systems in cities have not received adequate attention from the country’s planners. In several parts of Pakistan, embankments that have not been repaired for years have been swept away.
Reasons for climate crisis in South Asia
Over the years, the South Asian countries made tremendous progress in terms of higher economic growth and per capita income. They have experienced structural transformation in their economies, with a decrease in the share of agriculture and an increase in that of industry and services sectors. Such impressive growth, however, does not readily guarantee sustainable development as the region is facing many climate-induced challenges. The vulnerability to climate change has been adversely impacting human settlements, infrastructure, agricultural production, food security, water quality and human health in the region.
Following are some of the reasons that are making climate change an emergency in this part of the world.
a. Rise in temperature
The Indian Ocean has seen an increase in sea surface temperatures of approximately one degree Celsius – against the global average of 0.7°C – in recent decades. A warmer atmosphere can hold more water vapour which has increased humidity and higher rainfall in South Asia.
b. Excessive rainfall
Higher-than-normal rainfall also tends to occur during a La Nina event and it results in an increased occurrence of floods in South Asia.
c. Heat waves
Prolonged and deadly heatwaves recently hit large swaths of India and Pakistan, affecting hundreds of millions of people and sparking the glacial melting and glacial lake outburst events with food and energy shortage.
d. Jet stream meandering
Jet streams are like rivers of wind high above in the atmosphere. These slim strips of strong winds have a huge influence on climate, as they can push air masses around and affect weather patterns. Because of global warming, jet streams meander (adopting a curvy path), changing atmospheric circulation by mixing cold polar air with hot tropic air, causing extreme weather events.
The Impacts
a. Afghanistan
· Since 1950, temperatures in Afghanistan have risen by 1.8°C.
· This leads, and will lead, to massive droughts.
· As a result of these increased droughts due to global warming, Afghanistan might face desertification and land degradation in the upcoming future.
b. Bangladesh
· The country’s vulnerability to climate change is due to a combination of geographical factors, such as its flat, low-lying and delta-exposed topography and socioeconomic factors, including high population density.
· The ADB has estimated that Bangladesh may experience a 2% GDP annual loss by 2050 because of climate change.
c. Bhutan
· Tangible climate change has resulted in the warming and recession of many of Bhutan’s glaciers, increasing the frequency and severity of glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs).
d. India
· Temperature rises on the Tibetan Plateau are causing Himalayan glaciers to retreat, threatening the flow rate of rivers like Ganges, Brahmaputra, Yamuna and others.
· Frequency of heat waves is increasing in the country because of climate change.
· Severe landslides and floods are projected to become increasingly common.
e. Maldives
· Many low-lying islands in the Maldives are threatened by sea level rise, with some predictions suggesting the nation will become uninhabitable in the upcoming years, if proper measures are not taken into account.
f. Nepal
· Climate change is causing greater variations in weather patterns and more extreme weather events in Nepal, like the drought that contributed to the exceptional number of wildfires that raged across Nepal during 2016 pre-monsoon season.
g. Pakistan
· In addition to increased heat, melting of glaciers in the Himalayas have impacted some of the major rivers of Pakistan.
· Between 1999 and 2018, Pakistan was ranked the 5th most affected country in terms of extreme climate caused by global warming.
· Currently, Pakistan is facing a serious climate catastrophe as early monsoon rains have caused devastating floods in Pakistan
h. Sri Lanka
· Sri Lanka has been experiencing an increase in extreme weather events, in the form of droughts and floods, in recent decades.
· The country is vulnerable to climate change’s impacts, due to a combination of political, geographic and social factors.
· These impacts include rising temperatures, which are expected to hit Sri Lanka’s most important sectors, like tourism, commercial agriculture and manufacturing, the hardest.
· On top of this, increased incidence of disease transmission and natural disasters will make the country vulnerable to unexpected catastrophes.
Need for Cooperation
Over the years, the South Asian countries made tremendous progress in terms of higher economic growth and per capita income. They have experienced structural transformation in their economies, with a decrease in the share of agriculture and an increase in that of industry and services sectors. Such impressive growth, however, does not readily guarantee sustainable development as the region is facing many climate-induced challenges. The vulnerability to climate change has been adversely impacting human settlements, infrastructure, agricultural production, food security, water quality and human health in the region.
Therefore, economic growth must be accompanied by the internalisation of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in policy discourses and the adaptive capacity to deal with the impact of climate change for sustainable growth. Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 13 calls for taking urgent steps to combat climate change and its impacts. Climate change can also hamper progress towards SDGs such as poverty eradication, zero hunger, health, water, clean energy, infrastructure, economic growth, sustainable cities and the overall well-being of society, as well as increase the cost of implementing SDGs. Since the South Asian countries are committed to implementing the SDGs by 2030, they must prioritise these challenges.
