The climate time bomb: Where is the South Asian leadership?
With Jammu and Kashmir inundated and Punjab in Pakistan flooded, the time bomb is ticking away. Climate change has been declared to be the greatest threat facing mankind this century.
South Asian countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar are all vulnerable today.
We have not yet resolved the basic issues of poverty, hunger and inequality, which breed discontent and terrorism. And in these troubling times, we are forced to face the brunt of extreme weather events because of growing climate variability.
Recent scientific research shows near to virtual certainty of linkages between climate change and extreme weather events.
Climate change is a potent threat multiplier that will make all our problems much worse.
The investment on constructing Asia’s largest solar thermal power plant in the Cholistan Desert and subsidies to buy solar technology for households and institutions in India are good starting points for sustainable growth pathways to mitigate climate change. However, a lot more is expected from the South Asian leadership.
In India and Pakistan, we have popularly elected strong governments, who now should show pragmatic leadership to tackle the climate crisis.
Already a proposal has been submitted to the Pakistan government to request India, as part of the current “flood aid diplomacy” to establish a system for the real-time exchange of hydrological (rivers flow and reservoirs level) data between the two countries.
The availability of such information on a real time basis can significantly enhance Pakistan’s flood forecasting and warning capabilities.
Pakistani experts, instead of waiting for delayed information through the Indus Water Commissioners of India and Pakistan, can easily interpret the imminent release of water from the Indian dams and rivers with enhanced precision, along with a relatively larger reaction time.
This will result in greater ability to save human life and property of people in the region, particularly on the Pakistani side, it being a lower riparian.
Explore: A chronology of floods in Pakistan
India and Pakistan should also facilitate a way to strengthen engagement with the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) on the issues of environment. The climate crisis has taught us that nature doesn’t respect any artificial, modern nation-state boundaries. And we need regional eco-system approaches for which all countries have to come together as one is dependent on the other.
Stronger enforcement of norms to protect the environment in one country will help the other to mitigate.
That is going to be the magic mantra. Most countries in South Asia are not responsible for major green house gas emissions. Still, they are the most vulnerable, and countries like Bangladesh and Maldives face the threat of extinction with rising sea levels.
A united front of SAARC in the global climate change negotiations (Conference of Parties) to take place in Lima later this year and Paris next year will help to bring the issue of equity back in the international discourse.
The pressure exerted by SAARC together on advanced countries of the global north will help all member states to access innovations happening in green technology in the developed world. South Asian leaders need to speak one language, and present a united house that enforces historical responsibility on the developed world.
Furthermore, they should also voluntarily commit for strong emission reduction measures. Nature’s wrath will not discriminate between the historically responsible economies and emerging economies but it tends to hit harder the countries with higher poverty rates. Strong voluntary commitments will add moral and ethical dimension to the discourse on mitigation.
UN General Secretary Ban Ki Moon has invited world leadership for the United Nations Summit on Climate Change to be held in New York on 23rd September 2014. And it is sad that Indian Premier Narendra Modi has decided not to attend it. Instead, the heads of the SAARC states should stand in the summit together and push for greener growth. The climate emergency is hanging over our heads and it is a now or never like situation.
All the South Asian states have a high number of young people and youth is identified with energy, passion and optimism. The climate crisis other than being a threat can also be considered as an opportunity to engage with the youth. This is the time to invest in the youth to bring about a change in the way we perceive our economies.
By encouraging young people to devote their energies to green careers like innovations in solar technology, scientifically sound waste management practices, environmental planning and organic farming we can actually bring a paradigm shift in our economic foundations. And South Asia is very much capable of doing so.
The Chairperson of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Rajendra Pachauri (who is an Indian), has been calling for greater cooperation between Pakistan and India and the rest of South Asia when it comes to managing our joint water resources. He has pointed out that our “culture and history has shown us that we can harmonise our actions in consonance with nature”.
To be able to do that the SAARC leaders should also create avenues like the South Asian Climate Change Adaptation Fund and the South Asian Fund for Innovations in environment sustainability, which invests in research and innovative ideas to mitigate climate change.
We all have very high hopes from our leadership and recommend that action is taken soon and stronger commitments are made in New York during the summit. Later preparations for COP-20 (UNFCCC) in Lima should also figure on the agenda of the SAARC leadership summit being planned in Kathmandu in November. COP-12 on Convention of Biodiversity is being organised in Pyeonchang in October 2014, another avenue where South Asian countries need to stand united as we are a hotspot of biodiversity in the world.
Rising global temperatures and the increased invasion of market forces are a major threat to our biological diversity.
We appeal to the South Asian leaders to make the best of opportunities in the coming months and help to bring much needed changes with stronger commitments.
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Kabir Arora is a Board member of Indian Youth Climate Network & National Coordinator of Alliance of Indian Waste pickers.
Rina Saeed Khan is a pioneering environmental journalist based in Islamabad who specialises in climate change reporting.
- UN Climate Summit 2014
- Climate Week NYC 2014
- United Nations newsroom: Framework Convention on Climate Change