By Sagarika Bhatta:
South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) nations, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, can make a joint effort, plans and strategies to address climate change in South Asia, pre and post Conference of the Parties (COP) under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) conference. In COP 21, India was one of the BASIC (Brazil, South Asia, India, and China) group. Bhutan is an ambitious country in the climate agreement, Maldives and Bangladesh are among voices of climate change, and Nepal’s National Adaptation Plan is recognised and extolled by the international community. With their respective positions and plans, SAARC nations can play a major role in containing climate change. But the SAARC nations are divided on this cause.
Among these nations, Bangladesh and Maldives together are seeking joint efforts to keep the ceiling for rising temperatures at 1.5 degrees. Nepal, which being in the lap of the Himalayas is directly affected by climate change with regard to its water resources and agriculture, could have led the way with its Adaptation Plan jointly with SAARC nations under UNFCCC. India being the third largest greenhouse gas (GHG) emitter worldwide, could have jointly developed ideas and plans of investment, carbon trading/marketing, clean energy supply within SAARC nations leading to emission reduction.
Most of the South Asian countries are affected by climate change and are also economically deprived. In such a situation, it becomes difficult to cope with the effects of climate change alone. According to an ADB report, climate change costs in South Asia will increase over time especially in the long term. Unless we use less fossil fuels, South Asia stands to lose an equivalent of 1.8 % of its annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 2050. Among SAARC countries, Maldives will be the hardest hit in terms of GDP loss. Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, India and Sri Lanka are expected to suffer a loss of 2.0, 2.2, 1.4, 1.8 and 1.2 percent in the same time period.
SAARC was established for finding solutions to their common problems in the spirit of friendship with one of the objectives being to promote active collaboration and mutual assistance in the economic, social, cultural, technical and scientific fields. Since the climate change issue is a common problem, it cannot be ignored. Among these countries half of them are mountainous and half are surrounded by the seas. But the region faces similar effects of climate change.
With regard to addressing it, during the fourteenth SAARC conference held in New Delhi, the climate change issue was taken up and perusing ways of developing climate resilience in South Asia was agreed upon. Following this, an inter-ministerial meeting was held in Dhaka in 2008. It adopted the ‘Dhaka Declaration and SAARC Action Plan on Climate Change’.
Since then, this together would have made some impact in these regions. In the 2010 Climate Summit in Cancun, Indian Environment Minister called SAARC environment ministries for negotiation but the effort could not be sustained and remained on paper only.
These regions have similar climactic and geographic variations. The ways for adaptation and mitigation are also similar. Yet, there are few joint initiatives that would help and complement each other’s advantages and address their disadvantages in the process of adapting to and mitigation of climate change. Countries like Nepal, Bangladesh, Maldives, and Pakistan often criticise India on positions in the climate agreements etc. And there is a lack of mutual cooperation of sharing and implementation of programmes.
In COP 2015, SAARC countries showed up as united for a common concern. Leading the SAARC position, Govinda Pokharel in COP 20 had emphasised, “We must work out a post-2020 framework that is based on equity, CBDR-RC and protects the poor and vulnerable people in south Asia from the disastrous impact of climate change.” These countries had agreed to send all representatives in December post-COP to India for a joint conference on climate change issues. We have not seen any progress on that yet.
Another example of their lack of cooperation is that in the 17th SAARC summit, they signed an agreement on rapid response to natural disasters. But not much work has been carried out with regard to it apart from India’s relief effort in the aftermath of the Nepal earthquake.
On March 17, 2016, the SAARC meeting has again failed to reach an agreement over any issues to overcome climate change effects and plans for mitigation. It should have been one of the main agenda of the SAARC meeting in 2016. These SAARC countries could have come up with common understanding and a plan for minimising its dependence on fossil fuels as a common approach for mitigation of climate change in response to the Paris climate talk. It would have been based on the principles of common but differentiated responsibilities, and respective capabilities and equality under UNFCCC. The exchange of ideas, replication and practice of adaptation plans to climate change in similar areas would have been things to talk about.
The representative of Nepal, Joint Secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Mani Sharma Bhattarai, however, did talk about Nepal’s successful community forestry programme and suggested that it could be replicated all over South Asia. The programme has been contributing to income generation, biodiversity, livelihood and climate change. “We want to gift this successful model to the rest of South Asia. Other member states have taken it positively,” said Bhattarai.
In addition, India and Pakistan are now to host SAARC Disaster Management and the SAARC Energy Centre respectively.
As an example, EU together aims to keep mitigation as the core of this collective objective, but with an equal role for adaptation, finance, and technology. SAARC countries, with their resources and knowledge sharing and joint programmes, could tackle the effects of climate change very well. SAARC nations can find a solution for now and the future by having a common ambition and by keeping it accountable under the Dhaka Declaration and SAARC Action Plan on Climate Change and the Common SAARC Position under the UNFCCC.