a. Power asymmetry and geography
The smaller South Asian states tend to look outwards, away from the region, to form a counterweight against India’s dominance. Also, five of the eight countries in South Asia, share a common border with India ­– Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Maldives have no land border with India. This geographical dependency affects these countries’ internal and external decision-making capabilities. This becomes a hard gap to fill when it comes to regional cooperation over important issues like climate change.
b. Geopolitics
In recent years, geopolitics has undermined the very idea of South Asia. China’s economic dominance and new alliances in the region have exacerbated tensions between the neighbouring countries of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal. The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) also seems to be at a crossroads.
c. Territorial issues
Since national borders are arbitrary, climate change is difficult to tackle. They are governed by politics and often neglect ecological boundaries and corridors. Diplomatic bitterness has impacted regional cooperation to a large extent. The rigid borders of South Asia, hastily established in the middle of the 20th century, are ill-equipped to deal with the challenges of the 21st century.
A collective plan
Given the nature of climate-induced problems faced by the countries in South Asia, policymakers should undertake both adaptation and mitigation measures. First, almost all countries in the region are severely affected by climate change despite being insignificant emitters. Hence, adaptation measures in the region must be scaled up to enhance adaptive capacity, strengthen resilience and reduce vulnerability to climate change, as laid out in the Global Goal on Adaptation in the Paris Climate Agreement.
Second, substantial investments must be made in renewable energy to make agriculture, manufacturing, construction and transport sectors greener. In most South Asian countries, energy is the major source of carbon dioxide emission, followed by either construction or transport sector. With the structural change in these countries, their economies rely on industrialisation for steady growth and development. Hence, though the share of GHG emissions by the South Asian countries together is only 8.36 percent of the total global emissions, mitigation measures must continue.
Third, implementation of mitigation and adaptation measures requires significant financial resources. The South Asian countries must consider transboundary action and collaboration on mitigation and adaptation by setting up a separate fund among themselves to address the impacts of climate change on the lives and livelihoods of people. This fund should be spent for emission reduction, scaling up economic loss reduction, and in the aftermath of climate-related disasters. A cross-governmental approach to adaptation and mitigation planning can ensure that such a fund yields climate-resilient development. An expert group of the relevant ministries, agencies and departments can be brought together to create an appropriate plan of action and ensure proper monitoring. The group can further involve public and private stakeholders to share their respective experiences and make climate financing more useful.
In addition, South Asia must also demand financial and technological support from the developed countries as part of the latter’s global commitments. The ever-increasing global GHG emission is a threat to all economies in the world, including those in South Asia. Such support should be based on the scientific analysis of requirements, with funds being provided based on the scale and extent of damage due to global warming under various scenarios.
Fourth, given the severity of climate change, countries within the region must incorporate the SDGs in their development plans to achieve climate-related objectives in a more systematic way. Some of the countries have undertaken this useful exercise, which helps demonstrate how various SDGs are interconnected and how national goals are aligned with the SDGs. This process provides clarity on the responsibilities of various stakeholders, such as policymakers, the private sector, non-government organisations, rights-based organisations, development partners and the media. This can also be useful to ensure better allocation of resources for specific climate-related goals and targets.
Finally, climate change is cross-border in nature, and so must be the solutions. To combat the impact of climate change and achieve the SDGs, concerted actions are needed. Such collaborative efforts must be between the South Asian countries and the developed nations.
Way forward
Countries have so far failed to harness the potential of pre-existing attempts to foster regional cooperation. Frameworks such as SAARC are failing to deliver, and cross-border tensions are holding back progress in environmental policy and scientific research. The combined disruptive forces of climate change and the global public health crisis have created a unique opportunity to focus on a green recovery and accelerate the transition to more sustainable systems. The abovementioned steps can be very beneficial when it comes to forging regional cooperation in South Asia. With regional stability at risk, South Asian countries need to address climate change quickly, and this can be accomplished in a number of ways.
Recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic offers South Asian countries a unique opportunity to adapt to and mitigate climate change by massively investing in resilient infrastructure, re-skilling their populations for high-productivity jobs, and rebuilding their economies around cleaner energy.

The writer is an expert on International Law.

Muhammad Ali Asghar

This is the Admin of this website

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