Mome Saleem and Ayesha Majid
Climate change impacts have no geographical boundaries, and hence the solution to the problem cannot be limited to one country’s policies and actions. South Asia lacks integrative approach to development owing to the geopolitical issues that hinder collaboration on almost all fronts. At the same time the region is plagued with social, economic and environmental issues and have limited financial resources.
On climate crisis front as well, South Asia is one of the most vulnerable regions with two of its countries namely Pakistan and Bangladesh ranked among the top ten most vulnerable countries to the impacts of climate change by The Germanwatch’s Long-Term Climate Risk Index . Countries in the region are not major emitters of greenhouse gases, yet nearly half of the population in the region has been negatively affected by climate-induced natural disasters during the last decade . Pakistan has faced climate induced disasters since 2000. Droughts in Balochistan led to displacement of a large number of people. Similarly, the 2010 floods impacted around 20 million people . Villages in Bangladesh experienced river erosion and many lost their households, while heat waves killed about 6,167 people in India from 2000 to 2018 . The situation is expected to get worse amidst continuous rise in average temperatures and shifting weather patterns that will impact the natural resources and topography in the region. This will increase the risk of natural disasters, which in turn, will have a bearing on the large proportion of the population that is dependent on climate-sensitive sources of livelihoods. Socioeconomic security of the region will be threatened as a as well since the most severe impact of climate change cut across national boundaries due to shared topographic features.
As the impacts of climate change and environmental degradation intensify, the countries in the region need to recalibrate their approach towards addressing the issue. Individual adaptation and mitigation strategies, although necessary, are no longer sufficient to tackle the scale of the problem. A broader mechanism is required instead. The framework could include the following pillars;
1- Knowledge Exchange and Assistance: Countries in the region are working on finding and implementing adaptive and mitigation measures. Exchanging knowledge and assisting in finding solutions that work are crucial for bringing the less prepared countries at par. Early warnings systems were to be placed under The Indus Water Treaty, however, due to ongoing tensions in the region, especially India and Pakistan the systems are not functional.. Therefore, there is a need to negotiate terms of efficient shared monitoring and early warning systems to prevent natural disasters such as floods, sharing of status around glacier melt and health and landslides. Collaborative and comparative research for finding solutions and scaling up local wisdom which has worked to adapt to and mitigate climate change impact is also important.
2- Expanding Use and Export of Clean Energy: The South Asian region holds massive potential for energy production through renewable resources such as solar and water. Bolstering the process of clean energy development and regional energy trading will reduce the region’s dependence on fossil-fuel based sources of energy. It will also alleviate the associated issues air pollution.
Following the footsteps of Europe, a regional grid could improve energy issues and reduce emissions from energy production in the long run. These benefits will also be transferred to the transport sector which at the moment significantly contributes to the emissions.
3 – Collective Approach for Mobilizing Green Financing: Countries in the region are individually making efforts for ecosystem restoration. As many of shared topographic features such as glaciers, rivers and mountains could be jointly preserved, regional actors could leverage it for gaining better access to global green financing. Joint efforts for carbon sequestering could also be undertaken. Such initiatives will improve livelihoods, reduce the overall risks of natural disasters, and contribute towards achieving sustainable development.
4 – Investing in Youth for Eco-innovation an Integrated Skills Development through Education: South Asia has a large number of young people with almost 627 million under the age of 18 years. In order to transition towards greener and sustainable future, it is important to invest in young people and provide them with opportunities and platforms during formative years that could help South Asia transition towards sustainable development. As innovation is a key to finding solutions to climate problems, it is utmost that a lifecycle approach to young people’s development is taken at regional level. Education with green skills followed by transition to job placement or/and green entrepreneurship could revamp the landscape not only in South Asia but could help the region take leadership at global level. Exchange programs at university level, regional green innovation challenges, mainstreaming environment and climate change as a subject at school and college level, exposure visits to impacted places, regional afforestation drives and regional mentorship are some of the low hanging fruits in this regard.
Going forward, partnerships and sustained collaborative efforts will be critical for ensuring transition towards low carbon and climate resilient development. In this regard, apart from Track-I diplomacy it is important to promote and facilitate Track – II dialogue which could lead to collaborations and partnerships across the region. Important actors in this regard are the civil society which includes segments such as journalists, think tanks, NGOs, academia and the private sector. Given the increase in digital platforms, it is crucial to engage the actors in dialogues which, could lead to a) research ideas and comparative analysis of the landscape, b) exchange of knowledge and lessons, c) youth collaboration for innovative solutions, d) seed new ideas by providing youth with co-creation platforms and e) dissemination of information to educate the masses.