By Mrinalini Shinde:
As global leaders came together to discuss climate change in New York this week, and international pressure for coherent climate treaty mounts, it is time we consider multiple aspects of the climate change debate, and one such aspect is the nexus between climate and military strategy. If there is one thing that the recent Kashmir floods have taught us, it is that climate change and natural disasters transcend national borders, and it is time we acknowledged the link between our climate strategy and our national security. The Center for Science and Environment has stated that the Kashmir floods, along with a spate of recent floods across the Indian subcontinent can be attributed to changing climatic conditions. The floods came just a week after the Ministry of Home Affairs suggested that strategic border projects within a hundred kilometers of the international border should be exempt from environmental clearance to avoid delay in defence measures.
Last year, Uttarakhand experienced catastrophic floods after a spate of construction projects in an eco-sensitive zone. A new draft notification by the Ministry of Environment and Forests seeks to reduce the number of construction projects which require environmental clearance. There seems to almost be a pattern, where environmental impact or demarcation of sensitive areas are seen as a hindrance to development and security considerations. However, there is a need to acknowledge the impact that climate change will have not only on India’s domestic interests, but also on its military strategy across Asia.
The major consequences of climate change include recession of glaciers and rising of sea levels. The rivers of Northern India are fed by the glaciers in the Himalayas, and glaciers retreating will first result in massive floods as the glaciers melt, subsequently resulting in overall decrease in the volume of water held. Glacial recession will result in erratic instances of flooding and scarcity of water. Moreover, this will affect areas surrounding our international borders with Pakistan, China and Bangladesh, and there could be a possibility of conflict over sharing of the depleting Himalayan Rivers.
The melting of the polar ice caps will lead to the increase in sea levels across the world, imposing a threat on the territories of low-lying countries like Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Maldives and coastal India and Pakistan. Submergence of existing borders can lead to struggles to establish newer territories, which is undoubtedly a security threat.
The threat of climate change is a global phenomenon affecting all nations, as is its impact. Consequences like floods, water scarcity, crop failure arising from lack of rainfall, lead to political instability and trans-border migration. Not only does international migration cause security concerns, but increased pressure on existing resources accelerates the possibility of civil wars. Not too long ago, we have witnessed the magnitude of civil war in the Middle East, where lack of food and water were major causes of social unrest.
On the international stage, India has consistently supported the policy of ‘common but differentiated responsibility’, in which developing countries have far lower thresholds of climate action than developed nations. This is a fair stance to maintain considering the energy demands of the developing world, but it is also true that globally, we are at a juncture when we need to maximize our efforts to combat climate change, instead of pushing for limited responsibility. The Conference of Parties will meet in Lima in December this year to try and achieve consensus on a global agreement to be signed in Paris in 2015. It is in India’s interest to adopt a flexible and cooperative role, in order to aid a universal agreement that will effectively tackle climate change. There should also be an emphasis on international technology transfer and investment in the renewable energy sector, in order to prevent the inevitable conflicts arising out of rapidly declining oil and gas reserves.
If India does genuinely want to ensure sustainable development and security interests of the sovereign state, it cannot afford to dismiss environmental protection measures as a hindrance. Rather, our climate change negotiations should reflect these concerns seriously, so that we do not have to resort to armed conflict in wars arising from climate change.
India needs to ensure that the climate interests of the subcontinent are safeguarded, in order to minimize the threat of war within Asia. We need to increase our domestic measures to protect the environment and see it as a pathway and not a hindrance to national development and security. Diplomacy and co-operation between countries towards equitable solutions to minimize environmental impact and strengthen climate change mitigation measures would be far more effective in protecting India’s sovereign interests.
This post has also been published in the Deccan Herald newspaper.